The Sunken City of Helike

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The city of Helike is located in Achaea, in the northern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. During its period of flourish, Helike was a leader of the Achaean League, which consisted of 12 cities. This was an important economic, cultural and religious center.

The protector god of Helike was Poseidon, the Greek god of the seas and earthquakes. The city was actually located in one of regions with the highest seismic activity in Europe. There was a temple and sanctuary built in honor of Poseidon and inside a bronze statue of the God of the seas was discovered, as well as coins with his image.

The city was destroyed in 373 BC. Before it was destroyed, several signs of the upcoming doom emerged. “Enormous Flaming Pillars” appeared throughout the city and animals began migrating away from the coastline and into the mountains a few days before the catastrophe. A powerful earthquake, and after that a devastating tsunami from the Gulf of Corinth erased Helike from the face of the Earth. No one survived.

The horrible wave that swallowed the city of Helike. Wikimedia Commons
The horrible wave that swallowed the city of Helike. Wikimedia Commons

According to a legend, the city was destroyed by the wrath of Poseidon because the locals refused his wish to dedicate a monument to him, or at least a model of it. As a result, Poseidon punished the citizens of Helike. The sea swallowed up the city, similar to the tragedy of Atlantis.

Although, unlike Atlantis, Helike was not entirely submerged under water, as was said by travelers over the centuries. Philosopher Eratosthenes, who had visited the city 150 years after its destruction, wrote that the statue of Poseidon was located in the water and presented a danger to the fishermen’s nets.

Greek traveler, Pausanias, wrote that the walls of the ancient city could be seen under the water, even though they were almost completely destroyed. Ancient Romans also loved traveling to those places, so they can bask in the glory of the remains of the sunken city. But the location of Helike was lost in time.

Even though the search for the actual location of Helike had begun in the XIX century, it was finally discovered at the end of the XX century. This sunken city has become one of the biggest secrets of underwater archaeology.

A bronze statue of Poseidon. Wikimedia Commons
A bronze statue of Poseidon. Wikimedia Commons

Exactly the belief that the city was located somewhere in the Gulf of Corinth made its discovery so impossible. In 1988, Greek archaeologist, Dora Katsonopoulou, suggested that the city, mentioned in ancient texts, couldn’t have possibly been in the sea, but rather in the inner part of the lagoon.

If this is in fact true, it is possible that Helike is not located in the Gulf of Corinth, because in the past the lagoon was covered in silt. Back in 2001, archaeologists had discovered ruins of the city in Argolis, and in 2012 the layer of silt and sediment was removed and that’s when it became obvious that this is actually Helike.

To this day, excavations are still made in that region which was settled in ancient times by different nationalities in different periods of history. They can provide a better picture of life in the region from Prehistoric times to modern days.

And even though the history of Helike may seem incredible, it is just one moment in a long series of events stretched through thousands of years.