Epidaurus is one of the places that brings back great memories from our road trip to the Peloponnese. In ancient times, Epidaurus was an important commercial center on the eastern coast of the Argolid, in the northeastern Peloponnese. Today the city is mostly famous for its well preserved Ancient Theater which sits near the sanctuary of Asclepius, the ancient Greek God of medicine. But few visitors know that just a little beyond the renowned Theater of Epidaurus there is an ancient sunken city.
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What Is the Sunken City of Ancient Epidaurus?
If you dig around a little, you’ll discover that the Sunken City is actually not so much a city, but rather a small settlement which might have been a trading post in ancient times.
The Sunken City was accidentally discovered in the 1970s due to an aerial photo taken from a hot-air balloon. The architectural remains include traces of an ancient port, various walls and a cluster of three buildings, the closest of which is located only 45 meters from the shore. This is the structure you’ll be seeing when visiting the site.
Archeologists believe these are the remains of a rural Roman villa from the 2nd century, which was inhabited by a wealthy Roman family and their staff.
What to Expect at the Site
Although not a huge site, the underwater city of Epidaurus is very unique and fun to explore. The ruins lie very close to the shore and just 2 meters below the sea level. They are relatively easy to visit when it’s warm enough to swim, or snorkel.
And once you get into the water the true magic happens! Swimming between these vestiges for the first time feels almost surreal. It’s a special experience that you won’t soon forget. You can clearly distinguish building foundations, amphorae, remnants of the ancient walls and even floor sections which seem almost intact. Mementos of a forgotten city whose only residents today are the colorful fish and giant urchins that hide among the ruins!
Snorkeling is the best way to visit the Sunken City, as floating above it will give you a pretty clear view of the ruins below. However, to get an overall perspective of the entire city you’ll have to look from a drone. Luckily we brought one with us, so we were able to film a few images.
Best Time to Visit the Sunken City of Ancient Epidaurus
We arrived at the Sunken City at around 3 pm, after visiting the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus. Although it was only mid May, the water was ok for swimming (around 19º-20ºC which is 66º-68ºF. Of course, during the summer months it gets much warmer, so it’s even more fun to soak in it.
But even if you visit Epidaurus when it’s too cold to swim, you can still see the Sunken City by booking a kayak tour that will take you above the ancient ruins. We also noticed a scuba-diving boat that brought some people to the site, so diving trips are also available if you want to explore the underwater city.
The area around is also very scenic, with a beautiful coastline and crystal-clear, blue waters. If you plan to spend some time on the beach, there are beach chairs available to rent, or you can bring your own towel.
There is also a rustic taverna that serves simple but delicious Greek dishes and cold drinks. This is a great place to stop for a bite after visiting the ruins. We had some fried fish with chips and lingered there for a while.
How to Reach the Sunken City
The Sunken City is located in the bay of Agios Vlasios, on the beach of “Kalymnios” in Ancient Epidaurus. The location is at the end of a cul-de-sac road, where the road meets the sea. Park your car at the Athina Tavern, which is right next to the beach, and start walking towards the left, past the tavern. About 50 meters from the site you’ll notice a sign on the beach for the Sunken City.
Finding Kalymnios beach was a little difficult, but once we found it the underwater area was easier to spot thanks to the drone that we flew over it. There are signs pointing towards the sea, but without the drone it would have been a little more difficult to find the exact spot.
However, not having a drone shouldn’t be a deterrent. If you visit during the summer, you’ll most likely see many people in the water swimming over the ruins.
Getting There from Athens
One option is to book a private boat tour that will take you there and let you snorkel among the ancient ruins. Although that’s an expensive option (it costs around €180 per person) it’s the fastest and most pleasurable one.
The cheapest alternative is to take the bus from Athens to Epidaurus and get off at Palaia Epidavros. From there you can walk to the beach of Kalymnios, where the Sunken City is. The bus trip will take approximately 3.5 hours (one way), which is a rather long trip.
Tips for Visiting the Ruins of the Sunken City
Visiting the Sunken City is not difficult if you come prepared. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you are planning to come here:
• If the water is rough and you see big waves, don’t bother to go in as you may not be able to see much. Besides, it can also be dangerous as there are many rocks and sea urchins which can hurt your feet.
• You should’t touch or walk on the top of the walls when visiting the ruins, although you could. While there is nothing to stop you from doing it (other than the needle sharp sea urchins which are everywhere), stepping on the ruins will endanger the preservation of this site. Keep in mind that what you see today was barely discovered 50 years ago. These ruins are fragile and could easily disappear if we don’t protect them.
• Bring water shoes and snorkeling equipment. This beach has pebbles which makes waking on it and entering the water rather difficult without water shoes. Also, bringing a snorkel and some googles will help you see better under the water. If you visit Greece in fall or in spring, when the water it’s a little cooler, also bring a liner or a rash guard to keep you warm.
• If you plan to visit the Sunken City in summer make sure you come here early in the morning, before other people arrive. The locals told us this beach is very popular and can get crowded, especially on weekends.