Atlantis: The Discovery with Dan Snow (2024) Movie Script

2,500 years ago,
Ancient Greeks told
of a terrifying catastrophe...
...the destruction of Atlantis.
It was a tale
of utter devastation and carnage...
and has captivated the world
for over 2,000 years.
Atlantis, a once glittering city
that had ruled the waves
now sunk beneath them,
from the face of the Earth
by a terrible natural disaster.
Atlantis was described as one
of the greatest places on Earth -
luxurious, rich and powerful.
But for centuries,
people have wondered,
was it just a story or did
such an amazing city ever exist
before it sank beneath the waves?
Now I'm on a journey through Greece
to find out
if there's any fact buried
amongst the fiction.
From clues hidden
at the tops of mysterious mountains
to discoveries
buried deep beneath the ground,
I'll trace the extraordinary story
of the search
for this legendary world.
He wants this to be Atlantis?
He really wants this to be Atlantis.
'Exploring today's incredible hunt
for the ancient lost city...'
I was determined to find it.
.. | 'll uncover
a world of luxury and beauty
and evidence of brutal destruction.
And I'll dive beneath the waves
to find remains of an ancient city
buried beneath the scenes.
archaeological discoveries,
extraordinary detective work.
This is the hunt
for the real lost city of Atlantis.
I love being in Greece.
I love the landscape,
the rugged mountains
and then the beautiful coastline
and the sea.
I love the fact there are so many
historic sites to visit here.
It's a place of magic,
a place of mystery,
and really,
there's no bigger mystery
than the strange Ancient Greek story
of the city of Atlantis,
which lies underneath the waves.
It seems very unlikely, and yet,
I'm off to visit a place now
where I've been told
that's exactly what I'm gonna see.
The first destination on my hunt
for Atlantis is Pavlopetri,
an isolated spot on the barren,
southernmost tip of mainland Greece,
where the ancient fragments
of a destroyed lost city
lie beneath the waves,
like the legendary Atlantis.
There is an air of mystery
this beautiful stretch of coastline.
The rocky shore is covered
with strange crater-like pits
where human bones
have been discovered.
The waves lap against huge
stone blocks that look manmade.
But for thousands of years,
no-one had really investigated
what was going on here...
until a British archaeologist,
Nicholas Flemming,
arrived at Pavlopetri,
hunting for sunken sites.
just like today,
the beach was scattered
with shards of ancient pottery.
You can see these two bits here...
this is a much better piece.
Look, it's like
the rim of a drinking vessel
or a storage container.
And you can tell that this pottery
had all been rubbed very smooth
by the actions of the waves.
It had probably been washed ashore
from somewhere just out there.
So, he put on his scuba gear
and went swimming,
and instantly,
he starts to see wonderful things.
Over the next year, he would uncover
a submerged ancient city.
Had he found Atlantis?
These waters can get quite rough,
churning up the sand
and burying everything,
so I'm really hoping that
some of what Flemming saw
back in 1967 is still visible.
Luckily, I've got
local diver George to guide me,
and he knows this seabed
like the back of his hand.
OK, here goes. Let's go and see
what's beneath the waves.
'The sea is fairly shallow here,
'so I don't have to dive too deep
to explore.'
It's amazing!
The water is beautifully clear.
At first, you're looking
at shells and bits of rock...
then you swim a bit closer,
and you realise...
these are shards of broken pottery
from thousands of years ago.
'Although the water's clear,
'years of rough seas have buried
what Flemming saw back in the '60s,
'and you have to look carefully
to see any remains.
'But when you do get your eye in,
'you can see
straight lines in the rocks.'
Those rocks
are far too neatly lined,
they're far too straight
to be put there by nature.
'They look like a wall.
'And George tells me that this was
once the wall of someone's house.
'Shifting sands
have covered the rest,
'but I'm swimming
over the foundations
'of an entire neighbourhood here.
'By scanning the seabed,
archaeologists have been able
'to piece together the remains of
the city and a sense of its layout.
'You can make out
rectangular shapes,
'which they identified
as buildings and courtyards.
'There are rows upon rows of them
spreading across the sea floor.
'And there's not only
the homes of the living,
'but the graves of the dead.
'They stretch all the way
from the beach to under the water.'
It looks like these...
these holes...
These, I think...
This must be the cemetery.
These must be graves.
Well, I visit ancient sites
all over the world,
I've been high in the mountains,
I've been in deep jungles,
but I have never dived on an ancient
site beneath the waves.
Marine archaeologists now think that
Pavlopetri vanished 3,500 years ago,
a century before the famous
Pharaoh Tutankhamun ruled Egypt.
It's thought
that it was hit by an earthquake
and then submerged under the sea
as the waters rose -
a real echo of the Atlantis story,
the legendary lost city
beneath the sea.
Unless you know
what's beneath the waves here,
this just feels like a lovely,
remote beach, a beautiful spot,
but in fact, down there,
there is the remains of
a thriving, a bustling ancient city.
The buildings would have been
up to two storeys high,
packed together.
