The submerged town of Pavlopetri is situated in shallow water between the beach of Pouda at Viglafia (near Neapoli) and the islet of Pavlopetri, opposite the island of Elafonisos. The architectural remains of this prehistoric town, visible at a depth of about three meters, were discovered in 1904 by Fokionos Negris. In 1967 the famous oceanographer Dr. Nicholas Flemming of Southampton University visited the site and subsequently published the first survey of the submerged settlement.
A year later, a team of archaeologists from Cambridge University undertook the first systematic underwater survey of the ruins.
In 2009, an on-going programme of exploration and excavation was begun by the University of Nottingham, the Greek Culture Ministry’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Hellenic Centre for Maritime Research. (www.nottingham.ac.uk/pavlopetri)
The site was first occupied in 3500 BC, making it one of the oldest known submerged cities in the world. The buildings, spread over six hectares, were divided into smaller rooms and in some cases had inner courtyards. At least six prehistoric roads were traced.
The submerged architectural remains continue southwards to the islet of Pavlopetri, on top of which the remains of walls and archaeological artefacts are still visible. Also found among the ruins were stone-lined graves, probably from the Meso-Helladic period and in adherence with the practice at the time of burying infants and small children within the settlement.
At the edge of the town under two small reefs are two Mycenaean chamber tombs. On the beach at Pouda is an extensive prehistoric cemetery of cist graves dating from the 3rd and 2nd millenia BC.
Of particular interest are the ceramic vessels known as pithoi found at the site, in which the prehistoric inhabitants of Pavlopetri stored their wheat, oil and other products such as figs and olives, fish and meat. Other pots found there indicate they had developed close links with Kythera, Crete, the Cyclades and the north-eastern Aegean.
Tools made of obsidian from the island of Milos indicate that the prehistoric population of what is now part of Vatika was in contact with the people of the Cyclades since 2,800 BC.
The town reached its peak in the early Mycenaean period (15th century BC). The Mycenaeans would have used the pithoi and other storage vessels found there in order to store the goods they either produced themselves or traded with others. Also found at the site are cups for drinking wine, small vessels decorated with flower patterns for storing aromatic oils, and even sieves, probably used for preparing some kind of beverage.
The discovery of a large number of weights used in weaving looms show that the women and children produced textiles and valuable clothing, activities known from Linear B tablets found at Mycenaean palaces at Pylos and Knossos. Garments were dyed with porphyry which was produced in the area as well as on the neighbouring island of Kythera (ancient Porphyroussa)
The people of Pavlopetri were farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen; they produced textiles and processed porphyry for dyes. They traded as early as the Proto-Helladic period (3000 BC).
The settlement appears to have been abandoned in about 1100 BC. The latest archaeological evidence indicates that it was populated once more in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Roman and Byzantine pottery found there may indicate that the local population was engaged in quarrying and processing porphyry, on which a special tax had been imposed by Emperor Septimus Severus. Under Roman rule, the Strongyli lagoon (now a Natura 2000 wetland) was used by the inhabitants of ancient Vies for producing salt, then a valuable commodity.
Pavlopetri occupied a prominent prehistoric place in the southern part of the Maleas promontory and was one of, if not the most important ports in the southern Peloponnese as it monitored shipping from the ports of southern Laconia to the Aegean and the western Mediterranean. The narrow channel between Elafonisos and Kythera was one of the most important shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, enabling communication between East and West.