Helike was an important Greek city but sank into the sea and became a Roman tourist attraction, later it was buried and lost to history.
While some ancient tales of lost sunken Greek cities like the Lost City of Atlantis may be nothing more than myth – not all tales are mythical. Helike is an actual ancient Greek city that was destroyed, buried, and lost to history by a tsunami. In fact, Helike was (one of many) suggestions for what inspired Plato to write his story of the lost city of Atlantis.
Submerged underwater, Helike was something of a curiosity for the ancient Greeks and a reminder of the rhythm of the gods – Poseidon in particular. For the Romans, it became a kind of tourist attraction. But while the city may have been underwater in the lagoon during Greek and Roman times, that lagoon has since been completely covered in river sediment.
What to know about the lost city of Helike
“For the sea was heaved by an earthquake, and it submerged Helike, and also the temple of Poseidon…And Eratosthenes says he himself saw the place, and the ferrymen said he there was a bronze Poseiden [statue] in the strait, standing, holding a seahorse in his hand, which was perilous for those who fished with nets.
Helike is located in the northern Peloponnese in Greece, about 2 kilometers from the Gulf of Corinth. It was a member of the Achaean League and met its catastrophic end in 373 BC. Today it is believed to have been destroyed by an earthquake and the accompanying tsunami. In their wake, Helike was destroyed and overwhelmed.
- Listed: It has been added to the list of the 100 most endangered sites
- Dated: 373 BC
- Destroy: By an earthquake and a tsunami
- Located: On the southwestern shore of the Gulf of Corinth
Over time, the sunken city gradually silted up and disappeared from memory without a trace. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some ancient writers saw the wrath of the sea and the earthquake god Poseidon over the city.
Helike in ancient times
It is believed that Helike was founded in the Bronze Age and became the main city of Achaia. So it was not just a very minor Greek city, but an important city.
- Homer: Mentions that Helike took part in the Trojan War
- Achaean League: Helike led the Achaean League
It is also known that Helike was also known by another name – Dodekapolis (“Dodeka = “Twelve” and “Polis” = “City”). Before its destruction, it became a cultural and religious center that minted its own coins. There was also a temple dedicated to the Heliconian Poseidon – it was known in the classical world as the second in religious importance after Delphi.
The city also spawned a number of colonies, including Priene in Asia Minor (present-day western Turkey) and Sybaris in southern Italy (the most famous Greek colony in the west) .
Hundreds of years later, in 174 AD, a traveler called Pausanias visited the site and noted that the walls of the ancient city were still visible underwater. Although he also said they were badly corroded. Roman tourists also sailed around the sunken city and admired its statuary.
But later, the site silted up, knowledge of the place was lost.
- Ancient writers who visited Helike: The Greeks Strabo, Pausanias and Diodorus of Sicily, The Romans Aelian and Ovid
The researchers found more than Helike
In 1988, the Helike project was started to discover the lost city of Helike. It was one of the biggest targets for underwater archeology as it was believed to still be underwater. It was not until 2001 that the ancient city was finally discovered. And what the researchers found was amazing.
Not only did they find the lost classical city buried under the deposits of an ancient lagoon, but also an entire Early Bronze Age city (dating to 2400 BC). This ancient Bronze city is also in a remarkable state of preservation.
- To research: Started in 1988
- Found: In 2001
- Also found: A well-preserved town close to the early Bronze Age that suffered a similar fate
The people of Helike didn’t realize it, but this Bronze Age town announced its own fact 2,000 years later. It seems that the prehistoric city suffered a similar event – just 20 centuries later.
Another ancient city buried and lost to time in the Aegean Sea was the ancient Mionan city of Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini. It was buried by volcanic ash much like Pompeii – but long before Pompeii.
Greece has other lost and sunken cities (just like Egypt), so add them to your wish list if you are interested in mysterious archaeology. Otherwise, search for the Lost Cities yourself – there are still known Lost Cities in Egypt that have yet to be discovered.
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