They would have been trading
with the Aegean Islands,
round in the Ionian.
This was
a busy, dynamic place of life,
but now all that's left are a few
foundations beneath the waves...
...and the graves of their dead.
So, could this really be
a match for the spectacular city
and the events described
in the Atlantis story?
Well, I think it's a possibility.
But this is a region plagued
by earthquakes and volcanoes.
So, now my hunt for Atlantis
is taking me
to where the story began, Athens,
where I'll discover that
Pavlopetri is not the only candidate
for that lost world.
And I'll get a new lead that
takes me to a buried ancient city
on Greece's biggest island.
It sounds so similar to Atlantis.
Athens... home to some
of the greatest ancient monuments
and archaeological treasures
in the world.
2,500 years ago,
it was here that
one of its most famous residents
first told
the incredible story of Atlantis.
I've come to one of his favourite
hangouts, the Agora,
back then,
the central meeting place in Athens.
This place would have been
a hive of activity,
people coming here
to shop, to chat, to gossip,
day and night,
anyone who was anyone -
beggars, tradesmen and politicians.
And, of course, philosophers.
And the most famous of them
was Plato,
the man who first tells us about
Atlantis and how it was destroyed.
To discover the real inspiration
behind Atlantis,
I need to get to the bottom
of exactly what Plato wrote.
All right, come on, then,
the big question -
Atlantis - fact or fiction?
You had to start with the hardest
question! Yes! Let's get into it.
jasmine Elmer is
an expert on Ancient Greece.
I would say it's definitely a story,
but with little reality sprinkles
on top.
Hang on, that sounds
a bit philosophical to me.
There wasn't actually
a city called Atlantis?
No, there's no real city
called Atlantis.
It's a mythical place that's made up
by the philosopher Plato.
But I can go looking for the places
that might have inspired Plato.
Yeah, totally right.
What you will find is potentially
these kind of places that have
a similar story about them
that could have inspired
the story of Atlantis.
So, how does he describe it?
Well, he talks about it being
this kind of huge island
that's out in the Atlantic Ocean,
which, to Greeks,
is this kind of like
vague space somewhere over there,
but it's absolutely huge.
Is it kind of
a flourishing civilisation?
Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, first of all,
it's a land rich in resources,
so they had their own minerals
and metals that they could mine.
They had fertile plains,
so they could grow loads
of amazing fruit and vegetables.
They had exotic animals,
even, like elephants.
They also imported
a lot of goods as well.
So, they had lots of luxury
around them,
colourfultemples and palaces
as well.
what the Greeks would perceive
as a very advanced civilisation.
So, it's a sort of idealised picture
of a society.
Completely that, exactly that.
It's like an almost utopian society.
Everything kind of seems
on the surface
as being a perfect place
that you'd wanna live.
To begin with, the picture Plato
paints of Atlantis is idyllic...
...a sprawling, prosperous city
surrounded by olive trees...
a busy port filled with ships...
...magnificent squares
and luxurious bathhouses.
But it doesn't stay that way
for long.
In the story, this perfect city is
hit by a cataclysmic earthquake...
before a terrifying tsunami
buries it beneath the waves.
And Plato had a moral to his tale.
It's obviously a natural disaster,
but it comes from the gods
as a punishment
for being too big for your boots,
for trying to expand and be greedy.
The Atlanteans decide that
they wanna expand their empire
and take over,
and they actually wanna invade
Athens as well,
and that's a big no-no for Plato.
So the message is,
if you are an advanced civilisation
and it's all hunky dory and great,
don't get too big for your boots
cos bad things can happen to you,
like what happens at Atlantis.
And Plato was living in a society
where the Earth moves quite a lot.
Exactly. I mean, this is
what the reality sprinkles was
that I mentioned earlier on
because absolutely,
the Greeks are living in a world
where natural disasters
are occurring.
That's where you get
this kind of modern idea
that Atlantis is this submerged city
that we might be able to find.
I've been to Pavlopetri,
so there are places around Greece
they would have known about
which are underwater.
Yeah, exactly.
I mean, that's an amazing sight,
fantastic, like, beautiful
and so much you can take from it.
Could it have influenced Plato?
It's possible,
but it kind of happened
around 1,000 years before Plato,
so would Plato know about it?
But there are definitely these sorts
of things happening over Greece
that definitely could have inspired
Plato in his storytelling.
I'm going to rule out Pavlopetri
as a candidate for Atlantis.
From what I saw,
it doesn't feel grand enough
for tales of its destruction
to have survived 1,000 years.
I need a new lead,
a place that sounds
more believable, more spectacular.
150 years ago,
there was a breakthrough
archaeological discovery
at a place
that I think might fit the bill,
a place on Greece's largest island
to the south of here.
99 miles from Athens
across the Aegean Sea,
that island is Crete.
And the extraordinary discovery
made here
late in the 19th century
changed everything.
Suddenly, people began to wonder
if Crete could have been
the inspiration for Atlantis.
Like Plato's island, it's massive,
covering over 3,000 square miles.
