Underwater Cultural Heritage Museums

Some countries with rich underwater heritage have decided to recover artifacts or whole wrecks and exhibit them in museums, which are now lasting cultural attractions for their regions. The museums provide the public at large with easy access to their underwater heritage and thereby stimulate awareness, education and research. Furthermore many of these museums have been strong factors in the urban development of the cities in which they are based. The Vasa, Mary Rose, Bodrum and Roskilde Museums have for instance considerably changed the way Stockholm, Portsmouth, Bodrum and Roskilde look today.

© National Underwater Archaeology Museum ARQUA, Cartagena, Spain

ARQUA is the main institution responsible for the study, evaluation, research, conservation, promotion and protection of Spanish underwater cultural heritage. Its permanent exhibition explains the importancce of the underwater cultural heritage, the scientific work of an underwater archaeologists, and features the timbers of a seventh-century B.C. Phoenician shipwreck, the Mazarron I, discovered in Mazarron, near Cartagena. Together with the Mazarron II, preserved in situ, they provide important information about Phoenician ship construction in the Iberian Peninsula. It also explains the story of navigation, port construction and maritime trade in ancient times throughout its collection.

© Wilkinson Eyre, Architects

The Mary Rose Museum of Portsmouth displays the 16th century Tudor navy warship Mary Rose, one of the main vessel of King Henri VIII fleet, as well as the historical context during the one she was used. Built in 1509-1510, it sunk in 1545 while leading a battle against France. Discovered in 1971, the wreck was salvaged in 1982 and is now displayed in the Museum.

© WikiCommons

The Vasa Museum presents the Vasa, a warship built in the 17th century which was, at the time of launching, the most powerful boat ever built. It sank in 1628. The shipwreck was extracted from water in 1961 and is now exhibited in the most visited museum of Scandinavia.

© Wikicommons

The Museum focuses on ships, seafaring and boatbuilding from ancient and medieval times. It displays five Viking ships found at Skuldelev. It also houses temporary exhibitions, copies of a trading vessel and of a warship. The boat building tradition and culture of the Viking age are illustrated through working boat builders and exhibitions. Craftsmen work in an archaeological workshop, where finds from throughout Denmark are measured and recorded, and courses of maritime archaeology are held. 

© Rama

Designed for all audiences and awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize, the Latenium is the largest archaeological museum in Switzerland. The breath of its collection covers Celtic archaeology and many other periods, including the Neolithic pile dwelling sites in the lake of Neuchâtel.

© The Bodrum Museum

This museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Turkey. It displays the archaeological remains of five antique ships, amphora, coins and other cargo elements.



(Semi-)Submerged Museums

A relatively recent development in underwater cultural heritage management has been the establishment of true underwater museums or "museum-aquarium" settings. Their impressive exhibits as well as their technical ingenuity have attracted a lot of attention and have contributed significantly to a rejuvenation of the tourism industry in their regions. Such museums show the underwater environment and the authentic site in situ or in a close-to in situ situation, while still allowing easy access to anyone interested in underwater heritage. 

© Huang, Dejian, Baiheliang Museum Curator/UNESCO

The is an archaeological site in Fuling, China, now submerged under the waters of the newly built Three Gorges Dam. It displays some of the world’s oldest hydrological inscriptions, recording 1,200 years of changes in the water level of the Yangtze River in the north of the Fuling District of the Chongqing Municipality. The stone ridge is 1,600 meters long and 15 meters wide. It reaches 138 meters at its peak height and is submerged under 43 meters water with the completion of the Three Gorges Dam Project. The Baiheliang museum offers access to those inscriptions under water.

© Arturo Rey da Silva
View of Alexandria Bay from Quaitbey Fort.

Following the discovery of statues and other precious artefacts in the eastern basin of the port of Alexandria (Egypt), it has been projected to build a submerged museum in the Bay of Alexandria. This museum will display artefacts found in the palace of Cleopatra. It will include an exhibition space above the sea level and an underwater space corresponding to the major archaeological areas. 

Discover the publication Focus on Alexandria (UNESCO)

©UNESCO/U. Guérin.

The wreck of the Nanhai No. 1 was found in the western part of the mouth of the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) in China. The wreck is in exceptional condition. It is thought to contain 60,000 to 80,000 precious pieces of cargo, especially ceramics. The Nanhai No. 1 Museum features the shipwreck in an aquarium setting characterized by the same water quality, temperature and environment as the spot in which the wreck was discovered. Archaeologists have started to excavate the vessel inside the aquarium, thereby enabling visitors to observe underwater archaeological work in a museum environment. The remains of the ancient vessel are expected to yield critical information on ancient Chinese ship building and navigation technologies.

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