The sunken city of Olus: overview, how to get there
There are many more sunken cities in the world than the mythical Atlantis. The remains of ancient polities were found off the coasts of China, Japan, India, Egypt, Russia, Greece. Near Crete divers periodically find artifacts from the bottom of the sea: vessels, bowls, coins. But compared to this “trifle”, the sunken city of Olus is a sensation. And to see it is accessible to everyone. Historical overview below will help you or not to make an excursion to the underwater city.
For the judgment of historians!
Olus is one of the mysteries of Crete. According to the ancient finds (coins, texts, etc.), the scientists have defined the approximate years of existence of the city – between the III century BC, when the city is in full swing to build relationships with its “neighbors”, the richness and development, and…
And here is where it is not clear! Some scholars say that Olus was “present” in the Venetian period of Crete, that is after 1204 BC. Other sources speak of an earthquake in the 2nd century A.D. Other sources speak of an earthquake in the 2nd century A.D., which caused the sinking of the polis. The third version is that Olus was destroyed in the 4th century AD.
By the way, the latter version is more likely to be true, since Crete suffered a strong earthquake in 365 A.D. on magnitude 8. A powerful underwater force “lifted” the island by several meters. Could this event lead to the destruction of the city mentioned above? Of course, it could. And by the dates everything fits – the IV century. But the Venetians established their domination over the island only at the very beginning of the XIII century! And the early Christian basilica, found on the territory of Olundas, historians dated it to either the V or the VII century? What a mess with these centuries!
A little from the history of the city.
And, let archaeologists and historians solve this puzzle. And we go back to the available exact (?) data. According to them in 205 B.C. Olus was at Cretan war, between Macedonia, the cities of Crete, including Olus and Hierapitna, the pirates of Sparta on one side, and Rhodes, Knossos and Athens on the other, for the expansion of the Aegean Sea. The conflict ended in 200 BC with the victory of Knossos and Rhodes. Olus and Hyerapitna, left without allies who had defected to the other side, were forced to surrender.
What was Olus in the years of independence? It was a rich city-state with its own coinage, lively trade with other maritime powers and with Greek cities, where the citizens lived by their own legal system, and where Zeus and Artemis Britomartida were worshipped. Interestingly, the buildings in the city were built directly on the sand.
The peak of the economic and cultural development of the polis was in the Minoan period. At that time its population was 40,000 people. In the Doric period, the city’s population dropped by a quarter.
In 260 BC, the city lost its independence and became part of Knossos. In 201 BC it developed friendly relations with Rhodes, but in 134 BC it fell under the dominion of Lato. It is known for certain that the disputes between them were settled with the help of the umpire of Knossos.
An archaeological find worthy of preservation in a museum
In 1937, the archaeologist Henri Van Effenterre discovered a fragment of a tablet in Crete that mentioned Olus and Rhodes. The missing part of this tablet was found 23 years later by Professor Anastassios Orlandos. In 1960, he conducted excavations in the area of Olus. The remains of the ancient basilica were the result of his search. But more than that, the archaeologist was surprised and delighted by the missing part of the tablet found during the excavations.
Today, both are kept in the collection of the Museum of Agios Nikolaos. The text, written in Doric dialect, was translated: it was about the reason for the break between the former allies – the people of Olus could not and did not want to pay the huge tribute imposed by Rhodes. The latter, on the other hand, sought to subjugate Eastern Crete, including Hierapitna.
Again and again the divers plunged into the water to explore new artifacts. And now, they discovered underwater the remains of the temple of Britomartida. This goddess was worshipped by all the Cretan hunters, fishermen and sailors, especially from Kidonia, an ancient city in the north of the island. The temple of Artemis was the work of the engineering genius of the time, Daedalus. The sanctuary he created consisted of two parts, one dedicated to Ares, god of war, the other to the goddess Britomartida.
For the record, King Minos invited Daedalus to Crete and allowed him to reside on his territory as much as he liked, but not without a long shot. In return, he “received” from the master a statue of himself and, for his royal wife, a fun wooden cow on wheels. The magnificent statue of Artemis Britomartida, made for the temple, was another masterpiece of Daedalus and a true decoration of the ancient city.
Incidentally, Daedalus’ Artemis was depicted on the coins of Olus along with Zeus and the star of eight rays. Almost all types of coins, which belonged to different periods of existence of Olus (a total of 11 types of coins were found), depicted these mythological characters, and also minted the name of the city – Olountion.
People are so arranged that they are sad to live without legends and fairy tales. The submerged city of Olus is one of them. When the isthmus connecting Elounda and the Spinalonga Peninsula is in full calm, the remains of the ancient polis can be seen underwater. A long underwater slab is what remains of the city wall. If you want, you can even walk on it and not even get your feet wet. Fans of scuba diving in something more lucky: with special equipment and a mask they have a chance to see the underwater objects, to touch them, and even find ancient coins. The chance is not great – but it’s there!
Let those who will stay on dry land not be upset. They will see the surviving fragment of mosaic flooring with beautiful patterns, geometric ornaments and inscriptions, made at the dawn of mankind. People once walked on this floor, and had it not been for the frequent earthquakes and tsunamis, their hometown might have lasted even longer than six centuries. Who knows!