And in Plato's time, it was
the setting for many epic tales.
In 1877, a man
who was brilliantly called Minos,
after the legendary king
who'd once ruled over this island,
some strange large stone blocks
just down there
in a place called Knossos.
Not much was made of it at the time
because the island was embroiled
in a bitter war,
but word of it did get out.
And 20 years later, a famous British
archaeologist arrived in Crete.
He was on a mission to investigate
the mysterious finds.
His name was Arthur Evans.
Evans spent six years
negotiating and haggling
to gain permission to investigate
the site.
Finally, in March 1900,
with an army of 30 men,
he began to dig.
There was no more time to waste.
Almost at once,
their efforts were rewarded.
As they shovel led away mountains
of dirt from this section here,
they revealed
these huge stone blocks,
which seem to be forming a corridor.
This was the first glimpse
that something monumental really lay
beneath their feet -
a possible Atlantis.
With mounting anticipation,
they carried on digging.
And then, just three weeks later,
on the 5th April 1900,
Evans came face to face
with something incredible.
Early that morning,
the team were clearing
some dirt off on the standing walls,
and they started to see what looked
like an image painted beneath.
It was damaged,
but soon, features were visible.
It was a human,
it was life-size with rich red skin,
slim waist...
eyes shaped almost like almonds,
and it was holding a cup.
Nothing like this had been seen
Evans guessed that it was ancient.
In fact, no-one had looked
into those eyes for 3,500 years.
This amazing discovery
was the first glimpse
that an ancient civilisation
lay lost and buried here,
just like Atlantis.
It was the start
of a rapid succession
of spectacular find after find.
Painted corridors...
rooms full of magnificent jars...
...and grand staircases.
And then on Apr the 13th,
after eight more days
of frenzied, backbreaking digging,
the team worked their way
to this spot.
Evans was about to uncover
the most remarkable, game-changing
discovery of his life.
At first,
it wasn't clear what he'd found.
It was a finely crafted room,
and there was evidence of
beautiful paintings on these walls.
There were benches along the edges,
then there were steps leading
down to this strange sunken pit
that reminded Evans
of a communal bathhouse
that you might find in a Roman site.
But then he made
an astonishing discovery.
just opposite the pit, there was
a beautifully crafted chair.
In Evans's mind,
suddenly, this was not a bathroom -
this was a throne room, the heart
of some ancient royal palace.
Gradually, an incredible lost world
was coming back to life
before their eyes.
News of the remarkable discoveries
captivated the world.
With evidence of a royal throne,
Evans was certain
he'd found the palace of King Minos,
the legendary ancient King of Crete.
The archaeologist named the
civilisation Minoan after the King.
But some people began to make
another connection.
Could this lost world actually be
the inspiration for Atlantis,
the magnificent island city that had
been devastated in Plato's story?
There are
some very interesting parallels
between this place
and Plato's Atlantis.
First of all,
Knossos is on a huge, lush island.
That's a big tick.
And then Plato describes,
"a royal palace that befitted
the greatness of the kingdom."
" | t was made up from buildings of
many colours by blending the stones"
"for the sake of ornament."
Well, that could be describing
this palace.
He also describes how sacred bulls
were allowed to roam free
through the Palace of Atlantis,
and there's one thing
you see plenty of here,
and that's images of bulls.
As Evans excavated,
he discovered images of bulls
throughout the site.
Even wall paintings of Minoan people
leaping over the back
of charging bulls.
And this was just the beginning.
As Evans and his team excavated
over 14,000 square metres,
the parallels between Knossos
and Plato's story of Atlantis
seemed to grow and grow.
Plato described that,
"the size and beauty of Atlantis
was astonishing to see."...
...just like the enormous complex
of grand buildings here.
In Plato's story,
the royal citadel in Atlantis
is surrounded by mighty mountains,
just like Knossos,
and, as local expert
Akrivi Chatzigeorgiou is showing me,
there was even more tantalising
evidence of the similarities.
The gods of Atlantis
were also present here.
I would like to show you
something which is very interesting.
Look here.
What have we got here?
That's like a... Oh, a trident!
Was the symbol of Poseidon.
It was used as an arrow,
as a symbol showing which way to go.
OK, so like a signpost?
Oh, well, let's follow it.
Come on, let's go.
According to Plato, Poseidon
was the main god on Atlantis.
He ruled the waves and made
Atlantis a mighty sea power.
Plato tells us that,
"its vast harbour was crowded
with merchant ships,"
"and there was a constant din of
noise and shouting day and night."
In the heart of Knossos,
a magnificent building shows that
the Minoans also dominated the seas.
This is a grand staircase,
one of the miracles
of the Minoan architecture.
Cor! That is magnificent,
and it's huge.
Yes. This is the big staircase,
the grand staircase.
They made a deep cut
to this side of the hill
in order to be able to construct
two floors lower
on this level of where we are.
It was a big warehouse,
a big economic centre.
So, it's a place of trade.
