- Courtney Goe -
Are you looking forward to our upcoming ocean themed collection as much as we are? Our thoughts have been lost beneath the waves for months now. Knowing how much of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, you may not be shocked to learn there are many underwater historical sites scattered all around the world. Some were submerged on purpose in the name of progress, like The Lost Villages in Canada that were flooded to make the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Others, like Port Royal in Jamaica, were lost in a catastrophic seismic event at the height of their good fortune. Let us take you on a brief journey to some of our favorite underwater ruins.
Our first stop will be just outside the Norwegian town of Ørsta. It isn’t very often that you can tell the date a lake formed, but that is exactly the case with Lake Lygnstøylsvatnet. This area of western Norway is prone to landslides, and on May 26, 1908, a landslide caused a quiet valley to become flooded. Lake Lygnstøylsvatnet was born. Now it is a destination for divers that come to see the submerged farmhouses, roads and road markers, and gorgeous underwater forest. You can see some excellent underwater photography and video of the ruins here.
Next, we head to an underwater ruin whose timeline is a bit more murky. Around 1,600 years ago, off the coast of Alexandria, earthquakes and tidal waves sunk an island called Antirhodos. These ruins were rediscovered in the late 1990s, and are thought to have been the royal quarters of Cleopatra herself. These quarters were most likely abandoned shortly after Cleopatra’s death, but were carbon dated to 200 years before that. They were probably inherited. A sphinx with the head of Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, has been found at the site. Red granite columns, a temple to the goddess Isis, and a well preserved shipwreck are also found in the ruins of Antirhodos. Everyday items such as coins or jewelry, and all the way up to huge items like pieces of the Lighthouse of Alexandria have been located here. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the classical world, and was the tallest manmade structure on Earth for centuries. Efforts have been underway for years to create an underwater museum to showcase these artifacts; but unfortunately pollution, regional turmoil, and lack of funds have stalled the construction.
Now, we head to Jamaica and the aforementioned Port Royal. Once known as “the wickedest city in the world,” Port Royal’s bustling economy was built on privateering. It was founded in 1578 by the Spanish, but taken over by the British after a failed attempt to conquer the island of Hispaniola. (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) The British didn’t want to come home after a defeat, so they took the less defended position on Jamaica and prevailed there instead. Before treaties were signed banning the practice, the British government would allow captains to steal from Spanish and French ships; as long as they shared their haul with the Brits. Port Royal’s location near trade routes, straights, and Spanish settlements made it an incredibly lucrative position for privateers and pirates alike. At one point it was the largest city in the Caribbean; during that period it was certainly also the wealthiest. It was famous for its incredibly strong “Kill-Devil” rum, and so much was consumed that there were even reports of local parrots drinking it. At one point, 25 percent of the buildings in this city were either taverns or brothels. The city’s moniker was earned and then some.
However, in a matter of minutes in 1692, this all changed. Port Royal wasn’t built on bedrock; it was built on wet sand. When they wanted to build out, they’d fill in wet areas and build there. The soggy foundation and seismic activity turned into a disaster for this wild town. On June 7, 1692, Port Royal was hit by an earthquake. The wet sand under the city liquefied and ran into Kingston Harbor, and 13 acres were suddenly submerged under up to 40 feet of water. A stopped pocket watch, frozen just before noon, found in the ruins tells us exactly when this tragedy struck. Around 2,000 people died in the immediate aftermath; up to 3,000 more died because of disease afterward. Port Royal never quite regained its former glory, and Kingston is now the major city that has taken its place in terms of trade.
The exact way Port Royal submerged was unique. In some areas things toppled and were destroyed, but in others the fall was completely vertical. Many buildings submerged nearly intact. That fact, coupled with the very low oxygen environment, has been a veritable goldmine for archeologists. Divers are able to explore those areas of the city, and many items belonging to the inhabitants are right where they were left that day. Usually ruins are built over as a city evolves; Port Royal, Pompeii and a few other catastrophic sites are unique in that they are snapshots of just how a city was before it all went wrong.
We hope you’ve enjoyed trekking to some of the world’s most unique and interesting underwater ruins. Keep an eye on this space for updates on our newest ocean inspired collection; we’re sure you’ll want a piece that would help you fit in when you check out those submerged taverns in Port Royal.