How to get to the site
To get within a few steps of the sunken city of Olus, you have to drive to Elounda. It’s easier to do it from Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos. Elounda is the place where the invisible landmark is located. A small isthmus connects the mainland and Kalidon. The remains of the windmills will serve as a landmark. Closer to Elounda there is a small square with nice benches. Here you have to look for the sunken polis!
The underwater city of Olus
Secrets of history lurk on our planet not only under the ground, but also underwater. Many legends of underwater cities and sunken treasures light up the hearts of thousands of tourists dreaming of a treasure hunt. It is believed that as a result of the movements of the Earth’s crust from time to time entire continents go underwater, is still, for example, the search for the mythical Atlantis. But some underwater ruins are not too difficult to find, and they are not too far from the land. For example, the underwater city of Olus in Greece.
Where is Olus?
Many tourists, after hearing stories about the underwater city, make unsuccessful attempts to find it, but return home with nothing, simply because they were looking for the wrong place Olus submerged. It is located near the village Elounda, 78km from Heraklion city, right next to the isthmus connecting the mainland to Kalidon, east of Elounda. It is possible to see the remains of the windmills, but the sunken Olus is near Elounda, next to the square with the benches. Only in full calm you can see this amazing underwater city, and the remains of the city walls come so close to the surface of the water, that you can even walk on them, teasing friends who have not heard anything about Olus. The difficulty in finding this town is that there are absolutely no signs or plaques in Elounda that show where the sunken city is. You can, of course, ask the locals, or you can rely on your luck. After you find the right place, it will be quite interesting to dive with a mask and “walk” through the ruins of Olus. In general, in good weather and during the warm season in the area of the underwater city are a lot of divers-tourists. Periodically, some travel agencies even conduct excursions with scuba diving on the ancient ruins.
What was the city of Olus?
Thanks to the archaeological findings of the scientists, conclusions have been made about the importance of Olus in Crete. The history of the city began roughly about 3 thousand years BC and ended in the 2nd century AD by a strong earthquake and landslide, which swept the ancient city under the sea. Archaeologists have found ancient coins of 11 different kinds, dating back to the 3rd century BC, even today divers find coins and other artifacts in Olus.
Olus was an independent city-state with its own power, laws, and currency. The coins of the city bear the inscription “Olountion,” a star with eight rays, Zeus with a dolphin or eagle, and Artemis Britomartida.
From the coins and other finds (written evidence dating back to the 3rd century BC), scholars have established that Olus lost its independence in 260 BC and became part of Knossos, 60 years later it became an ally of Rhodes and in 134 BC fell under the influence of Lato. The artifacts telling of the making and breaking of alliances between the city-states were found by the French archaeologist Van Effenterre in 1937 and Professor A. Orlandos in 1960. The tablets were inscribed in the Doric dialect, stating that the rupture of relations between Olus and Rhodes occurred because the inhabitants of Olus were not satisfied with the size of the tribute they had to pay to Rhodes.
At the peak of its economic and cultural development the population of Olus was about 40 thousand people. The city flourished in the Minoan period (3-1 thousand years BC). During the Doric period Olus had a population of about 30,000 people. At this time the town was a major port and exporter, it had self-government bodies and its own currency.
The temple of Artemis and Mars (Ares) was the main edifice of Olus. The artifacts from the temple, found by the archaeologists, are now at the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos. The ancient Greek gods Zeus, Artemis Britomartida and Mars (Ares) were the most revered among the inhabitants of Olus. A statue of Artemis Britomartida, made by Daedalus himself, adorned the ancient city.
There is still some debate among scholars as to the exact date of the destruction of Olus as it was raided by the enemy many times throughout its history. It was very attractive to invaders because of its favorable geographical location on the seashore.
During the Venetian era the city of Olus no longer existed, but a canal was built, the fortress of Spinalonga was built, and salt was mined on the site. This was in the first half of the 13th century.
Still, most scholars agree on the natural reasons for the destruction of the city, as it was built on a rather shaky sandy soil, rather than on rocky cliffs, on the very shore of the sea. An earthquake followed by a landslide may well have caused most of the city to fall into the sea.
What is interesting about Olus now?
Like all underwater cities, Olus is interesting to tourists for its strangeness and a certain mythicalness. At low tide, you can see how the ancient city walls and the ruins of the ancient buildings Olus rises above the surface of the water. For fans of diving will be interesting underwater walk through the ruins of the city streets with the possibility of finding old coins. By the way, minted coins of Olus are still found by researchers in the sands under the water. Do not subside rave reviews and found the most beautiful Minoan mosaic, though, its exact location does not indicate. Presumably it is behind the farmer’s field near the old church. It is also said that the mosaic can be seen underwater, through the water column, during calm weather. A fragment of the floor mosaic can also be seen on the bank next to the canal, heading north of the dam. This place is also interesting to antiquity lovers with its ancient windmills and early Christian basilica.
If you suddenly can not find the ancient sunken city of Olus for various reasons, then be sure to visit the Archaeological Museum. You can see the ancient artifacts found during archaeological excavations at the site of Olus. Some of the finds from this city are also on display in the Louvre.
Anyway, the idea of finding an underwater city can make your trip to Crete interesting and exciting.
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