by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- Despite Epidaurus being home to one of the most popular healing centers of antiquity, the sanctuary of Asclepius and to the well preserved ancient theater, the underwater treasures of the harbor city in the north-eastern side of the Peloponnese, in the region of Argolis at the Saronic Gulf, have remained quite unknown to the public.
For the first time, the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, a special department of the Greek Ministry of Culture which is responsible for the preservation of ancient relics under sea, proceeded to the topographic mapping of the area in collaboration with the official new agency of China, Xinhua News Agency.
Under the instructions of the archaeologists, a crew of submarine topographers with their technological equipment and 3D cameras dived into the sea to capture the ancient ruins, while a drone operator from land took aerial photos on an expedition during September.
Besides the topographic shooting and the protection of the underwater ruins, the Ephorate wants to create a sea museum accessible to the public.
"By underwater museum, I mean people having access to underwater antiquities similar to that of the various archaeological sites on land," Angeliki Simosi, archaeologist and head of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, explained to Xinhua during a tour on the site.
The Ephorate is in line with the municipality in order to promote the antiquities under sea with the construction of glass or wooden docks at the old harbor for visitors to admire the cultural heritage of the region.
In addition, since no excavation has ever taken place in the seabed of ancient Epidaurus, archaeologists are optimistic that a new site investigation in the future will bring to light more treasures.
"First, we try to map the area with the use of drones and submarine cameras to create a 3D reconstruction of the antiquities and to identify the archaeological artefacts within the site. Then we want to proceed with a small-scale underwater excavation that will bring more relics to light," Simosi said.
"The only survey that has been done was during the 1970s by the archaeologist Charalampos Kritzas who used an air balloon to take some photos and study the buildings that were under the water," Pemmy Galiatsatou, archaeologist in the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities told Xinhua.
Due to its strategic location, Epidaurus became an important trade center in ancient Greek and Roman times.
People from all over Greece and the Mediterranean visited the sanctuary, which was considered the birthplace of medicine, seeking cure and treatment from the healing god.
All the region is full of monuments, ancient buildings and walls as archaeologists point out. But, what lies under the sea of ancient Epidaurus is more of interest in the Ephorate.
According to Galiatsatou, the entrance of the ancient port is still in use today, since the modern port was built on the ancient.
"Two ancient breakwaters are underwater. Their edges are marked by two contemporary lighthouses, the red and the green respectively. In ancient times, there was an opening of 40 meters' width for the ships to enter the port of ancient Epidaurus," she said.
"On the southern part of the city, lies the sunken city with many roman relics at a very low depth -- of one and a half meter -- which are visible from air," Galiatsatou described.
"The most important is a roman building, 40 meters long and 15 meters wide. There is a row of rooms on each southern side with a semicircular ending and on its northern side there is a big room with two rows of jars. These were used for storing food in antiquity. So, this could be a special storage room," she said, after exploring the underwater site with Xinhua's underwater photographers.
According to Galiatsatou, this particular building could be a country house of a Roman person who might be quite wealthy.
As Greek archaeologists explained, as far as the protection of antiquities is concerned, the first step is to survey and see what lies there.
"The second step is to start pumping out sand and water to discover the foundations and all movable objects that lie in the sea bottom," Galiatsatou said.
So, the mystery for the Ephorate and the public is to discover what lies under the building and around the entire area, which can be cleared out only with a future excavation.
During a one-day conference at the new Acropolis Museum to mark the 40th anniversary of the ephorate's establishment on Oct. 14, Simosi presented a short video produced by Xinhua on the submerged ancient city at Epidavros port.
"It is breathtaking," Stamatina Barouxi, a pensioner teacher, told Xinhua after the screening.