Life Cyprus showcases ancient undersea harbour
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Cyprus showcases ancient undersea harbour

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It’s said that Demetrius the Besieger, a warrior king and one of Alexander the Great’s successors, built a harbour on Cyprus’ south coast 2400 years ago to thwart any naval invasion from the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy I, another of Alexander’s heirs.

French archaeologists who initially studied the ancient harbour of Amathus believe it to be an incomplete military fortification work, the three piers of which would have accommodated the best of the ancient world’s naval ships, ready to repel an attacking force.

Lying just underwater a mere 60 metres off the coastline near the resort town of Limassol, the harbour will soon be Cyprus’ newest tourist attraction where adventurous holidaymakers can snorkel over its submerged stone remains.

It’s a novel direction for Cyprus’ tourism authorities, who are looking beyond the east Mediterranean island nation’s long-held “sun and surf” product to reach out to specialised tourism markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slashed tourism arrivals for an island that relies much on that revenue, so Cyprus authorities are taking a fresh look at what the island has to offer visitors, to reignite interest among those who do opt to travel.

Cyprus Antiquities department official Yiannis Violaris says what makes the harbour unique to the entire eastern Mediterranean is its state of preservation, combined with its proximity to the coastline.

He says those attributes could bring more people amid a global surge of interest in diving tourism. The fact that Cyprus has earned top marks for the cleanest waters among all other European Union nations for the second year running is also a big bonus.

“Tourists as well as local visitors will have the opportunity to see this impressive ancient harbour, to swim over it and to see how it was constructed, with three moles enclosing it,” Violaris told the Associated Press.

Specialist diving crews are currently cleaning the harbour of vegetation and will mark underwater routes that swimmers can follow on their tour.

Diving tourism isn’t entirely new for the island.

Divers have for years been flocking to the wreck of the MS Zenobia, a Swedish-built ferry that sank in about 42 metres of water just over 1.6 kilometres off the coastal town of Larnaca in 1980.

The wreck has been ranked as one of the world’s best for divers. But diving shop owner Michalis Sinopouris says authorities need to do a lot more to put Cyprus solidly on the global diving map like scuttling larger ships near the coasts to create artificial reefs.

Tourism directly accounts for about 13 per cent of Cyprus’ economy.

According to the latest available figures, tourist arrivals between January and February this year marked an 86 per cent drop from the same period in 2019 when Cyprus hit an all-time high in the number of travellers who opted to holiday on the island.

Tourism officials had hoped for the industry to rebound this month once the UK and Russia – Cyprus’ top two markets – had put the island on their “green” list of safe destinations. Now they’re hoping that August may be the turnaround month.

Tourism Deputy Minister Savvas Perdios said authorities are working to extend the holiday season with the launch of a “game-changing” campaign dubbed “Heartland of Legends” where tourists can visit a village and witness locals making the island’s world-famous Halloumi cheese, among other experiences.

Mr Perdios said despite the drop in arrivals from the UK and Russia, he’s encouraged by the digital interest that potential holidaymakers from non-traditional markets such as France and Germany are showing in travelling to Cyprus.

“We have been working on these markets. … Things won’t happen from just one day to the next, so I’m still optimistic,” Mr Perdios said.

-AAP