Calmed nerves unlock ancient Greek dive-sites

Hard to match: the vast numbers of amphora at the Peristera, Alonissos site (EAA)
Hard to match: the vast number of amphoras at the Peristera, Alonissos site (EAA)

Greece’s Ministry of Culture is preparing to give recreational divers access to three more ancient shipwreck sites. Its green light follows what has been deemed the success of the Peristera Shipwreck pilot scheme off the island of Alonissos, which began in 2019 and is reported to have run smoothly.

The four-site project was announced as far back as 2019, when it was reported on Divernet, but only now do the authorities’ nerves appear to have settled to the point of implementing what will remain a very closely supervised scuba experience – and one that remains some way off.

Peristera, also known as the Alonissos Underwater Museum, will be one of the four designated “Visitable Marine Archaeological Sites”.

The three other sites are in western Pagasitikos and comprise the Telegrafos Shipwreck from late Antiquity, the mid-Byzantine Kikynthos Shipwreck and the Glaros Byzantine anchor site.

They are now being prepared for opening towards the end of 2025 under the supervision of Greece’s Ephorate of Marine Antiquities (EAA), part of the Ministry of Culture.

Main concentration of the wreck at Kikynthos (EAA)
Main concentration of the wreck at Kikynthos (EAA)

Stringent controls

The move is designed to boost Greece’s cultural heritage and diving tourism, said culture minister Lina Mendoni in announcing the decision. As usual in Greek waters, this involves stringent controls on scuba divers, dictated by “three basic necessities: keeping the public safe, preserving the natural environment and protecting cultural heritage”. 

“The visit to the site can only be controlled and under strict conditions of constant surveillance and security,” stressed Mendoni. Divers would be escorted to each site on the boats of certified dive-centres, by qualified staff responsible for enforcing Ministry of Foreign Affairs regulations. 

Supervised diving at the Peristeras site (EAA)
Supervised diving at the Peristeras site (EAA)

Boats would have to use only the Steni Vala Alonissos pier or the port of Amaliapoli. Permanent moorings would be set up at the wreck-sites, with anchoring banned. Each site would be demarcated using light buoys, and fishing and boat traffic prohibited while diving was taking place.

Groups of no more than eight divers accompanied by professional dive-guides would descend a line to the depths at which designated “tour corridors” started. Divers would not be allowed within 1.5m of the seabed or 1m of the remains. 

Signage would contain basic information for divers at each stop along the course. Underwater and surface cameras would transmit images of the wreck and the surface in real time to allow remote supervision of the diving, transmission of warning signals and the recording of any violations. 

Peristera site viewed from the underwater surveillance camera (EAA)
Surveillance camera at Peristera (EAA)

Peristera Shipwreck  

The islet of Peristera lies east of Alonissos in the Northern Sporades marine park. The shipwreck, found by a fisherman in 1985 near its rocky western coast at 22-30m, consists mainly of its primary cargo – more than 3,500 sharp-bottomed amphoras. The two types identified come from Mendi and Peparithos (Skopelos) and probably carried wine. 

Other finds have included ink goblets and plates, crew items such as lamps and wicks and ship components such as lead anchor parts and nails. The ship has been dated to the last quarter of the 5th century BC.

Telegrafos Shipwreck

Amphora at the Telegrafos site (EAA)
Amphora at the Telegrafos site (EAA)

In Telegrafos Bay at depths of 17-23m on a rock and sand bottom, eight types of 4th century AD commercial amphora were found in 2000. Traces of tar inside many of these indicated that they once held wine. The most common type of amphora, with 20 examples found, was from the Peloponnese, making this the largest known concentration of these in Greece. 

Other types came from the north-eastern Aegean, while one unique amphora was identified as Palestinian. The pots lay in two incoherent concentrations, indicating that the ship had likely  overturned and spilled its cargo.

Kikynthos Shipwreck

Diving ladder at Kikynthos (EAA)
Diving at Kikynthos (EAA)

With remains identified as dating from the early Christian era to the 19th century, the uninhabited islet of Kikynthos forms a natural breakwater at the entrance of Amaliapoli Bay. 

A pile of large but broken vessels was discovered in 2005 on the north-western coast, at depths from 3.5-12m. These are parts of pithos, large earthenware jars that typically appeared from the 9th century AD, and amphoras that date to the 11th/12th centuries AD. The wreck appears to be a relatively small merchant ship of the mid-Byzantine period.

Cape Glaros

Byzantine amphoras at the Glaros site
Byzantine amphoras at the Cape Glaros site (EAA)

Cape Glaros, on the south-western shores of the Pagasitic Gulf, was a dangerous passage for ships trying to enter the sheltered bay of ancient Nios. Traces of at least four ancient shipwrecks – one Hellenistic, one Roman and two Byzantine – can be found, along with vessels and anchors from other periods, possibly discarded individually. 

Two concentrations containing some 10 iron anchors, the biggest set of Byzantine anchors ever found in Greek seas, has been linked to 12th-13th century AD amphoras found in the same area, indicating the wreck of a large Byzantine merchant ship.

Also on Divernet: Greece offers scuba divers 91 wrecks, Peristera wreck: smile, you’re on camera, More diver discoveries in Greece, Diving discoveries museum inches forward

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