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.
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.
We’re supporting the local population, which cares about this very much.
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.
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: www.pavlopetri.org