by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou
AEGINA, Greece, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- Greek archaeologists Sunday offered a rare underwater guided tour at the antiquities lying under sea off Aegina island as part of nationwide celebrations of the European Heritage Days.
Over the past three decades, each September numerous monuments and sites across the EU are open to Europe's citizens for free to allow them to learn about their shared cultural heritage. Due to adverse weather conditions in Greece, the celebration was rescheduled this year for mid-October.
An hour away south of Piraeus port on Aegina island, archaeologists of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities welcomed Greeks and foreigners at Kolona bay to the secrets of the island's ancient fortified military "hidden port", which has been underwater by the rise of the sea level since antiquity.
During the Archaic period (800-480 B.C.), Aegina flourished as a great naval power competing with Athens, Despina Koutsoumba, archaeologist of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, told participants including Xinhua in the tour.
It was the city's "golden era" and it was around 500-490 B.C. when the islanders constructed the main installations of the ancient harbor.
"In this part of Aegina there is a very important ancient military port dating back to the Archaic period," said Koutsoumba.
She added many well-preserved remains, including the harbor's walls, tower and sheds to dock warships, today lie underwater.
According to the archaeologist, excavations of the ancient walled military port started in the 1960s. One of the main goals of the new survey program which started this year is to present the site in such a manner that visitors can get information about the ancient harbor and swim among the ruins without the presence of an expert, she further explained.
"People love seeing underwater antiquities. In particular these harbor installations which are in shallow waters are ideal for such tours. I think people enjoyed it," Koutsoumba told Xinhua.
People who plunged into the waters on Sunday for the guided tour expressed their enthusiasm.
"It was great, such a different guided tour. Usually they hold them on shore. It was so moving see the ruins from a different point of view once... The port was huge, I had never given this much thought in the past, it was very interesting seeing something else," Vivian A. told Xinhua. She participated in the snorkeling tour with her friend and host on Aegina island, Maro Evangelidou.
"The Ephorate's initiative to give this tour was great. It was a marvelous experience. This is a significant part of our history. Funds are needed for future excavation works and I think that international cooperation would help," Evangelidou told Xinhua.
Achilleas Leousis lives on Aegina, but never before had he seen the ruins.
"It was such a nice experience, unprecedented for us. Although we are from Aegina, we had not seen them so far and we were given this chance now to get to know them, next year it will be even better...Now we, locals, will form a group and start showing them to visitors," he said.
Some 2 million visitors reach Aegina each year. The aim of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the local government and community is to make the site of the ancient "hidden port" reachable to the general public and comprehensible.