Feature: Underwater antiquities open to scuba divers in central Greece

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ATHENS, April 10 (Xinhua) -- The central Greek island of Alonissos is opening up its seabed to amateur and professional explorers of ancient shipwrecks, offering access to scuba divers wishing to visit some of the most impressive archaeological finds in the Mediterranean that cannot be lifted from where they have been discovered.

In this fresh form of alternative tourism, the island's authorities -- the Regional Authority of Thessaly and the Culture Ministry of Greece -- are proposing to enable visitors to hire the necessary equipment and dive as deep as 40 meters under the sea to explore and admire the remnants of at least four classical-era shipwrecks scattered in the wider area of the Pagasitikos Gulf near the city of Volos.

These finds include a shipwreck by Peristera island, off the coast of Alonissos, which was seen as a breakthrough to underwater archaeology when discovered almost three decades ago due to the wealth of its finds.

It was opened to the public for the first time last weekend in a special two-day event held on Alonissos as a pilot for the project of what has been dubbed Greece's first underwater archaeological museum.

"This is not a museum as such," Culture Ministry archaeologist Despina Koutsoumpa told Xinhua in a recent interview.

She has been responsible for setting up the entire project and explained that "it's more like a set of archaeological sites that one can visit by diving or even enjoy through a virtual tour, as they will be accessible to non-divers too."

That is because the project, co-funded by the European Union's BlueMed program, will allow visitors not wishing to take the guided tour into the Aegean Sea to explore onshore the material collected.

With countless finds, such as amphorae lying on the seabed waiting to be explored and admired by scuba divers, the Peristera shipwreck will be accessible to visitors this summer, with a pilot scheme for visitors expected to be extended to the three other sites in the region for the summers of 2020 and 2021, Koutsoumpa says.

"If the Regional Authority completes the necessary process and we get the approval required, the project will be fully up and running as of 2022," she estimated.

Thessaly Regional Authority spokesman Yiannis Vasvatekis told Xinhua the project was an issue of priority and revealed that more sites were about to be added to it.

"We have several other spots with shipwrecks that will be included, such as two classical-era finds off the coast of Almyros," he said, referring to a town near Volos.

Cooperation with European partners through the BlueMed project is quite important for the Alonissos underwater sites, said Koutsoumpa, who is a diver-archaeologist working at the ministry's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities (Greek Agency for Marine Archeology).

"We benefit from the exchange of experience and know-how, with the Italians bringing in three-dimensional (3D) technology for virtual visitors, while the University of Cyprus has collected biological material for examination, as there is such as wealth of finds in those shipwrecks, so many parameters," Koutsoumpa explained. Enditem

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