Discovering the Underwater Cultural Heritage in situ

Dive trails

  • Caesarea (Israel)

The ancient port of Caesarea was built by King Herod to honour his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. It was one of the largest ports in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 BCE. Located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast today it has become an underwater museum for divers. They can swim along the sign-posts and admire the relics of the celebrated harbour: a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port’s original foundations, anchors, pedestals and even a shipwreck from Roman times.

© J. Cocks\UNESCO
Roman Concrete bath ruins, Caesarea

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (USA)

A trail of historic shipwrecks is scattered along the coral reefs and buried in the sandy shallows a few miles off the Florida Keys, USA. The nine wrecks on the Shipwreck Trail are associated with European, Colonial, and American history and serve the same functions in this underwater trail as do museums on land. Through the Trail, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary makes the rich maritime heritage more visible. An underwater site guide is available which provides the shipwreck and mooring buoy positions, history, a site map, and identifies marine life visitors can expect to see.

Kronprins Gustav Adolf (Finland)

Declared a maritime historical underwater park in the year 2000, the wreck site of the Kronprins Gustav Adolf off Helsinki, is the first Finnish park of its kind. The Swedish ship was wrecked off Helsinki in 1788 and its remains were discovered in 1995. Divers can visit the wreck by following a lead line with twelve information boards about various details of the remains. There are usually no strong currents and the visibility is between one and ten metres.

  • Protected Shipwreck Sites (Croatia)

Croatian authorities have installed metal cages over several shipwrecks to protect them. Although this protection cannot fully deter potential looters, it does prevent the devastation of sites while nevertheless allowing leisure divers to enjoy them. The system of cooperation with local dive clubs has had great success and contributed largely to the preservation of the sites concerned.

© I. Radic-Rossi/UNESCO
Site protection by a metal cage in Croatia

Ustica (Italy)

The submerged ancient city of Osteodes, shipwrecks and picturesque petrified black lava can be found around the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 57 kilometres northwest of Palermo, Italy. In 1990, an underwater guided trail was created in Punta Gavazzi, Ustica, giving divers the opportunity to admire the numerous sites in situ. The accorded protection made it also possible to preserve the black coral and turtles, and numerous diving centres have been established.

Wellington wreck (New Zealand)

The wreck of the Wellington in New Zealand sank on 13 November 2005 in 23 to 26 metres of water off Island Bay on Wellington’s south coast. The wreck has attracted the interest of many tourist divers, including many former navy servicemen who had once served on the ship. Its remains also attract thousands of fish, including juvenile kahawai, cod and tarakihi. Given the attraction of this and similar submerged sites the New Zealand Maritime Archaeological Association is now developing a “wreck trail”. Designed for divers and non-divers, it will offer information on the location, the history and the range of shipwrecks around the city.

An alternative to the in situ visit : the virtual visit

More and more Underwater Cultural Heritage sites are accessible to archaeologists and divers, while others are still quite unreachable as they are located too deep at sea, in an area where currents are too strong, or are in an area where the darkness is almost total. These conditions often favour the long-term conservation of the heritage but it impedes  the public and the scientific community from discovering it.

Consequently, several projects were launched in order to give to the public access to those sites through a three-dimensional virtual exploration. The data needed for the realization of those simulations are collected by unmanned, autonomous, remote controlled vehicles equipped with adequate sonar and photogrammetric instruments. 

Among those projects, we can quote:

  • The Venus  Project
  • The archaeological project of Bahia, Brazil.

Underwater Museums

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