As a country surrounded on three out of four sides by water, in the smack-middle of the Mediterranean and the trading routes that its dozens of civilizations have used throughout the centuries, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a part of Italy’s massive cultural heritage lies at the bottom of the sea.

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The famous Riace bronzes, fished out of the sea off the shore of the Calabria town of the same name and now displayed in a museum in Reggio Calabria, are only the most famous example of this. From remains of Punic Wars naval battles and amphoras used by Phoenicians merchants to whole submerged cities like the ones in the Archaeological Park of Baiae in the Gulf of Naples, Italy has a lot of interest in protecting this underwater treasure trove.

A picture of the famous Riace Bronzes in their museum
The Riace bronzes are the most famous example of Italian underwater treasure and are now on display in Reggio Calabria after having been fished out of the sea in the Seventies © Vincenzo Pinto / AFP / Getty Images

That is why Italy’s Ministry of Culture has recently announced the creation of a new Soprintendenza, meaning a department dedicated to a specific area of the country’s heritage – in this case, of course, it’s a Soprintendenza nazionale del patrimonio subacqueo, or National Department for Underwater Patrimony. It will be the first of its kind in the country and its main objective will be to “protect, preserve and promote the underwater cultural heritage of Italy” not only along its almost 8000 km of Mediterranean shoreline but also in its lakes and rivers.

“Underwater archaeology is one of the most important areas of research in our country,” said Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini as he announced the name of the new department’s director, underwater archaeology expert Barbara Davidde, and its full operativity. The Soprintendenza will be headquartered in the city of Taranto in Puglia, right in the middle of the area that used to be Magna Graecia, and will have offices in Naples and Venice as well.

A picture of the underwater houses at the Capodacqua lake
Many underwater treasures lie also in rivers and lakes, especially ones that were created artificially and ended up submerging small villages and town © Giordano Cipriani / Getty Images

If you’d like to know more about this new department, you can check out its page on the website of the Italian Ministry of Culture here.

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