Pavlopetri, GREECE

ARCH International protects cultural heritage:
The world’s oldest underwater city

Pavlopetri is the world’s oldest underwater city. This once buzzing port city has possibly inspired the Atlantis myth.

Large commercial ships are exploiting a loophole in the regulations to anchor in the bay, which officially is not a port. Often, they also engage in illegal activities such as hull cleaning and ballast dumping. This is destroying the endangered plant and animal species in the bay and of course is degrading the irreplaceable ancient ruins of Pavlopetri. If it were destroyed before it could be fully studied, an entire chunk of world history would disappear right along with it. We must engage in historical preservation efforts.

This Bronze Age city sits in the shallow waters of Vatika Bay, near the city of Neapolis and the island of Elafonisos in the Peloponnese region of Greece. The ruins extend onto the shores of the sand beach.

The local population cares about protecting their cultural heritage, and we’re standing by them.
Partnering with the World Monuments Fund, we placed Pavlopetri on its Watch List 2016-2018 and held a Watch Day on site for press coverage and international attention. We filed formal legal complaints with the U.N. and the E.U. Next we plan to confront the ship owners.


We badly need volunteers fluent in Greek. We also need volunteers to help us monitor the ships day to day (this can conveniently be done from anywhere – your home, your dorm room – all you need is a working internet connection, and a two-minute explanation from us). Let us know if you can help.

The facebook page “Ships Wreck Vatika Bay” that you can find in the column on the right, is where Barbara and Maria from the Greek Chapter frequently post updates on large commercial ships that anchor in Vatika Bay. Where possible, the exact coordinates, latitude and longitude, of the ships at anchor are included in the posts. Photos are attached to show not only the ships with their AIS systems turned on – because their presence registers on the Marine Traffic website – but the ships that have their AIS turned off. They may be electronically invisible, but they can be seen in photographs.

The ships that anchor in Vatika Bay pay NO port fees. This represents a significant loss of revenue for cash-strapped Greece. Thousands of euros a day slip through the fingers of the Greek treasury, millions of euros a year, because these ships are not required to anchor in the nearby legal port of Kalamata.

Help us with the monitoring of the ships or check back with us daily and become a witness to the destruction of Vatika Bay, an invaluable natural resource and home of the irreplaceable archeological site of Pavlopetri, the oldest underwater city in the world.

Good news! Recently, generous individual donors wrote checks for one or two buoys. This protective ring around the area where the ancient ruins are makes a huge difference, and all things considered, it wasn’t really that expensive. The ferry owner did the placement for free. Dr. Simosi, the head of the Ephorate for Underwater Antiquities, directed the placement. It was a wonderful day in July, and a grand example of what dollars can do.

Next, we are aiming to install a boardwalk to keep the site accessible to visitors while protecting the portion of the ruins that is still on land and the fragile Roman salt flats. Metal plaques along the boardwalk will explain what there is to see. We plan to print up brochures for the local hotels and a book for the local schools, about the life and times of Pavlopetri. If you like those ideas, please Give to support our friends in Greece.

Pavlopetri Watch Day 2017

ARCH International, in cooperation with the World Monuments Fund, was excited and proud to co-sponsor Pavlopetri Watch Day 2017!

The entire weekend was dedicated to the promotion of the world’s oldest underwater city. On Saturday morning, July 29, we invited guests to come along on guided snorkeling tours over the underwater site and then, in the evening, to partake in our feature lectures.

We were proud to host our guest lecturers: Dr. Mechtild Rössler, Director of the Division of Heritage and the UNESCO World Heritage Center, Dr. Elena Korka, Director General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, and Dr. Simosi, Director of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. All lectures took place at the Limira Mare Hotel conference center in Neapolis.

Sunday morning (July 30) activities for adults and children were held on Elafonisos Island.

Where: The archeological site of Pavlopetri, Limira Mare Hotel in Neapolis, Lakonia,

and Elafonisos Island

When: July 29­-30, 2017

Buoy Location Mapping

Video by Matan Rochlitz, Team on Boat: Kirsten Flemming, Dimitri Delacovias, Matan Rochlitz.
The Greek Chapter of ARCH together with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities successfully placed buoys around the Pavlopetri archeological site. The buoys will alert boaters to avoid crossing the site and avoid anchoring in the ruins. For the first time, Pavlopetri has some measure of protection. 

Background & More Information

One day, we got an email from a stranger, asking for our help to protect what the writer claimed was the world’s oldest underwater city. It was called Pavlopetri, the email said, and because it was located in a quiet bay, tankers and other large vessels were anchoring there illegally to save on the harbor fees they would otherwise have to pay. They were so far away from Athens, and the Greek government was dealing with so many other problems, they went on to explain, that the good people of Neapolis – the nearest town – were really all alone in their struggle to protect this ancient place that was so special and so beloved by them.

Confession: We had never heard of Pavlopetri. Could this be true? Surely such an important place would already have all sorts of attention and protection – OK no, we knew better than that.