Goods from all over the Eastern
Mediterranean Sea
came in this building.
From Egypt,
they imported cotton, wheat.
Copper was imported
from the island of Cyprus.
The Greek name Kypros means copper.
The island of copper.
Also, elephant tusks.
We found whole elephant tusks.
Elephant tusks?
They are at the museum
as well as gold from Nubia,
where the mines are
of the Egyptian empire.
So North Africa, the Eastern
Mediterranean... Exactly.
...Southern Europe, all coming here?
Yeah, exactly. This was a crossroad.
'The Minoans clearly had
a vast trade network,
'just like the Atlanteans
from Plato's story.'
And like Atlantis,
the archaeologists also began
to realise this was a huge place.
They estimated that between
25,000 and 30,000 people lived here.
And by delving into
Knossos's magnificent buildings,
it also became clear these people
lived a life of luxury...
just like
the inhabitants of Atlantis.
We know from the discoveries
that the upper classes loved
the beautiful things.
Women were dressed
with elaborated garments,
jewellery was worn by both,
men as well as women.
They loved the wine.
They loved good food.
So, lots of fish from the sea.
Exactly. We found seafood shells.
We found fishing hooks.
So, they loved seafood.
So, if you had wealth, it was
a good place to live. Exactly.
So, this was
a rich, luxurious place,
there were magnificent buildings
here, it was powerful-
it sounds so similar to the way
that Plato writes about Atlantis.
The discoveries at Knossos had put
Crete on the map,
and they'd also made
Atlantis a hot topic.
On February 15th, 1909,
an anonymous article was published
in the Times.
The title was simply Atlantis,
and it gives all sorts of detail
about the excavations here in Crete
and the Atlantis story
and draws a direct connection
between them.
It says...
" | f the account of Atlantis"
"is to be compared
with the history of Crete,"
"it seems almost certain that here,
we have an echo of the Minoans."
And the Times said, "This may very
well engage the serious attention"
"of scholars and archaeologists."
And it was absolutely right.
Crete was now firmly
in the spotlight to prove that
this really was the inspiration
for the legendary
lost city of Atlantis.
Crete, the 1920s.
After two decades of digging,
the incredible palace of Knossos
had been almost completely revealed
after lying buried beneath the soil
for thousands of years.
The discovery had captivated
the world
through its parallels
with the story of Atlantis.
Now every inch of the island
was scrutinised,
and everywhere you looked seemed to
mirror the description of Atlantis
in the ancient tale.
You can see why people thought
they were walking through Atlantis.
There's a tickle of a sea breeze
coming off the ocean,
you can see the mountains
over there in the background,
and everything seems to grow here,
it's just so abundant.
Plato describes Atlantis like this.
He said that...
Reads a bit like a guidebook
to Crete.
In his story of Atlantis,
Plato tells us that vineyards
and olive groves flourished,
producing olive oil and wine
for the enjoyment of its people.
Today, Crete is also a thriving
olive oil and wine producer.
And there's evidence that's been
this way for thousands of years.
This isolated little chapel is
only around 100 years old,
but it's built on the foundations
of something far older.
This is
a remarkable and ancient wine press,
and the fields around here are still
covered in vineyards to this day.
So, they've been pressing wine
up here for generations.
It's unclear
exactly how old this is.
Some people locally think
it is Minoan -
that means the same era
as the palace of Knossos.
But the wine making process
is pretty straightforward.
You bring your grapes in here
and people with nice clean feet
press the grapes, stand on top
of them, jump on top of them,
and all of that liquid flows
out into the surrounding tubs
through this hole here, for example.
And then that grape juice
comes pouring out
in a huge torrent
from here into this tub,
ready to be turned into wine.
Crete is believed to be the
birthplace of Greek wine production,
made here on the island
for around 5,500 years.
I'm visiting one of the region's
modern vineyards to find out more
about Crete's
wine-producing heritage
and why it links this island
to the Atlantis story.
Let's start from the harvest.
The harvest here in Crete starts
about August to September.
It's by hand.
So, you still pick the grapes
with your hands?
There's no machine?
Yeah, we still do it by hand.
We just use scissors. Yeah.
That's a tradition that's been going
on for thousands of years.
Maybe they have not scissors.
Maybe they have
another way to cut the grapes.
But this is the same.
Because the landscape with the hills
and the small properties,
it's impossible to have
harvest machines.
But of course, there are
some parts of the wine making process
that have changed a little
since the Minoans.
So, here, we have the press machine.
Now, this is different to what
would have been done in the past
because this was all humans doing
this in the past, right?
Exactly the same idea.
But no electricity, just foot.
Feet, just feet.
I don't think
you want my feet anywhere near that.
So, I think
this is a very good system.
Today, once the wine is pressed,
it is stored
in these vast stainless steel vats
before it's bottled and shipped
around the world.
At Knossos, 3,500 years ago,
they used enormous clay jars,
and there's evidence
they also exported it far and wide.
Minoans were great exporters,
so from the ports,
they went in Egypt,
in Lebanon, in Israel.
