The Peristera shipwreck, located off the coast of Alonissos Island in Greece, stands as a fascinating testament to the rich maritime history of the Aegean Sea. Its discovery and ongoing excavation have shed light on the past, providing archaeologists and enthusiasts with a treasure trove of knowledge about ancient seafaring and trade.
The ship denominated the “Parthenon of Shipwrecks” was a large commercial vessel that sank during the late fifth century BC, during the classical period, a time when the Aegean Sea was a bustling trade route connecting various civilizations. Its cargo, now a time capsule of ancient life, remained hidden for centuries until its rediscovery in 1985.
The underwater archaeological site lies at an average depth of 24 meters (78 feet) near the Greek island of Alonnisos, right off the islet of Peristera, in a protected marine park. Since August 2020, the ancient shipwreck is accessible to recreational divers, creating the Alonissos Underwater Museum, within the perimeters of the largest marine protected area in Greece, the National Marine Park of Alonissos. It’s Greece’s first underwater museum.
What do we know about the Peristera wreck
The large classical shipwreck was discovered accidentally in 1985 by a Greek fisherman, who stumbled upon a few ancient artifacts caught in his nets. Recognizing the historical significance, the local fisherman, reported the finding to the authorities, which led to subsequent underwater excavations carried out by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.
The historical analyses revealed that the merchant ship initially departed from Chalkidiki, in northern Greece, and it is likely to have restocked to ancient Peparethos, modern-day Skopelos island, before disaster struck. Both Chalkidiki and Skopelos were renowned locations for their wine production. The destination of the vessel was most likely the ancient city of Athens.
The ship transported thousands of amphorae, large two-handled ceramic jars, used to transport and store various commodities such as wine, olive oil, and fish sauce. These amphorae, with their distinct shapes and markings, offer valuable insights into ancient trading practices and the economy of the time. Additionally, numerous fragments of the wooden frame have been recovered, providing further clues about the ship’s origin, shipbuilding technics and its passengers.
The sinking causes of the classical era vessel still trouble the researcher. Some clues point to a fire on board, although stormy weather or even a pirate attack have not been excluded. It’s unlikely ever to be able to know why the ship fell into the abyss of History.
The significance of the Peristera wreck – Greece’s first underwater museum
The ancient wreck has been hailed as one of the most important findings of the classical period discovered at the bottom of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The vessel’s preservation, thanks to the favorable conditions at the depth it rests, has provided a remarkable opportunity to learn about ancient shipbuilding techniques, trade networks, and daily life during the 5th century BC.
The wreck shifted our understanding of the ancient world’s shipbuilding techniques. Marine archaeologists revealed a significant discovery in terms of the technology used to construct the ship. Before discovering the shipwreck, the size of this barge was thought to have been introduced by the Romans 3 centuries after the final voyage of the Peristera wreck. The size of the wreckage proves, amongst other scientific discoveries, that Greek shipbuilding technologies were ahead of their time.
The archaeological excavation is still ongoing, and experts still have a lot to learn from the shipwreck of Peristera.
Requirements to dive into the Peristera wreck
The ministry has set out the following requirements for all divers interested to explore the shipwreck in person:
Advanced Open Water certification or equivalent (qualified to dive to 30m)
Book a guided tour with an accredited dive center.
Book a least one week in advance as there are specific slots every day.
Excellent buoyancy (preparatory dive as tune-up is recommended).
Ikion Diving Center in Steni Vala bay, the nearest dive center to the shipwreck, is located just one nautical mile away from the dive site. Our specially trained instructors are fully prepared to organize guided visits to the site.
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