The ocean depths are home to more than just awe-inspiring fauna and vibrant corals. It's also a trove of unexpected treasures — shipwrecks, sculptures, beautifully designed displays... and even submerged ancient cities. Embark on an enchanting journey through history, right from the deck of your yacht, equipped with just a snorkel. Countries bordering the Mediterranean, especially Greece, provide unparalleled opportunities to delve into sunken remnants of ancient civilizations.
Many ancient cities, once swallowed by the sea, have been rediscovered by archaeologists over the years. Locations such as Indonesia, Croatia, and Malta offer a chance to delve into underwater realms housing entire cities or museums. In Indonesia, for example, you can find submerged Buddhas and Buddhist temples, and Egypt features an array of wildlife and cultural relics. However, it's Europe, particularly Greece, that boasts a wealth of ancient wonders beneath the surface.
Ancient Greece and its underwater beauty
The mention of a sunken city often evokes images of the fabled Atlantis. But if you were to set sail on a yacht in search of this elusive city, chances are, you won't find it. However, in the Mediterranean, particularly in Greece, you'll discover several authentic ancient and submerged cities.
Join us as we explore locations where history thrives underwater with ruins that lie at such shallow depths that even basic snorkelling gear is enough to explore.
Often hailed as the legendary Atlantis, the city of Pavlopetri resides off the coast of Laconia in the Greek region of the Peloponnese.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Sunken cities are mysterious, beautiful and add a whole new dimension to underwater life. Most of these hidden spots in the shallows are perfectly suited for exploration with just a mask, fins, and a snorkel. If you enjoy coral reefs, shipwrecks, or marine life, then you should check out the 50 most spectacular snorkelling locations across the globe.
Nestled off the southern coast of Laconia, Greece, lies the sunken city of Pavlopetri. At a mere depth of 3 to 4 metres, it provides an accessible glimpse into the ancient world and it's easy to anchor your yacht close by. Archaeologists initially attributed Pavlopetri to the Mycenaean period, making it one of the world's oldest submerged cities. But later research revealed that it dates back 5,000 years to the Minoan period. Despite being devastated by an earthquake 3,000 years ago, the city layout is almost entirely intact. Dating back to approximately 2,800 BC, Pavlopetri is made up of streets, buildings, courtyards, tombs, and an extensive network of water systems. Even amateur snorkellers can view the well-preserved remains of this Bronze Age city, offering a thrilling and educational adventure into the daily life of the time.
Pavlopetri near the popular beach of Pounta and the island of Elafonisos
More ruins of the flooded ancient city of Olous are located just 5 km from the Cretan tourist town of Elounda. Here, too, all you'll need to explore is your basic snorkelling gear.
Olous was an important city-state in ancient Crete, and there was even a significant port here. Today, the remains of Olous are partially flooded and some artefacts from the original city can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos. Visitors to the area can also explore the coastal ruins and underwater archaeological sites.
The flooded town of Olous can also be found near the tourist town of Elounda in Crete, Greece.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Please note that the depths mentioned above may change over time due to natural processes or ongoing research. It is always advisable to seek the most current information from reliable sources or contact local archaeological authorities for accurate and detailed information before planning your visit.
Helike, Achaia, Peloponnese
Some scholars propose that the ancient Greek city of Helike was one of the inspirations behind Plato's tale of the lost city of Atlantis. Situated near the village of Rizomylos in northern Peloponnese, Helike was a thriving and influential city-state until it disappeared beneath the sea in 373 BC following a catastrophic earthquake.
It's easy to access here, too. An earthquake followed by a tsunami led to the city's flooding. Again, the depth fluctuates throughout the day, making snorkelling most ideal during low tide.
Ancient Greeks considered Helike a curiosity and a testament to divine favours, particularly from Poseidon, the sea god. To the Romans, this site evolved into a tourist centre. While the Greeks and Romans may have found the city submerged in a lagoon, the lagoon has since been filled with river sediments.
The submerged ruins of Helike are the subject of archaeological exploration and research. Although the exact location of the city is debated, efforts continue to uncover and preserve the remains.
Amathus, an ancient city on Cyprus's southern coast, is partially submerged. In its prime, it was an essential city-state dating back to the Neolithic era. The ruins of Amathus encompass remains of an Aphrodite temple, an acropolis, a necropolis, and various other buildings. Visitors can traverse the archaeological park, showcasing the preserved ruins and offering a sneak peek into the city's history.
Epidauros, Saronic Gulf
Whether you plan to anchor here or merely pass by, the overground and underwater splendours of Epidaurus should not be missed. A trip to Epidaurus is unique when combining sightseeing with snorkelling and sea kayaking. Explore famous attractions, including the Little Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, as well as the ancient sunken city, sometimes referred to as Argolida's lost Atlantis. The ruins of Epidaurus are located in the heart of Vlassis Bay and while sailing in, be mindful of the shoals extending from the shore. If you decide to anchor here, it's worth exploring the area's beautiful coastline and diverse wildlife.
Vlassis Bay is located in the southwest of the Saronic Gulf, south of the port of Palea Epidauros. The flooded ruins of Epidauros can be found in the central part of the bay. As you sail in, keep an eye out for the shallows that run out from the shore.
Turkey and the ruins at Kekova Island
On Kekova Island's northern side lies a partially submerged ancient Lycian settlement. While breathtaking Byzantine ruins rise above the sea, other city sections are underwater. The submerged city of Kekova dates back to the Lycian period, between the 6th and 4th centuries BC with ruins that include remnants of houses, streets, staircases, and even a small theatre. Past earthquakes caused part of the city to slide into the sea, creating the archaeological site we see today. During the Byzantine era, the city was abandoned due to threats from Arab invaders.
Unfortunately, Kekova cannot be explored snorkelling, but you can visit it by sailing around. Although the site is deemed a Specially Protected Area to conserve its archaeological and historical significance, organized boat tours allow viewing the sunken ruins from the surface. Swimming or diving is prohibited to avoid further damage to the fragile remains.
The starting point for boat trips is the nearby village of Kaleköy, also known as Simena. It's a charming coastal village with a castle perched atop a hill where the panoramic views of the sunken city, picturesque coastline, and surrounding area are a must.
The most mystifying place on Kekova and its surroundings are the sunken ruins of the old town of Simena, which grew from a fishing village into a full-fledged town in its time.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Snorkelling around ancient ruins is similar to snorkelling in shipwrecks. Archaeological sites require careful preservation, and access is typically limited to qualified researchers and experts. However, some sites, especially in Greece, are quite accessible, making them unique. If you're keen on visiting an archaeological site, we recommend getting in touch with local authorities or the local archaeological department to inquire about accessibility, guided tours, or any special permits required.
Baiae, Italy: an underwater city too vast to fully explore
The ancient Roman sunken city of Baiae is situated in Italy, on the northwest coast of the Bay of Naples, close to today's Bacoli in the Campania region. Amazingly, its ruins stretch from the surface down to 100 metres. The town is partially submerged, and many ruins are incredibly well-preserved despite the volcanic activity which led to the town's demise. Baiae, in its day, was a popular Roman resort known for its luxury villas, thermal baths, and entertainment venues, even hosting villas of emperors Caesar and Nero. Later, the city was ravaged by Arab invaders and completely deserted following a malaria epidemic in the 1500s.
Today, divers and snorkellers can explore the city's sunken ruins. Underwater archaeological excavations have unearthed various buildings, including villas, streets, and Roman baths, which provide a glimpse into this ancient resort's grandeur.
The submerged town of Kekova is only accessible via boat or dinghy. Keep your eyes peeled while sailing, as this is one of the few places where you can observe flying fish.