Especially in these countries,
we found a lot of paintings,
especially in Egypt,
paintings with
the appearances of vineyards
or jars or wine making and wine life.
So, Cretan wine is one of
the big secrets of Minoan's success.
It's bringing them wealth
through trade.
So, they were making a lot of wine.
A lot of wine and brilliant wine.
Of course, the best.
The more I learn
about Ancient Crete,
with its magnificent architecture
and its abundant fields
producing all of nature's bounty,
the more I think it really could be
inspiration for Plato's Atlantis.
In his story, Plato tells us
that Atlantis had close contact
with Egypt,
just like the Ancient Minoans
on Crete.
This link was yet another detail
mirroring the Atlantis story.
And as those parallels
grew and grew -
in the 1960s,
one man became captivated.
He would become one of history's
greatest Atlantis hunters.
His name was Spyridon Marinatos.
He was a local archaeologist and
the curator of the museum in town.
He became obsessed.
He spent
much of the rest of his career
trying to prove
that this Minoan civilisation
was the basis for Plato's Atlantis,
a city that had been wiped
off the map.
Marinatos had first visited Knossos
while archaeologists excavated
in the 1920s.
He'd been blown away
by their beautiful discoveries,
but he'd also been fascinated
by something else they'd unearthed.
As the team excavated the palace,
they realised
that it had been repaired,
changed at various points
in its lifetime.
It had obviously been
through quite a lot.
Like Atlantis,
the Minoan civilisation had vanished
almost without trace
for thousands of years.
No-one knew why.
In the story,
Atlantis had been the victim
of a terrible natural disaster.
But had a natural disaster also
wiped out the civilisation here?
Marinatos was now
on a mission to find out.
His investigations have been studied
by Minoan expert Steve Kershaw.
I mean,
what do you think happened here?
There's a palace here
that's been inhabited for 450 years,
going through all sorts of
different phases of destruction
and rebuilding and modification,
and some of those
destructive events were natural,
the kind of things like earthquakes,
some of them may have been manmade
as well.
And so, some of that could just be
accidental fire? It could, indeed.
But Marinatos really wanted to get
to the bottom of this,
and he's found traces
of volcanic dust on the island,
so he thinks
it's something volcanic,
but he doesn't think
that the volcano is on Crete.
He thinks it's on a nearby island.
'Marinatos wanted to prove
that a volcanic eruption
'from a nearby island had destroyed
the Minoan civilisation here.
'And he had
a very specific island in mind.
which lies just 60 miles away...
'..and it's home
to an enormous volcano.'
So, is Marinatos looking for
this volcano solution a little bit
because of his obsession
with the story of Atlantis?
It's very possible.
He knows that story,
he likes that story.
and he, in a sense, wants
that story to be true.
He wants this to be Atlantis.
He really wants this to be Atlantis.
But there's also another reason
why Marinatos was fascinated
by the possible link
between Crete and nearby Santorini.
And that's because
in his story of Atlantis,
Plato says that
Atlantis wasn't just one island,
but made up of several islands.
He said that the royal centre
was on Atlantis' main island,
but the docks and harbour were
on another.
Could Santorini be one of the other
islands mentioned in the story?
Marinatos was thrilled
with this theory,
and he thought if he could prove it,
the link between the Minoans,
Crete and Atlantis
would be stronger than ever.
Could it be that an enormous
eruption out there on Santorini
had inspired the story of Atlantis?
In 1967, he set out on a hunt
to find out.
Following Marinatos's search
for Atlantis,
I'm now heading
to the island of Santorini,
60 miles away across the sea.
Santorini is home to the biggest and
most volatile volcano in the region.
If you look
at these rock formations,
this whole island is basically
one enormous volcano.
just 17 years
before Marinatos arrived,
Santorini's volcano had erupted,
spewing ash and fireballs
1,000 metres into the sky.
In just six days,
90 billion tons of molten rock
was thrown into the air.
What if an even more violent
eruption had occurred
3,500 years before,
at the time
when the Minoan civilisation
discovered on Crete
reached its height?
That could mean that there was
a city buried here beneath the rock.
A busy city with docks and harbours.
But where should Marinatos start
his hunt for this lost port?
There are 42 miles of coastline
on this island.
And that wasn't his only challenge.
It's a fairly daunting prospect
that mighty volcanic eruption
had blasted millions of tons
of volcanic debris into the sky,
but then fell,
blanketing this island
in layer upon layer
of pumice and rock and volcanic ash,
and you can see some of those layers
etched out in this cliff face here.
So that meant that if
there were any ancient ruins here,
the chances are they'd be under
metres and metres of this stuff.
It must have seemed
like Mission Impossible.
But little did Marinatos know,
on the coast of Santorini,
he was about to make
the greatest archaeological
discovery of his life.
The island of Santorini, 1967.
The hunt was on to find out
if a port city had been buried
beneath the ground
following a gigantic volcanic
eruption 3,500 years ago.
