On a winter night in 373 or 372 BC
, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami destroyed and submerged Helike
(or Helice), the principal Greek city on the southwest shore of the Gulf of Corinth
. Also destroyed was the temple of the Heliconian Poseidon
, the god of earthquakes and the sea. The destruction of city was foretold by several events, including the appearance of some "immense columns of flame
" (Google books), which have since been classified as a type of earthquake lights
. The submerged ruins of the city disappeared slowly, as centuries later tourists could still see the walls beneath the water. Silt finally covered the ruins, turning the ocean into land again. The city, once a founding member of the Achaean League
, was lost and remembered only in writings. A coin from Helike was discovered in 1861
, but it wasn't until 2001 that not one but two ancient cities were discovered
, including an entire Early Bronze Age town, dating from about 2400 BC.
Helike is one of the many hypothetical locations of Atlantis
, with the theory indicating that Plato fabricated the story of Atlantis based on the real disappearance of Helike.
It was only natural that Helike would be the center of a Poseidon cult, for this region is one of the most active earthquake zones in Europe
. In 1861, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake
caused eight miles of coastline dropped about six feet. Then in 1995, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck the region
(Google preview, original PDF
), at that time it was the worst earthquake in Greece since 1980.
The story of Helike didn't disappear as the city itself had. "It's something that goes with the area. It goes for generations, from father to daughter
," said archaeologist Dr. Dora Katsonopoulou, who grew up some 5 miles from the site, and heard stories of local history from her father. Searching for the city since the 1980s
, first looking to the current-day lagoon, as Jacques Costeau
and other notables had done in decades past, then drilling boreholes in 1991, when she and her team finally found remnants from a past civilization. In 1995, the team uncovered a large Roman building. In 2000, they uncovered a 20 foot wide Roman road and part of a large 4th century AD Roman, with evidence of the building being an earthquake ruin. In 2001, further digs discovered prehistoric ruins, indicating a development pre-dating the Helike that Katsonopoulou's team had hoped to find.
The future of the excavations are in question, with increased development along the coastal regions of Greece, and the Greek National Railway is planning to straightening an existing rail line that would cut through the heart the ruins, earning the Helike site a place on the World Monuments Fund
list of top endangered sites, in both 2004
(PDF) and 2006
This interactive map of Ancient Peloponnese
will locate Helike, if you search for the city by name.
The ancient city has inspired modern poetry
(Helike Athanatos I
, and V
). There was also a BBC program in 2002
about the rediscovery of Helik (Helike: The Real Atlantis, part 1