Elsewhere in these pages I have made reference to UNESCO and the World Heritage and the Intangible Heritage lists. Italy is well represented on both. I am pleased to note the existence (since 2001) of another UNESCO effort, namely that of trying to find, catalog and, if possible, preserve our Underwater Cultural Heritage. From UNESCO sources:Underwater cultural heritage encompasses all traces of human existence that lie or were lying under water and have a cultural or historical character. This includes three million shipwrecks such as the Titanic and ancient 4,000 shipwrecks of the Kublai Khan sunken fleet. There are also sunken ruins and cities, such as the remains of the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, as well as thousands of prehistoric sites. Entire cities have been swallowed by the waves, and thousands of ships have perished at sea. While these ships, buildings and historical items are not frequently visible on the surface, their remains have survived at the bottom of lakes, seas and oceans, safely preserved by the water environment. They provide testimony to the various periods and aspects of our history, for example, the cruelty of the slave trade, the ferocity of wars, the impact of natural disasters, traces of sacred ceremonies and beliefs or the peaceful exchange and intercultural dialogue between faraway regions.
In reference to Italy, they say,
with over 700 km of coastline and a central position
within the Mediterranean basin, conserves within its
waters a vast underwater archaeological heritage,
testimony of the fundamental role it has played at the
crossroads of travel over the course of centuries which
has connected the East and the West and the three
continents that boarder the sea. Over the past twenty
years, the improvement in diving equipment and techniques
has led to an increase in the numbers of recreational
divers, as well as the increased depths which can now be
reached, therefore making sites more accessible and
increasing the risk to this heritage. In order to tackle
this problem, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage... in 2004
started the Archeomar Project. The project aims to
create a register of all the underwater archaeological
sites along the coastlines of the regions of Italy, which
today has now covered Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata,
Campania, Lazio and Tuscany.
Years of work and hundreds of days of on-site survey over more than 360 km2 of seabed have now produced 628 files containing the data collected from archives, libraries and museums and have located with precision and documented with pictures and videos 282 underwater archaeological sites.
should be noted that there are already a fair number of
underwater sites inscribed in the general UNESCO cultural
heritage list, but this is the first massive world-wide
coordinated assault on the task. Locally, of course,
regional and national authorities have not been idle.
Almost all large museums in southern Italy have sections
dedicated to the treasures beneath the sea. Baia, for
example, at the western end of the gulf of Naples has its
own underwater archaeology park;
you can snorkel or scuba down and explore or go over to
the museum enclosed in the Baia castle and visit the
considerable exhibit dredged up from the depths and
reconstructed. Even construction of the Naples Metro
station at Piazza Municipio has been helpful; they
uncovered the Roman port and found
some ancient ships. There are also spectacular finds
such as the statues now known as the Riace bronzes, found in the
waters off of Calabria. "Underwater archaeology sites"
include not just sunken cities or parts thereof, but
shipwrecks, ancient and modern--not just the Roman ships
at Piazza Municipio, but the large number of sunken
vessels from WWI. UNESCO set a "must be 100 years old"
limit on that task. It is formidable, indeed. (If you want
to search for sunken ships from WWII, you'll have to wait
a while.) So imagine all the waters of all the seas,
rivers and lakes in the world disappearing just for a few
seconds, (I don't want to kill any fish!) and imagine that
you could take a fast glance at what's down
there...Atlantis? Probably not, but it's still exciting.
updated August 2015: This just in! A megalith in the Sicilian Channel.