If they found it... it would help
prove Spyridon Marinatos's theory
that this island
and neighbouring Crete
could have been the inspiration
for the story of Atlantis,
where a whole series of islands
had been obliterated
by natural disaster.
He was on a mission
to investigate...
and now he'd pinpointed
an area to target.
'IO years ago,
an intriguing clue had been found
buried near this spot,
under metres of ash.
In 1899, some labourers in a quarry
just inland from here
started finding
some mysterious objects.
They didn't know what they were, but
they thought they looked ancient.
Marinatos was intrigued.
This was the perfect position for
a port city - right on the coast.
So, gathering together a team,
he started to investigate here.
He had no idea
how deep they'd have to dig.
The volcanic ash and rock
is 30 metres high
in some places on the island.
But remarkably,
on the very first day,
they made a breakthrough.
They were digging
through stuff just like this here,
and he was ecstatic
when about four metres down,
he starts to make out
the shape of pots,
and to his expert eye,
they were clearly storage jars...
and storage jars that looked to be
exactly the same type and date
as the ones he was so familiar
with from Knossos in Crete.
But that was nothing
because a few days later,
he would discover
an entire buried city.
He called it Akrotiri.
And these are the pots,
these are the storage jars
that he discovered so early on
as he started digging.
And he didn't just discover
one or two.
Look, there were
three rooms full of them,
so different shapes and sizes,
different designs on the outside,
maybe just to look nice and pretty,
but maybe to indicate
that they were designed to store
different foodstuffs,
some olive oil, some perhaps wine.
What a fantastic start
to the excavation.
Over the next seven years, the
archaeologists feverishly excavated.
Wall after wall...
room after room...
and building after building
slowly began to appear
from beneath the 3,500-year-old
ash and rubble.
And as they dug, they began
to reveal striking similarities
with the story of Atlantis.
Located by the sea,
it was almost certainly a port city.
And just like Atlantis,
there was evidence
that its destruction had started
with an earthquake.
This staircase here, look at that.
Finely crafted,
strongly built stairs.
And yet, they've just been snapped
in half in an instant
by the shockwave that the earthquake
sent through this entire settlement.
Little did the survivors know
after that earthquake,
as they tried to put their lives
back in order,
there was worse to come.
Like Atlantis, a once thriving city
had been obliterated.
Minoan expert Steve Kershaw
is giving me
a guided tour of the ruins,
to show me its past splendour.
Steve, I always love
an archaeological site
where you look up at...
This was a multi-storey city,
wasn't it?
It was indeed.
It's-It's now buried beneath metres
and metres of volcanic debris.
So, it's all looking a bit grey now,
but would it have been whitewashed,
would have been colourful
inside and things?
It would, indeed, yes.
The exteriors
would have been plastered over.
On the inside, you've got colourful
frescoes and what have you.
Amongst the devastation are
also details showing the true horror
that the people here experienced.
What on Earth are these?
Yeah, a couple of beds.
The imprints of beds.
And what happened was,
before the eruption,
there was an enormous earthquake,
and the people
of the town were tidying it up.
So, they were stacking the beds,
trying to tidy up,
maybe pick up loose bricks
and things. Very much so.
And some of them are protecting
bits of pottery as well,
you've got a little tripod
cooking pot down there.
So, this is the repair work
on the town
before the eruption
that they never knew was coming.
What's happened is that
the wood has decayed
in the volcanic material,
and the archaeologists have poured
plaster into it
to recreate the bed
out of the space.
So, the archaeologists found
a vacuum, they poured plaster in,
it was a bed shape.
Absolutely. Absolutely.
That's a moment in time, really,
captured from 3,500 years ago.
Very much so.
It takes you right
to the heart of people's real lives.
And that's one of the wonderful things
that archaeology can do for us,
I think.
With its impressive
multi-storey buildings,
Akrotiri had clearly been wealthy,
just like Atlantis.
And as more and more of the ancient
city surfaced from the ash,
the similarities grew even stronger.
So, what are we looking at here?
So, this is
one of the main streets of the town,
and you've got houses
on either side.
You can just see
the remains of the walls.
Then a main street
that would have been paved
with beautiful flagstones,
and then the most remarkable thing,
I think, underneath it,
you've got a drainage system.
What, that gutter there?
That gutter, yes.
That humble gutter is actually a
mark of extremely high civilisation.
There's flushing lavatory systems,
and that would have all gone
into that
and flushed it out into the sea.
That wasn't normal at the time,
No, that is highly sophisticated.
There's not many cultures have got
that level of water engineering
in the states at this time.
And these people have got it down so well.
And that, I guess, allows everyone
to live together in this crowded way
without getting terrible diseases.
It's gonna help.
One of the reasons that
people have drawn parallels
between here and Plato's Atlantis
is precisely this facility
with water engineering,
because the Atlanteans are kind
of the ultimate water engineers.
They create bathhouses
with both cold and hot,
not just for their elite classes,
but for the rest of the population,
and indeed not just
for the human population,
but for the horses, the beasts
of burden, and the animals.
