Surrounded by crystal clear waters, it is a paradise in the heart of the Mediterranean. Diving tourism in our country did not take its first tentative steps until the early 90s. The majority of diving centres and diving training centres are located in Crete, Corfu or Athens and Piraeus.
Generally speaking, Greek waters are among the most important archaeological sites in the world. In their depths lie sunken cities, prehistoric coastal settlements, a myriad collection of towers, shipwrecks, and ancient harbours. One of the most well-publicised and remarkable efforts to locate and discover shipwrecks in Greece was that conducted by the world-renowned French explorer Jacques Cousteau, with his famous ship, the “Calypso”.
In 1975 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Greek Tourism Organisation invited Cousteau to Greece to shoot a series of documentary films entitled “Calypso’s Search for Atlantis”. Greek archaeologists and a multi-member research team from the newly established Institute of Marine Archaeology (HIMA) participated in the mission. Cousteau explored several areas of the world, and in Crete they included Heraklion, the islands of Dias and Pseira, Kavo Sidero and Agia Pelagia Bay. The findings of the mission were particularly important as they provided much information on the Neolithic period, the Archaic period, and reached as far the World War 2. Off the uninhabited island of Dias, opposite Heraklion, they found four ancient shipwrecks, Venetian anchors, and an underwater harbour 3000 years old.
One very important discovery was the “relic” of the French fleet’s second flagship “La Therese” which sank 344 years ago. The ship’s secrets remained sealed for centuries on the seabed until 1976 when Jacques Yves Cousteau and his group (including a number of Cretan divers) pulled up 129 everyday objects, as well as coins and ammunition (mostly shot). But what led to the identification of the “La Therese” was a bronze cannon bearing the emblem of Charles IX of France, and the personal belongings of the Duke de Navaille. Today the larger portion of these findings are housed in the Koules Fortress at Heraklion harbour and in the Historical Museum of Crete.
It should be noted that current legislation grants Greek Archaeological Service the ability to restrict access to every inch of Greek waters and to allow diving only at specific locations limited in area and number. Furthermore, according to the Article of the law pertaining to underwater area legal protection and management, the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities categorises any wreck of more than 50 years old as “historically significant”, and diving is forbidden within 300 meters of it.
Most divers disagree with this decision, however, and have asked the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities to indicate which areas of the sea and the seabed specifically constitute archeological sites, leaving the rest free for exploration by devotees of the aquatic element and the life that lies hidden within it. Apart from these submerged cities, however, any ordinary swimmer can easily discover the beauty of the deep and its rich underwater life from almost any of the beaches of Crete.