Photo by George Groutas.
Abandoned when Arab pirates landed ashore in the 7th century, Olous had once claimed prosperity and power as the oldest settlement on Crete, so ancient that its name can be tracked back to the Pre-hellenic period. Just as the residents were settling into their new inland city, away from the dangers of the sea, a major earthquake shoved what was left of the town into the island’s shallow waters.
In Minoan times, the Greek city-state Olous was settled by some 40,000 inhabitants on coastal sands overlooking the cerulean waters of the Cretan sea. The democratic Oloudians worshipped Zeus, Apollo, and the mermaid goddess Britomartis, whose scaly body and whimsical hair was depicted on the city’s official coinage. But the remains of Olous, a collection of ancient walls, remain submerged in Poros Bay, at the present-day town of Elounda.
Elounda is a low-key resort town frequented by Greek politicians, Russian tycoons and the expansive families of Arabian royals. The city is enjoying a new kind of prosperity, barreling forward as its mysterious history remains submerged in time. But on calm afternoons, when the tide is low, the rocky foundations of the bygone city can be seen rising above the water’s wine-dark surface, the way Britomartis revealed herself to lucky fishermen ages ago.