Cyprus has opened its first “underwater archaeological park” in the form of the ancient harbour of Amathus. The site lies in a marine protected area (MPA) on the south coast near Limassol.
The now-submerged harbour lies up to 60m out from the shore in water little more than 2m deep, so is readily accessible for snorkellers as well as scuba divers to explore.
The structure was built off the ancient city-kingdom of Amathus between 312 and 294 BC, when Cyprus was the focus of conflict between two successors of Alexander the Great. It is thought from its narrow entrance at one corner to have been built as a naval base, conceived by Macedonian king Demetrius the Besieger, though it might also have been used by merchant vessels for protection from strong south winds.
The construction consists of three massive moles or piers each around 380m long, made using 5,000 3m-long interlocking blocks. Timber cranes would have been used to manoeuvre the heavy blocks into place.
Amathus is considered one of the best-preserved ancient harbour structures in the eastern Mediterranean and the only such site on Cyprus left undisturbed by modern development.
Prepared under an EU ANDIKAT cross-border programme to create diving trails in MPAs and promote underwater heritage in Greece and Cyprus, the work was undertaken by the University of Cyprus’s Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory in collaboration with the Departments of Antiquities and of Fisheries & Marine Research.
These ministries green-lit the project despite concerns expressed by environmentalists that the project would cause severe damage to protected Posdionia seagrass in the area.
Some marine growth was removed from the surface of and around the ancient piers so that they would stand out, but according to the authorities the amount of work needed to prepare the site was minimal. Signs have been installed on the seabed to guide divers and swimmers and on land for walkers, and digital navigation of the site is offered using an Amathus Harbour app, available on Google Play or the App Store.
The site was inaugurated with a ceremonial scuba dive by the island’s transport minister Yiannis Karousos on 9 June.