So, we have cleanliness pervading
So, in Plato's Atlantis,
even the animals are clean.
They are. So, for Plato and the
Ancient Greeks, water management,
that said
you're an advanced civilisation?
It does indeed, yeah.
And they're doing it here.
They're doing it right here.
After digging up Akrotiri,
Marinatos was now convinced
that his theory was right.
The combination
of Knossos Palace on Crete
and this port city
was inspiration for Atlantis.
It was like Atlantis itself
had been found in stone.
You no longer had to imagine it.
You could walk through the streets,
could almost sense
the people that had once lived here.
Today, many of
Akrotiri's finest treasures
lie in Santorini Archaeological
Museum in the town of Thera.
Each one gives
a fascinating insight
into that lost world
and the parallels
with the story of Atlantis.
I love these murals.
This was painted onto the wall
of one of the grandest houses
in Akrotiri,
and it's such a special thing
to have an image of their world
painted by the people
who actually lived in it.
just look at this wonderful island
here. It's lush.
You've got fantastic details
like trees, deer,
perhaps a lion up there.
And then my favourite bit,
this armada of ships and boats
heading out across the sea,
some of them under oar,
some of them sail-powered.
Some of them look ceremonial
like it's almost
a kind of festival experience.
Dolphins all around them,
and they're arriving
in somewhere that
I think looks quite like Santorini,
barren red cliffs, a sense of
the volcanic, coloured buildings,
people greeting them.
This is a wealthy maritime world,
a lot of colour and vibrancy.
Could this settlement at the end
here actually be Akrotiri?
Was this what it looked like before
it was destroyed in that volcano?
The whole thing that really strikes
me when you look at this -
you look at the animals,
the richness of the colours,
the buildings, the ships -
if you did want a picture of Plato's
Atlantis, this is pretty much it.
Many of Akrotiri's buildings
were covered
with beautiful frescoes that
incredibly survived the disaster.
Each and every one
seems to strengthen
the connection with Atlantis.
There are fishermen proudly holding
their catch,
linking the Minoans to the sea,
just like the Atlanteans
in the story.
Like Atlantis and Crete,
Akrotiri was clearly
a rich and luxurious place.
We can see that
from their hairstyles,
their fashions, their jewellery.
There are exotic animals
native to Africa,
and in Atlantis,
Plato mentions elephants.
The more I read about Atlantis
and the more I explore the wonderful
archaeology on these islands,
the more I get a real sense
of why people got so excited
about the apparent similarities
between the Minoans
and the story of Atlantis.
Marinatos had discovered that,
like the Atlanteans,
who ruled over several islands,
the real-life Minoans flourished
both here and on Crete.
The Minoans, too, were
clearly a massive sea power
with connections
as far away as Egypt.
And they suffered
an epic natural disaster.
The idea that
these places were the inspiration
for Plato's Atlantis is compelling.
The problem I have with it
is that it took place
over 1,000 years
before Plato was writing,
and we've got absolutely no evidence
that Plato had ever heard about it.
In fact, there is no account,
no mention
of the destruction of Akrotiri
in any ancient source at all.
Possibly, we've lost
those sources over the years,
and possibly,
it was such an enormous event
that it was just talked about,
handed down from parent to child
over the generations.
So, despite all the incredible
similarities with Atlantis,
I'm gonna continue my search.
And luckily,
there is another contender.
Through an incredible
piece of detective work,
archaeologists have just discovered
another lost city
on the coast of mainland Greece.
Perhaps the inspiration
for Atlantis lies closer
to Plato's home of Athens
and much closer to Plato's time.
The archaeologists discovered that
not only was this city destroyed,
but that destruction was big news
in Greece during Plato's lifetime.
Could this city be
the real Atlantis?
Greece, nearly 2,500 years ago.
News of a terrible natural disaster
reached the city of Athens.
About 100 miles
away along the coast,
a huge tsunami smashed
into the shoreline.
A once bustling, vibrant port
now lay beneath the waves.
The devastated city was called
and intriguingly,
its destruction occurred
just 13 years
before Plato wrote about Atlantis.
There are
some very interesting parallels.
For example,
people in Greece at the time
said that the population of Helike
must have somehow enraged
the sea god Poseidon,
and he was the one
who destroyed the town.
Well, in the same way,
Plato's Atlantis is smashed
by a vengeful god.
It's an interesting coincidence.
And just like Atlantis, Poseidon
was the chief god of Helike.
The city was famously home to
one of his most important temples.
So, this vanished city,
destroyed by a tsunami
in Plato's lifetime,
certainly seems a good candidate
as the inspiration for Atlantis.
The problem was that
for centuries, it was impossible
to explore the connection
because Helike had vanished
without a trace.
Apart from a few ancient stories,
there was no evidence that
the city had ever existed at all.
But just 35 years ago,
archaeologists began to hunt,
and all that would change.
Their search would turn out to be
one of the most brilliant pieces
of archaeological detective work
I have ever come across.
I'm just heading up the coast now,
following the footsteps
of those brilliant archaeologists,
and I cannot wait to see
what they uncovered.
