The sunken city of Pavlopetri: the oldest submerged city in the Mediterranean
Pavlopetri, in Greek: Παυλοπέτρι, is an anonymous village opposite the island of Elafonisos, on whose beach, in 1967, an exceptionally important discovery was made for world archeology: an ancient submerged city, whose topography was remained almost completely visible after 5,000 years of history.
Mapped one year later by by a team of archaeologists from Cambridge, the ancient city, underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, was called by the modern name for the islet and beach, Pavlopetri, (“Paul’s and Peter’s”, or “Paul’s stone”), apparently named for the two Christian saints who are celebrated together but its ancient name is unknown. It is located at an average depth of 4 meters, and is believed to be the oldest submerged city in the Mediterranean, the oldest in the world after Dwarka, in India (but this is another story).
The urban agglomeration dates back to around 3,000 BC, and includes roads, two-storey houses with gardens, temples, a cemetery and an advanced water management system, with drains and water pipes. In the center of the city there was a square with an area of 40 x 20 meters, a place for city discussion, and the buildings were majestic, with up to 12 rooms inside. The design quality of this city has amazed the experienced urban planners, who consider it superior to many of the modern ones.
Pavlopetri is so old that it was already ancient during the era of “heroes” described by Homer in the Iliad, set during the Mycenaean period, around 1,600 BC. Although Pavlopetri has been known for half a century, it was only in 2009 that in-depth studies were carried out, that revealed that the area, of about 9 hectares, was already inhabited as early as 2800 BC, and that the city was swallowed by the sea during 1,000 BC due to the first of three earthquakes that the area suffered.
The area never re-emerged. Despite the devastation of the earthquake, the layout of the city is still clearly visible, and 15 main buildings have been identified with certainty. Professor John Henderson, from the University of Nottingham, conducted the most in-depth studies on the town, managing to reconstruct the city with its buildings in three-dimensional graphics, which can be seen in the video below:
Historians estimate that the city was a commercial crossroads between the Minoan civilization, of the island of Crete, and the Mycenaean one, in the Argolide region not far away. Throughout the site, containers for storing goods made from clay, statues, everyday tools and other artifacts have been found, especially many “Pithari”, jars for oil, certainly coming from Crete. Pavlopetri was also to be an important textile production center, an indication that can be deduced from the numerous loom weights found on site.
The ruins of the city are today unfortunately threatened by the very beauty of the place itself. The island of Elafonisos and the beach of Pouda are in fact frequented both by tourists by land, sometimes hunting for souvenirs, and by various types of boats, which with their anchors put at risk the very integrity of the topography of the ruins.
The work of the British-Australian archaeological team was assembled in an hour-long BBC documentary video, “City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri”, broadcast by BBC Two in 2011.
The city of Pavlopetri is part of the underwater cultural heritage of the UNESCO.