An ancient Greek shipwreck is about to become an underwater museum! The first one in Greece! The venue is the famous Peristera shipwreck, found 92 ft under the Aegean Sea. You don’t so much walk there as swim to the 2,000 year old archaeological attraction. And instead of a guidebook and coffee, an oxygen tank and flippers are on hand for intrepid visitors.
There have been some original approaches to tourism recently, but this one is surely the wildest – and wettest! – yet. The Ministry of Culture has allowed access to the site, located in a marine park off the coast of Alonissos in the Kalamaki region, between Aug 3rd and Oct 2nd. A guide will take interested parties to a depth of 28 m. From there, they’ll get an unprecedented snorkel’s eye view of the unexcavated treasure.
Named after the islet near where it sank, the Peristera is an ancient cargo ship. A fisherman noticed something was there back in 1985, when he saw amphorae (terracotta jars and jugs) bobbing around in the deep.
The historic loot was then traced to a 25 m wreck. How did it get there in the first place? Smithsonian Magazine writes, “the massive ship was transporting some 4,000 clay amphorae—likely filled with wine—when it sank in the late 5th century B.C.” It is thought to have set sail from Athens before reaching a final and unexpected destination below the surface.
With an estimated weight of 126 tons, it puts a new spin on the expression “going in the drink”. The shell was made of wood and has long since rotted, however visitors still have much to enjoy. According to the Alonissos Triton Dive Center website, “Divers will encounter a vast vista of an estimated 4,000 amphora that sometimes are piled high above their heads as they swim around the wreckage.”
As well as the awesome spectacle of ancient pottery mountains, there are the marine residents who’ve made these vessels their home. The site notes that “fish and sea sponges” can be spotted inside the amphorae, adding “unexpected color to the monochromic pottery.” If that doesn’t sound exotic enough, then the water certainly does: “The sea is beautifully clear, and water temperatures can reach a balmy 25C (77F)” writes Time Out.
It all sounds very scenic, but what is the significance of the Peristera discovery? It shifted experts’ perceptions of ancient boat building for one thing. “Prior to the discovery of the wreck, archaeologists believed that the largest ships were designed and constructed by the Romans around the first century B.C” says the Dive Center. “These ships carried around 1,500 amphoras and weighed up to 70 tons. The Greek ship was built about four centuries earlier, weighed 126 tons, and carried more than twice the amount of amphoras.”
As for what made the ship sink in the first place, no-one is sure – evidence suggests a fire may have been responsible. The finger has also been pointed at pirates, though they don’t seem to have done a great job scooping up the booty!
Regulations regarding access to such sites as the Greek shipwreck museum have been changed in order for this much-needed slice of escapism to go ahead. Even those not brave enough to strap on a tank are catered for. A virtual reality tour is available at the Alonissos Information Center for those unwilling to get their feet (and everything else) wet.
After October the area is closed once again. Reports state the wreck should open again next Summer. It’s hoped the unusual move will give Greek tourism a shot in the arm.
As Athenian news outlet I Kathimerini says, “With its wealth of archaeological treasures and incredibly rich sea life resulting from the area’s protected status as a marine park, the Peristera dive site is regarded as one of the most interesting in Greece.” Whether home bound holidaymakers agree or not is a question to be answered in due course.
Steve Palace is a writer and comedian from the UK. He’s a contributor to both The Vintage News and The Hollywood News and has created content for many other websites. His short fiction has been published by Obverse Books.