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Underwater Archaeologists Discover Submerged Ruins off the Coast of Naples


Back in September 2017, underwater archaeologists met a decade-long goal in discovering the submerged ruins of the port of Neapolis. Now, they have identified the location of the port which preceded it, Palepolis, a site the Greeks wrested from the Etruscans some 3000 years ago. Today, Palepolis is known as Naples.

ANSA reports researchers have identified the submerged ruins of Palepolis near the Castel dell'Ovo in Naples. To date, underwater archaeologists have discovered four tunnels, a defense trench probably used by soldiers, and a street still marked by the carts which passed over it so long ago. The Local says exploration will continue under the waves until May 2018.

One of the submerged tunnels. (Elisa Manacorda/Reptv)

One of the submerged tunnels. (Elisa Manacorda/ Reptv)

Mario Negri of the International University of Languages and Media (IULM) in Milan, the organization which funded the research, says “It's a discovery that opens up a new scenario for reconstructing the ancient structure of Palepolis.”

However, Negri seems somewhat hesitant in declaring too much too soon, because he has also said that the ruins, “could – I stress, could – be the archeological traces of Naples' first port, which means we are right at the founding moment of this extraordinary city.”

Others are looking to future possibilities, such as Luciano Garella, who directs Naples’ institution in charge of archaeological heritage, who sees an exciting option on the horizon, “We'll have to explore a different type of tourism – underwater tourism,” he said .

But what made Palepolis special? What’s its history?

Comune.napoli.it states that the earliest settlements in the area date back some 3000 years, “when “Anatolian and Achaean merchants and travellers arrived in the gulf on their way to the mineral lands of the high Tyrrhene.” They founded Parthenope, a small harbor which gradually expanded through business, but was consistently in the midst of battles between the Etruscans and Greeks.

Etruscan warrior, found near Viterbo, Italy, dated c. 500 BC. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Etruscan warrior, found near Viterbo, Italy, dated c. 500 BC. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Greeks eventually conquered the port and renamed it Palepolis in about 474 BC. Soon after, Palepolis was outshined by a new city, Neapolis, which was built by the Greeks to the south.

As Archaeology points out, patrician villas became the main focus of Palepolis by the time the Romans took control. The town had been transformed into something of a suburb for Neapolis; a location where residents had some peace and quiet without setting themselves too far from the bustling city.

The submerged ruins of Neapolis were only discovered in September 2017. The underwater component of the city stretches over 20 hectares (almost 50 acres). As some of Neapolis’ ruins remain aboveground, underwater archaeologists had been searching the region for the last seven years in hope of finding the submerged counterpart. Neapolis was partially submerged by a tsunami on July 21 in 365 AD, a natural disaster that also damaged Alexandria in Egypt and Greece’s island of Crete .

Underwater archaeologists have discovered monuments, streets, and about 100 tanks that were used in the production of a fermented fish condiment known as garum at Neapolis. Mounir Fantar, the head of a Tunisian-Italian archaeological mission said: “This discovery has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major center for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest center in the Roman world. Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum.”

Today, visitors interested in the earliest days of Palepolis, and pre-Palepolis times, can find remnants of a necropolis dating back to when the settlement was known as Parthenope and a few indications left of a Roman villa built by a nobleman named Lucullo. For the most part, Comune.napoli.it says Palepolis has been overtaken by later building projects, such as “Castel dell'Ovo on the isle of Megaride, and by luxury housing, hotels and shops.”

Castel dell'Ovo, Naples. (Public Domain)

Castel dell'Ovo, Naples. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: Ruins of the ancient submerged port of Palepolis off the coast of Naples. Source: Elisa Manacorda/ Reptv

By Alicia McDermott

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