Fact checking and due diligence were clearly the first step. And we didn’t have to look far. To our amazement, UNESCO’s website indeed listed Pavlopetri as the world’s oldest underwater city. We also found a BBC documentary, City Beneath the Waves, with wonderful images, a report on the archaeological findings from an earlier exploration, and some fascinating speculation on what the city had looked like in its heyday, how the people had lived, worked, prayed and played. We got in touch with the famous British archaeologist, Dr. Nic Flemming, who first discovered the city in the 1960s. He explained that the place really was extremely special, because most of the cities that have ended up submerged under water date from Roman or Greek times. This, however, was an entire Bronze Age port city. Its location meant it had been an important hub along the bustling Aegean seafaring routes. There had been some exploration of the site, but much more remained to be done – its buried ruins still held many secrets about what sorts of goods were traded, how far the reach of the traders had been – as far as Afghanistan, where the all-important lead was obtainable? It must have been a wealthy city, as indicated by the fact that it had administrative buildings and different kinds of neighborhoods, some obviously for the wealthy elites, others for a working middle class. If it were destroyed before it could be fully studied, an entire chunk of world history would disappear right along with it. We needed to do whatever we could, he exhorted us, to preserve this place – it really was worth any trouble.

The biggest asset: determined and committed local people. And the premier advocate, an American “immigrant” who just happened to have a background in law AND in things nautical. From the balcony of her little off-the-grid home in the olive grove she tends, Barbara had a clear view of the bay. She used a nautical app to see which ships were anchored there, and she used her binoculars to take note of those that tried to do so in secret by turning off their radar. That kept them off the app, but she could see them and take photos.

The other staunch defenders of Pavlopetri included the local newspaper Ta Vatika, and the environmental organization Tulipa Goulima.

And soon, other allies emerged. Because the pollution of the bay wasn’t just harming the ruins. It was endangering the sea turtles, killing the Posidonia oceanica grasses, leaving tar balls on the formerly pristine beach, angering the hotel owners and endangering their livelihood, which depended on tourism.

For more information please also check ARCH’s Greek Chapter’s website:

The Seabed Suffers

Video by Sophia Schultz, shot in Neapolis, Greece
Barbara Euser, President of the Greek Chapter of ARCH, explains the devastating effect of large commercial ships anchoring in the pristine waters of Vatika Bay


  • UNESCO acknowledges Pavlopetri as the oldest underwater city in the world. It dates back more than 5000 years and represents one of the first “planned” cities – with residential neighborhoods, administrative buildings, factories for the production of pottery, markets etc.
  • The submerged remains cover an area of approx. 50,000 square meters, and lie at a depth of 2-3 meters in Vatika Bay, Greece. Vatika Bay is famous for its pristine water and diversified marine environment.
  • Though local residents knew of its existence through portions visible on the shoreline, and from finding artifacts on the beach and in shallow water, the site was officially “discovered” by archaeologists in 1967.
  • Pavlopetri was an active and prosperous port city. Further excavations will provide new information about ancient maritime trade routes, commerce, religion, government and daily life. With careful management, the site has potential as a tourist attraction with an on-shore museum, guided snorkeling tours and visits via glass bottom boats.
  • In 2011, BBC featured Pavlopetri in the documentary “City Beneath the Waves” which included 3D visualizations of the city map and its structures
  • This Bronze Age city might have inspired one of the world’s most enduring myths – the tale of Atlantis. It is surrounded by sites from ancient Greek literature and myth: Cyclops’ cave on Elafonisos Island, Cape Maleas where Odysseus sailed, and Kythera Island, where the goddess Aphrodite emerged from the waves.
  • Today, the site is threatened by pollution and shifting sediments caused by the presence of large ships. They anchor in Vatika Bay and engage in further illegal activities such as hull-cleaning (highly toxic if not done under supervised conditions) to save the fees associated with legal harbors. This also endangers the bay’s precious marine life, sea grasses, turtles and affects the water quality.
  • The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage and its affiliated Greek Chapter began to advocate on behalf of Pavlopetri at the start of 2014. The archeologists who have worked on the site, the European Association of Archeologists, the mayor of Elafonisos, a pro bono law firm in Athens, local business owners and media representatives are all supporting our efforts.


  • We use a maritime app to monitor and document the presence of illegally anchored ships. Since 2014 but even more so since 2015 we have been able to keep frequent record. See more here
  • We work with pro bono lawyers in Athens towards an adoption of a Special Port Regulation to prohibit commercial ships from entering Vatika Bay and a declaration of the bay as a Marine Protected Area.
  • A pro bono law firm in London went all out to help the community file a series of legal complaints at the international level: to the EU Commission and to the UN Special Rapporteur. As you can imagine, this required an enormous amount of paperwork, bureaucratic knowledge and legal research. Bravo Anthony Jones
  • The Greek ARCH Chapter is extremely active and full of innovative ideas. It probably helps that this is what their meetings look like.The member base is growing, they have a lively facebook presence and have held some great events.
  • ARCH nominated Pavlopetri to The World Monuments Fund’s prestigious Watch List. It’s very hard to make it onto that list, and to be honest, we didn’t expect to succeed – we were happy just to be accepted as a nominee. Then in October 2015, we got the amazing news: we made it, and are now among the 50 sites in 36 countries that will be highlighted for the next two years.
  • The Greek Chapter organized a spectacular Watch Day observance, which included an archaeological Snakes and Ladders game for children, a guided snorkeling tour led by Greek archeologist Despina Kotsoumba, the ceremonial placement of a ring of buoys around the site to at least keep boats from passing directly overhead, and of course lots of Greek wine.