Lonely Planet Writer

Divers can explore ancient Greek shipwrecks for the first time

Dive into the Classical world via the remains of a mysterious merchant ship that dates all the way back to 5BC, the first ancient shipwreck to be made available to the public in Greece in a series of new underwater museums.

The remains of an Ancient Greek shipwreck will soon be made available to the public.

Greece’s culture ministry has announced that some of the country’s vast heritage of ancient shipwrecks will be accessible to the public (divers and non-divers) for the first time. The first underwater monument that visitors will get to see is the Peristera shipwreck, a merchant ship that sank in 5BC near the northern Greek island of Alonissos.

Archaeologists believe it’s the most important shipwreck from the Classical era. Researches had previously believed a trading vessel of that type didn’t exist until the Roman era some 400 years later. So when it was discovered 40 years ago it completely changed our understanding of shipbuilding in the ancient world.

The Peristera shipwreck was discovered off the shore of Alonissos. Image by Getty

Experts have yet to determine how or why it sank although there are some indications that a fire may have broken out. It’s believed that it was carrying 4000 amphoras or ceramic vases of wine when it sank, most of which are still intact on the seabed, along with fishes and sponges who now call it home.

“It is very impressive. Even I, who have been working for years in underwater archaeology, the first time I dived on this wreck I was truly impressed,’ said Dimitris Kourkoumelis, the lead archaeologist on the project preparing the site for visitors, told the Associated Press. “It’s different to see amphoras… individually in a museum and different to see them in such concentration.”

Greece had banned diving until 2004 or so, due to worries that undersea ancient artefacts would be pillaged but now the country is wholeheartedly embracing its rich underwater heritage. Access to the Peristera shipwreck is available through a new project that will create underwater museums across the Greek islands over the next two years. Divers will be able to tour the shipwreck and non-divers can feel like they’re underwater with virtual reality information centres on land.