Deep dives and shipwrecks

The Alonissos Underwater Museum opened to visitors in summer 2020, right in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It is located off Alonissos island in the Aegean Sea, within the largest marine protected area in Europe, part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network.

The museum offers something for all the family. If you are the adventurous type, you can join a licensed diving excursion to explore the 5th-century BC shipwreck of Peristera. It sank to the bottom of the sea while carrying thousands of vases that likely contained wine. Over 2,500 years later, you can discover those ancient artifacts, still in good condition, in the underwater museum. The experience is made even more rich by the schools of fish swarming amongst the divers in these crystal clear waters.

Underwater museum of Peristera © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Underwater museum of Peristera © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

If you prefer to stay warm and dry, then the Knowledge-Awareness Centre in Alonissos is where you will want to be. High-tech tools and 3D audio-visual displays foster interactive learning for visitors of all ages and abilities. Yet, it’s the exclusive virtual reality dive that brings the centre to new heights. It transports the user to the seabed to get up close with marine life and to see the shipwreck like never before.

Knowledge centre at the underwater museum © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Knowledge centre at the underwater museum © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Supporting Europe’s coastal communities

The underwater museum is part of the EU-funded BLUEMED project, which supports the economic recovery of coastal and island areas in the Mediterranean. The intention is to strengthen alternative tourism and sustainable development throughout the region, while raising awareness of marine heritage, both cultural and natural.

Although many European tourists refrained from international travel during the coronavirus pandemic, the underwater museum still managed to attract high numbers of Greek visitors. By connecting smart tourism with culture, the museum created jobs, upgraded the image of the region and even secured the region’s marine park a place on the global diving map.

“The combination of environment and culture gives special added value to the area, which placed us in the top scuba diving destinations worldwide,” says Angeliki Veneti, the BLUEMED project manager.

Opening of the underwater museum © Paschalis Mantis, 2020

Opening of the underwater museum © Region of Thessaly (Photo by Paschalis Mantis, 2020)

Blue tourism and the European Green Deal

Fostering alternative tourism is part of the EU’s commitment to creating a sustainable economy through the European Green Deal. Innovative projects like the underwater museum show how responsible coastal and maritime tourism - also known as ‘blue tourism’ - can support Europe’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. This is especially important in less-visited yet culture-rich destinations across Europe.

“The experiences gained in Alonissos will continue to be a guide for any other similar venture across the country,” explains Pari Kalamara, Director of the Greek Agency for Marine Archaeology.

However, the much-needed gains from tourism must be balanced with the protection of the environment. The Mediterranean is already the most popular tourist destination in Europe and in the world, and is expected to reach 500 million tourists in 2030. This has a serious impact not only on natural and cultural resources but also on local populations. Therefore, the EU’s continued support for blue tourism and its commitment to protecting marine areas is more vital than ever before.

Underwater museum of Alonnisos © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Underwater museum of Alonnisos © Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities