The first two Diving Parks (Underwater Archaeological Parks) in Greece are scheduled to open to visitors by next summer and will boost yet another alternative type of tourism in the country, as recreational diving is an activity on a worldwide rise. The two parks are located on Sapientza islet opposite Methoni town and in Navarino bay, in the Pylos area, southwestern Messinia (Peloponnese).
Sapientza’s area is barely 9 km2 and it is a habitat hosting the Cretan wild goat (kri kri), wild lambs, birds etc among other species in a protected forest of strawberry trees. On the islet there is a 19th c. stone lighthouse, the ruins of a Frankish church and a beautiful sandy beach (called Ammos). The islet is located on the important maritime route linking Italy and Middle East, and its shores have over the centuries been witness to many a shipwreck. Some of these wreckages are of great importance to archaeologists. One of these ships carried four roman sarcophagi dating to the 2nd – 3rd c. AD, made of “titanium-bearing stone” which originated from Assos town, Troada (Minor Asia); another one was dated to the times of the Fourth Crusade (early 13th century) and carried twelve granite columns from the grand Colonnaded Courtyard [Peristyle] built by King Herod in Caesarea, Palestine in the 1st c. AD. Another asset to the area is its underwater world as there are large populations of colourful fish and amazing fields of Posidonias (a marine plant). All of the above can be seen with a simple diving mask as they lie in a depth of only 8 to 10 m.
A bit further to the North, in Navarino bay, you will be able to swim next to 19th c. shipwrecks; among them you will see three ottoman warships which got sunk during the 1827 naval battle in Navarino when the allied British, French and Russian fleets defeated the Ottomans at a crucial stage of the Greek War of Independence. Scuba divers will find it very interesting to explore the 1980 wreckage of the tanker Irene Serenade; its bottom sits at a 50 m. depth while its deck lies at 25 m., and it is the second largest visitable shipwreck in the world on account of its length (282 m.).
Scuba divers will also be able to marvel at the marine life in the Mediterranean as they will discover underwater caves and reefs which are home to sea turtles and are frequently visited by dolphins.
Visiting these amazing underwater sights and taking pictures is allowed only under guidance. Non diving visitors can view the seabed through a glass-bottomed boat. The conduct of scientific research will also be possible in these underwater archaeological sites after a leave granted by the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
Plans to create the largest diving park in Europe are well under way and they include the island group of the Northern Sporades up to the west Pagasetic Gulf shores in the district of Magnesia.