“Greece, usually in season” declared the solar-soaked nation’s tourist campaign last January. It was a marketing slogan backed by truth of the matter in 2019 some 34 million website visitors had been drawn listed here. But then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and decimated the tourism field.
Still there’s a glimmer amid the gloom: the designation of Greece’s initially underwater museum. The uncommon internet site, which preserves an ancient shipwreck, aims to lure foreseeable future site visitors it could grow to be a model for how to make tourism more sustainable in the publish-pandemic period.
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Located in the Nationwide Maritime Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades, in the Aegean Sea, the museum is element of the major marine safeguarded area in Europe. Due to the fact of looting worries, the undersea antiquities were previously accessible only to archaeologists and individuals with exclusive authorization. Now leisure divers can plunge into the waters and, at a depth of about 80 toes, experience the so-known as Peristera, named right after the neighboring uninhabited islet. As the wreck dates again to about 425 B.C., diving to it is like touring in a time machine.
Layers of discovery
In 1985 a area fisherman, Dimitris Mavrikis, observed the wreck off the west coast of Peristera. Seven several years later on, underwater excavations led by archaeologist Elpida Hatzidaki uncovered extra element. The ship was one particular of the biggest merchant vessels of the classical period of time (fifth by way of fourth centuries B.C.) and carried an spectacular cargo: 4,000 wine amphorae (huge two-handled jars) originating from the historic Greek towns of Mende and Peparethus, plus black-glazed bowls, cups, plates, and tableware—essential objects for the lavish banquets, or symposia, of the time.
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The demise of the ship, possible Athenian, arrived at the stop of the Peloponnesian War–those turbulent many years when two superpowers, Athens and Sparta, battled each individual other. Archaeologists recovered only some burnt wood elements of the ship’s hull, but the piled amphorae led to a major discovery.
“Large vessels as this [39 by 82 feet] have been viewed as to be very first built in Roman moments. Peristera shipwreck, though, paperwork their presence currently in the final quarter of the fifth century B.C.,” says Pari Kalamara, director of Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.
The shipwreck is also one particular of the best preserved. “The amphorae cargo has preserved its consistency and continues to be in position, in levels, these as was loaded in the maintain, indicating the vessel’s condition,” states Kalamara. “This is a drastically exclusive practical experience for the divers-people who visualize a classical-era vessel.”
20 decades just after the very last excavation, the site dubbed “the Parthenon of shipwrecks” even now holds some techniques: how ancient trade was designed, how the ship was made, and why it sank. And maybe the most evocative question of all: what lies beneath the amphorae?
Opening to the community
With the new designation as an underwater museum, recreational divers accompanied by certified instructors started viewing the shipwreck in the course of a pilot section from August to October 2020.
“There has been substantial interest from all in excess of the environment. This is the very first time that so a lot of professional divers arrived,” claims Kostas Efstathiou of Alonissos Triton Dive Center, a single of the accredited area tour operators. For sophisticated divers, there were being four visits each day, and individuals with no dive knowledge could acquire classes in buy to visit. “I imagine in the coming years Alonissos will get her area on the world diving map,” Efstathiou suggests.
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As divers descend, the sunlight dims and the hues fade. But flashlights bring back the hues, and readers glimpse the oranges, greens, and reds of the corals, schooling fish, and sponges—and the moray eels poking their heads out of amphorae. At a depth of about 50 toes, divers get a panoramic check out of the historic wreck turned present day-working day ecosystem. “This is awe-inspiring,” suggests Efstathiou. “What you see … is 2,500 years aged, a time journey.”
Wreck fans don’t have to dive to get a peek into this undersea realm. From the web page, 5 underwater cameras stream real-time movie, and one is open up to the community (the others are now reserved for experts). “This is a entire world innovation employing point out-of-the-art technologies,” claims George Papalambrou, a professor in the College of Naval Architecture and Maritime Engineering at the Nationwide Complex University of Athens and a member of the project staff. “While watching the video … people today from all more than the environment, divers or non-divers, [can] share the diving experience.”
Also, on Alonissos island, at the Information and Consciousness Centre in the hillside village of Chora, non-divers will be able to use particular eyeglasses to get a 3D digital-truth tour of the shipwreck.
Even with coronavirus travel restrictions in place, the museum’s pilot section drew 66 scheduled underwater visits and 246 website visitors-divers, an optimistic kickoff to the official opening, scheduled for June 2021.
Defending culture—and nature
Antiquities are not the only treasures safeguarded in the area. Efforts to protect scarce or endangered terrestrial and maritime species began in the 1970s. By 1992 an spot of almost one particular thousand square miles—including Alonissos, six smaller sized islands, and 22 islets—was declared the very first national marine park in Greece.
Right now a lot more than 50 endangered Mediterranean monk seals uncover refuge at the nature reserve of Gioura and the safeguarded spot of Piperi Eleonora’s falcons at the islets of Skantzoura, Strogilo, and Polemica and rare crops like the sea daffodil in Psathoura. The park also shelters a rare wild goat breed, 300 fish species, and much more than 80 hen species, as very well as reptiles, dolphins, whales, terrestrial flora, and the seagrass Posidonia oceanica, acknowledged as Neptune grass.
“Our guests are enthusiasts of the sea, mother nature, sailing. Listed here you become just one with mother nature, as you are element of an untouched environment,” states Yiannis Nikolopoulos, specific affiliate to the mayor of Alonissos. “This is a genuinely eco-friendly island, covered by rich vegetation, remaining the 1st Greek island that banned the plastic bag [in] 2015. Her encounter is luckily not altered by tourism.”
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Previous summer, the pandemic brought on tourism to plummet by 85 per cent compared to the previous year, says Aggeliki Malamateniou, president of the Alonissos Hotel Proprietors Association. “Our site visitors, although, are faithful,” she suggests. “They do respect what Alonissos gives.”
What it offers—with the maritime park and museum—is distinctive. For it to be sustainable, the island’s treasures have to have to be preserved for the prolonged run. “All of us in the space and the diving centers have a massive share of obligation,” says Efstathiou. If diving tourism can be designed in a way that proceeds to protect the antiquities and the environment, it “can provide unique encounters to site visitors, additional cultivate their interest in the underwater heritage, and give new earnings to the regional community,” suggests Kalamara.
In 2019 4 more shipwrecks in the location have been specified as accessible underwater archaeological internet sites, with the intention to make them long term museums. This could signal a new development in a place with just about 10,000 miles of shoreline and hundreds of shipwrecks.
“The most important obstacle [for the first museum] was the layout to be holistic and prolonged-time period practical, so that it could provide as a paradigm for identical initiatives somewhere else,” says Kalamara, “And I assume we have succeeded.”
Maria Atmatzidou is an Athens-based writer who addresses travel and archaeology. She was formerly editor-in-main of the Greek editions of
Countrywide Geographic and
National Geographic Young children journals. Observe her on