The South coast of Crete is popular for tourists and locals for great sunbathing, swimming, and watersports. The sea in the south of the island is wonderful, and the beaches and bays are spectacularly beautiful. But there’s so much hidden beneath the aquamarine sea too. Here are three surprises you will want to see just beneath the waves.
On the south side of Kommos Beach, a long stretch of perfect sand famous for the sea turtles that nest here in Spring, an interesting rock protrudes from the water about 150 meters from the shoreline. It is visible because the waves break there. Swimmers often go out to the spot to snorkel or just to investigate. But, this is no ordinary rock at all!
The anomaly is the old harbor jetty from Minoan times thousands of years ago. Just opposite that rock, excavations of a storage complex that once belonged to this port have been going on since Sir Arthur Evans began studying Kommos back in 1924. Archaeologists have revealed that this was an important supply line for Faistos and Gortyn, the famous inland settlements in the Messara plain. Few who swim their way around the rock nowadays will realize that innumerable antique sailing ships from all over the Mediterranean unloaded their precious cargos here, since before written time.
Matala’s Sunken Secrets
Matala, a little further away, is known for the caves in the chalk cliffs. Many visitors these days dream of the 60s and 70s, and the hippie days, when it was one big party in this area! However, exactly on the other side of the bay, just below the waterline, there is another submarine secret waiting. Here you can find the storage basins for fish from the Roman era (around 200 AD). Back then, the basins were used to keep caught fish alive and fresh. The rectangular basins were been cut from the limestone coastal rocks, which were at that time just above the then waterline. Fresh water was continually supplied to the basins by an ingenious system of locks and gutters. One can still clearly distinguish some basins, but today those are just below sea level. They can easily be recognized by aerial photos.
Damnoni Beach Mystery
Further west, on Damnoni Beach near Plakias, a walk on the beach eventually leads visitors to strange round structures. Here you will find a stone plateau with just tiny waves of seawater gently rippling over it. The surface of the plateau is made up of perfectly round, shallow holes up to about a meter in diameter, which are a perfect habitat for sea anemones, crabs, sea urchins, and all kinds of small fish. A first look tells anyone that such a regular shape can never have arisen on its own, so what is it, you may ask?
It was a quarry. In ancient times, millstones used to dring grain in watermills were carved here. Scattered (parts of) those millstones have been found in the region; consisting of the same kind of material as found in this quarry. This stone plateau provided an excellent quality of granite, to carve out the round millstones.
Finally, the question is: what causes these kinds of man-made structures to be located below the current seawater level? Has the island sunken over the past millennia, or has the sea level risen? Well, the answer is a combination of both. However, the effect is not the same everywhere in Crete.
One indicator of a dramatic geophysical event is the fact that the Roman fish tanks as seen in Matala (and elsewhere) have sunken much deeper (up to more than 4 meters) underwater in the East compared to the Central and West part of the island (at most 1.5 meters deep).
The explanation is in the local dynamics of the earth.
On the one hand, the entire island drops continually, and very slowly, with the sea level on average rising a bit (until 1962; after it dropped in this area). Since the Venetian period (1600 AD), the net calculated effect of both movements is about 1.25 meters of relative subsidence.
On the other hand, especially the Western half of Crete was lifted several meters in the past millennia by a series of earthquakes. Due to one of these events at Falasarna, you can find a port from about 300 BC located 6 to 9 meters above sea level now!
In short: the coastline of Crete is not just beautiful; it has an intriguing history too. So, it’s important to realize that the entire island and its inhabitants are never in a static, unchanging situation, and society must always adapt to the everlasting dynamics of the earth.