In Alonissos, Thessaly, Greece’s first underwater museum has been open since July to all visitors who want to combine a diving experience with “plunging” into the country’s ancient history.
Alonissos is a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea. The island is only 20 km long by 4km large and sparsely populated with only 2,000 inhabitants. But Alonissos now offers an unusual attraction that no other neighbouring islands have: an underwater museum.
The Undewater Museum is the first of its kind in Greece to be open to the public. It was launched in August 2020 by the Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, along with the Mayor of Alonissos Petros Vafinis and the Thessaly Regional Governor Kostas Agorastos, who participated in the 30-metre inaugural dive.
The shipwreck is now open to recreational divers who will have the opportunity to explore it under the guidance of more experienced divers. The Museum operated in pilot mode until October 2020 and is now open to everyone during the 2021 summer season.
The Alonissos Underwater Museum features one of the biggest Classical-era shipwrecks. It dates from around 425 to 420 BC and was discovered in 1985 by Dimitris Mavrikis at a depth of 25-metre off the coast of the Peristera islet.
Due to its unique size, the ship ranks among the biggest commercial ships of its time. She was 30 metres long and 10 meters wide, and was carrying around 3,000 amphorae full of the renowned wines of Mendi (a city in modern day Chalkidiki) and Peparithos, which today carries the name of Skopelos.
The big commercial vessel probably belonged to an Athenian merchant and seems to have run into stormy weather while sailing near the coast, where it sank. Another plausible theory is that a fire broke out on deck, eventually causing the sinking of the ship.
“The Parthenon of Shipwrecks”
The amphorae found had the letters ΛΥ inscribed on them, which was probably at that time a way of marking the goods. The course of the ship cannot be determined; some say that when it sank, it was heading to Alonissos to unload the goods, while others speculate that it had just departed from Alonissos, that’s why it was found not very far from the port.
The vessel is considered to be of uttermost importance to archaeology because of the number of intact findings. It is so important that it is dubbed as “The Parthenon of Shipwrecks“.
More than 4,000 two-handled amphorae are anchored in the sand. Their positioning is a clear indication of where the vessel used to be. Wooden pieces of the boat were effectively washed away over the centuries. To complement the experience, an information centre is available in a former village school. Due to the depth and technical difficulty of the descent, only qualified divers are allowed to visit the wreck.
More wrecks have recently been identified in the area. They hold out the prospect that more underwater museums could open in the near future. The Alonissos underwater museum team currently works on three further projects: the Skatzoura shipwreck, Tselios shipwreck and Faggrou shipwreck in Kyra Panagia.
For the non-diver, Alinissos has plenty to offer: more than a dozen of beaches, historical churches, monasteries and windmills as well as an historical museum filled with ancient objects can be discovered. Adventure activities include popular canoeing and kayaking tours along the island, hiking, cycling as well as fishing. Special packages are on offer from local tour operators.
Spectacular images of Alonissos Underwater Museum with the shipwrecks and thousands of amphorae can be seen under https://youtu.be/Pzxi7pl3VJA.