Museums and Tourism

Underwater cultural heritage is fascinating due to the mystery of its location under water and the historical context. It is often the reminder of a human tragedy – the ending of a journey and a loss of human lives. The discovery of a wreck or ruin allows stepping back into the past and reliving the last moments of the ship and its crew.

Major museums display in original and innovative spaces artefacts that were extracted from shipwrecks or from ruins. Some of these museums even exhibit shipwrecks in their entirety.

Underwater Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development

Economic Advantages

The attraction of the historic significance, beauty and authenticity of underwater sites can have a considerable economic importance for many regions. Not only are the Roskilde, Mary Rose, Bodrum, Vasa or Hedeby museums among the most visited tourist attractions of their States. The diving industry also profits largely from the visits of tourists to submerged sites. The underwater museum project in Alexandria, Egypt, is for instance also intended to revive in an integrated approach the whole urban centre of the city.

Important factors for the attraction and sustainability of sites include:

  • the state of preservation
  • the authenticity and historic importance
  • the presentation to the public (for instance through dive trails, maps or signposts)
  • accessibility and security and
  • responsible site management to ensure the long-term sustainability of the site.

Submerged & Semi-submerged Museums

Once out of the water and exhibited on land, objects from submerged archaeological sites are deprived of their context and lose part of their significance. Therefore, several recent initiatives have been undertaken to offer visitors in situ experiences. They include dive trails, submersible tours for non-divers and the construction of underwater museums.

© Huang, Dejian, Baiheliang Museum Curator/UNESCO

The Baiheliang Museum, Chine

The project of the The Baiheliang Underwater Museum, Fuling, Chongqing Municipality, China

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.

The Alexandria Underwater Archaeology Museum Project, Egypt

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 Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum (Nanhai No. 1 Museum), Yangjiang, Guangdong Province, China

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

More information on the Museum

Underwater Cultural Heritage Museums

© National Underwater Archaeology Museum ARQUA, Cartagena, Spain

The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology 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.

For more information, visit the Museum's website.

© U. Guérin/UNESCO

The Mary Rose Museum, United Kingdom

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.


For more information, visit the website of the Museum

© WikiCommons, UNESCO.

The Vasa Museum, Sweden

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.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum

© Wikicommons

The Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Danemark

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. For more information visit the website of the Museum.

© Rama

The Latenium, Neuchâtel, Switzerland

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.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum.

© The Bodrum Museum

The Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archeology, Turkey

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.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum.


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