Pavlopetri Review
Oldest Underwater Submerged Ancient City

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This documentary that I watched on the Discovery Channel examines the importance of the ancient city of Pavlopetri vis-à-vis its trade, administration, architecture and the inhabitants way of life. Using new and current technology it reconstructs the city and its artifacts. The documentary tries to answer the question of how the city ended up being underwater to become the oldest yet discovered submerged city and only a few meters off the coast! So basically it’s an easy place to study and excavate.

Pavlopetri is located in the south of the Peloponnese in southern Laconia and it flourished as a thriving city, port between 2000BC to 1000BC, but evidence suggests Pavlopetri existed much earlier. The documentary doesn’t provide an exact date so I won’t hypothesize. Only future discoveries may provide a better and more accurate date of settlement.

What I like about this documentary that it helps to shed new light on the early history of the cities and the area in southern Greece and neighboring islands. After visiting the Minoan ruins on Crete and the ruins of Akrotiri on Santorini, I used to think that these cities and civilizations were the only two thriving places in Greece at the time (circa 2000 BC to around 1600 BC), sort of a misconception for me or rather a void in my knowledge. It’s true that the Minoans and the inhabitants of Santorini were extremely important to the region with respect to trade, architecture, technological advances and art. What is also impressive is that both the Minoans and the people on the island of Santorini flourished without any armies or having the need go to war. Without these civilizations, who knows how different European history may have unfolded. Likewise, the ancient city of Pavlopetri is important and impressive in its own right and was greatly influenced and affected by the Minoans largely due to its proximity and the desire to trade. Unfortunately, since Pavlopetri lies submerged underwater we may never know the true extant of this city’s culture i.e., if they had frescoes or wall paintings like the ones at Palace of Knossos or in Akrotiri but I have to assume they would have due to the far ranging influence of the Minoans.

In this documentary the archaeologist explains the various fragments of artifacts that they find in the foundations of the various buildings. Using lasers and digital imaging technology and the archaeologist’s knowledge of the ancient world they are able re-create the artifacts that they have uncovered.

With respect to time periods, the documentary seems to bounce around a little. From 1600 BC onwards, they look at the geographical location and importance of this trading city to Mycenae during the Mycenaean period. They then go back in time to discuss the influence of the Minoans and of Santorini on Pavlopetri with respect to trade and the artifacts that they have found.

What I do like is that they spend a lot of time underwater explaining the building they find, swimming through the ancient streets and showing 3D recreations.

Using a new autonomous underwater robot, they are able to map out the entire city and they are able to recreate how each building may have looked like and how the streets looked like. At its peak around 1600BC what is impressive is that the city consisted of many multi-storied buildings used for commercial, residential and administrative purposes and of all sizes. One building even had tile shingles for the roof. Plus they were able to map out the streets that connected the city.

One of the major finds that they do make is a pithos jar located in a building which they decide to excavate using underwater techniques, an underwater archaeology excavation.

Throughout this documentary my question is: how did this ancient city end up lying beneath the sea? The most likely answer that makes sense is provided at the end. According to the conclusions reached by the archaeologists, it occurred beginning sometime around 1000 BC. 3 successive earthquakes eventually managed to slowly over time submerge this once thriving and important city.

In conclusion, this documentary is worth watching not only for its informative content but for the visual re-creation of the artifacts and the city using the latest available technology. When I was in Greece I knew there are still a lot of submerged ruins and many undiscovered or not yet excavated sites. Only time will reveal what new secrets and discoveries are yet to be uncovered.




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