Cyprus showcases an ancient undersea port to attract tourists


Cyprus showcases an ancient undersea port to attract tourists

Yiannis Violaris, an official of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, dives over the submerged stone remains of the ancient port next to the ancient city of Amathus, on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Lying only a few feet underwater, just 200 feet from The coast near the resort of Limassol, this 2,400-year-old harbor   Alexander, the Great's successors, will soon become the newest tourist attraction in Cyprus where adventurous vacationers can dive over the remains of submerged stone.

Amathus said that Demetrius the Warrior, a great warrior king and one of Alexander the Great's successors, built this port on the southern coast of Cyprus 2,400 years ago to thwart a possible naval invasion by the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy, the last of Alexander's heirs.

French archaeologists who initially studied the ancient port of Amathus believed it to be an unfinished military fortification work. The three berths would have accommodated the best naval ships of the ancient world, ready to fend off an attacking force.

Located just a few feet underwater, just 200 feet off the coast near the resort of Limassol, the port will soon be Cyprus' newest tourist attraction, where adventurous vacationers can dive over the remains of submerged stones.

It's a new trend for Cyprus' tourism authorities, who are looking beyond the country's long-standing "sun and surf" product to reach niche tourism markets.

COVID-19 pandemic has slashed tourist arrivals to an island that relies on that revenue, so Cypriot authorities take a fresh look at what the island offers to visitors to reignite interest among those who choose to travel.

What makes the port unique to the entire eastern Mediterranean is its well-preserved condition, combined with its proximity to the coast, says Yiannis Violaris, an official of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities. He says that these qualities can bring more people amid a global boom in interest in diving tourism. Cyprus has received the highest score for the cleanest water among all EU countries for the second year 

"Tourists and local visitors will have the opportunity to see this wonderful old harbor, swim above it, and see how it was constructed, with three moles surrounding it," Violaris told The Associated Press.

Specialized diving crews are currently cleaning the port of vegetation and will mark underwater routes that snorkelers can follow on their tour.

Diving tourism is not entirely new to the island. Divers have flocked for years to the wreck of MS Zenobia, a Swedish-made ferry that sank in about 140 feet of water one mile off the port city of Larnaca in 1980.

The wreck has been rated as one of the best wrecks in the world for divers. But Michalis Sinoporis, owner of the dive shop, says authorities need to put Cyprus firmly on the world diving map to sink large ships near the coast to create artificial reefs.

Tourism directly accounts for about 13% of Cyprus' economy. According to the latest available figures, the number of tourist arrivals between January and February of this year saw a decrease of 86% from the same period in 2019 when Cyprus recorded an all-time high in travelers choosing to vacation on the island.

Tourism officials had hoped the industry would rebound this month once the United Kingdom and Russia - Cyprus' two largest markets - put the island on their "green" list of safe destinations. Now they hope August will be the month of transformation.

Hotel Association President Harris Louisides said at an industry conference last week that the country's tourism "needs to adapt significantly to survive and continue its critical contribution" to the economy.

He suggested a greater focus on the "big picture" of what Cyprus offers, such as local culture and cuisine, with access to niche markets through digital marketing.

"The sustainability of the mass market is called into question," said Luizides. "I dare say that huge gathering will gradually become a thing of the past."

It is a message that the Deputy Ministry of Tourism of Cyprus has taken very seriously, redesigning its logo and reaching new markets.

Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said: "I do not lose my courage and optimism because the European Union is a big market, many, many countries, and they feel that the travel psychology is starting to recover only now in Europe," Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios

He said authorities are working to extend the holiday season by launching a "game-changing" campaign called the Heartland of Legends, where tourists can visit a village and watch locals make the island's world-famous halloumi cheese among other experiences.

Perdios said that although arrivals from the UK and Russia are declining, he is encouraged by the digital interest that potential tourists from non-traditional markets such as France and Germany are traveling to Cyprus.

"We have worked in these markets. … Things will not happen from one day to the next, so I remain optimistic," Perdios said.

Perhaps the beleaguered Demetrius would have agreed.

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