While some ancient tales of lost sunken Greek cities like the Lost City of Atlantis may be nothing more than a myth - not all of the tales are mythical. Helike is a real-life ancient Greek city that was destroyed, buried, and lost to history by a tsunami. In fact, Helike has been (one of the 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 rath of the gods - Poseidon in particular. For the Romans, it became something of a tourist attraction. But while the city may have been underwater in the lagoon in the time of the Greeks and Romans, that lagoon has since been completely covered under river-borne sediments.
What To Know About The Lost City of Helike
"For the sea was raised by an earthquake and it submerged Helike, and also the temple of Poseidon... And Eratosthenes says that he himself saw the place and that the ferrymen said there was a bronze Poseiden [statue] in the Strait, standing erect, holding a hippocamp in his hand, which was perilous for those who fished with nets.
Helike is located in the northern Peloponnesos in Greece around 2 kilometers from the Corinthian Gulf. 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 left destroyed and submerged.
- Listed: It Has Been Added To The List Of 100 Most Endangered Sites
- Date: 373 BC
- Destroyed: By An Earthquake and Tsunami
- Located: On The Southwest Shore of The Gulf of Corinth
Over time, the sunken city gradually silted over and disappeared from memory without a trace. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some ancient writers saw the wrath of the sea and earthquake god Poseidon on the city.
Helike In Ancient Times
It is believed that Helike was founded sometime in the Bronze Age and grew to become the main city of Achaea. So this wasn't just a very minor Greek city, but a significant one.
- Homer: Mentions That Helike Took Part In The Trojan War
- Achaean League: Helike Led The Achaean League
It is also known that Helike was known by another name as well - 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 throughout the classical world as second only in religious importance to Delphi.
The city also spawned a number of colonies including Priene in Asia Minor (today's western Turkey) and Sybaris in South Italy (the most famous Greek colony of 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 stated they were badly corroded. The Roman tourists would also sail around the sunken city and admire its statuary.
But later on, the site silted over the knowledge of the location was lost.
- Ancient Writers Who Visited Helike: The Greeks Strabo, Pausanias, and Diodoros of Sicily, The Romans Aelian and Ovid
The Researchers Found More Than Helike
In 1988 the Helike Project got underway to discover the lost city of Helike. It was one of the biggest targets for underwater archaeology as it was thought to have still been underwater. It wasn't until 2001 that the ancient city was finally discovered. And what the researchers found was astonishing.
Not only did they find the lost classical city buried under the deposits of an ancient lagoon, but also a nearby entire Early Bronze Age town (dating from 2400 BC). That Early Bronze Age town is also in a remarkable state of preservation.
- Search: Began in 1988
- Found: In 2001
- Also Found: A Well Preservate Nearby Early Bronze Age town That Shared a Similar Fate
Little did the inhabitants of Helike realize, but that Early Bronze Age town heralded their own fact 2,000 years later. It seems the prehistoric town suffered a similar fact - just 20 centuries later.
Another ancient city buried and lost to time in the Aegean was the ancient Mionean 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 (and so does Egypt) so add these onto one's bucket list if one has an interest in mystery archeology. Alternatively, look for lost cities oneself - there are still known lost cities in Egypt that have not yet bet discovered.