At first, the archaeologists
only had a very rough idea
where to look
for the city of Helike -
100 miles west of Athens
on the coast.
Once they arrived,
they began to scour
every inch of the seabed
around the shore
using sonar equipment,
hunting for the city.
After three years,
they had found...
...absolutely nothing.
Not one ruined building,
not one piece of pottery.
But they didn't give up hope.
they did something surprising.
They began to look inland.
Now, that might sound like
they're swapping their search
from a drop in the ocean
to a needle in a haystack,
but the archaeologists had a theory.
What if the old coastline
was actually inland
from where the modern beach is?
That would mean
Helike wasn't underwater -
it was underground.
The archaeologists began looking
back at the ancient stories to see
if there could be anything
in this theory.
They concluded that
in their previous hunts,
something had been lost
in translation.
Helike wasn't buried under the sea,
but lost under an inland lagoon.
And they had some useful clues.
The ancient records
named a few places
which archaeologists hope might help
them pinpoint its location.
I'm a mile or two
in from the coast now,
and apparently,
one of the key landmarks was hidden
in these cliffs above me now.
One of the stories referred
to a magical cave
high up in the mountains.
This was the Cave of Heracles.
You may known him by his Roman name,
He's the half man, half god
who performed the 12 Labours.
Well, the Ancient Greeks
would climb up to the cave,
they'd kneel
down before a statue of Heracles
just in there.
They'd roll some dice,
and the statue would apparently tell
their fortunes for them.
It still feels like a bit of
an adventure coming up here today.
But more recently,
this cave was also
the vital piece of evidence
that helped archaeologists fix
the position
of the ancient city of Helike.
In ancient times,
a geographer visited here
and, significantly, wrote down
a detailed description of the area.
He mentions this cave.
He mentions the ruins of Helike,
which you can still see
in the shallows,
and he mentions the town of Aigio,
which is still in existence today.
And that allowed
archaeologists to piece together
what this coastline might have
looked like 2,500 years ago.
Here's the coast. Here's the sea.
We know he mentions the cave here,
and he mentions the town of Aigio,
still in existence
on the coast today.
Now, he says that
Aigio was four and a half miles
from the ruins of Helike,
and he says that the cave was three
miles from the ruins of Helike,
which means
Helike should be round about here.
X marks the spot.
That is
where they need to start looking.
Of course, they had to hope that
the ancient geographer was
...but it was a strong clue.
By 2000, the archaeologists
had narrowed down their target.
That was still
a huge area to investigate.
Well, you don't have to be an expert
to work out
that you can't possibly
just turn up here
and dig up
such a vast area of this landscape.
They wouldn't just be scratching
the surface, either.
They were pretty sure that
after 2,500 years,
any remains would be buried
deep underground.
They were gonna need to come up
with a clever plan.
The archaeologist leading
the hunt for the lost city
was Dora Katsonopoulou.
So, you and your team, you think
you've identified the general area,
how do you find the exact sites?
What's next?
There is nothing visible from Helike
on the surface.
Everything is buried.
So, the only way to start getting
some good information
about what is underground
is the borehole drilling.
Drilling big holes
straight vertically down
into the ground?
Very small.
Something like that.
So, small holes...
A very small hole.
Drill them into the ground.
Drill into the ground.
What are you hoping to find?
If we would be lucky, a few small
pieces of pottery or tiles
that would show you
an ancient occupation,
so you knew where the area is.
How many boreholes did you drill?
A total of 99 in the plains.
You were drilling 99 holes
in the ground.
Did you ever think, " | 'm gonna
give up, go back to Athens."?
No, no, never.
You always believed
it'd be down there?
I am very persistent.
I was determined to find it.
And then in the year 1993,
we found the first piece of pottery
and a few small, tiny pieces.
This led us
to the first areas where we decided
that here we have something.
- So, let's dig.
- So, let's dig!
For 2,500 years,
the city of Helike had been lost.
Now it was
on the verge of being found.
But could this discovery
finally end the search
for the lost city of Atlantis?
January, 2000.
On the Greek coast,
100 miles west of Athens,
the atmosphere was buzzing.
After decades of searching,
archaeologists had finally targeted
a location
for the lost city of Helike.
They'd always wondered whether
Helike was inspiration for Atlantis.
Now, at last...
they had a chance to find out.
It wasn't the easiest place to dig.
As you can see, the countryside
is packed with dense olive groves.
And once they'd cleared these trees
away, they dug into the ground
and found water
quite close to the surface.
The water was very high.
All of it just made digging
a difficult process.
They nervously dug
through the waterlogged soil,
and it gradually became clear
that something was buried here
beneath the ground.
Little by little,
stone blocks emerged,
forming the outline of walls.
Pebbled floors
slowly came into view.
And there were enormous storage jars
dotted across the site.
They realised that,
amazingly, the lost city of Helike
had been beautifully preserved
beneath the soil
after thousands of years.
So, Dora,
what are we looking at here?
We are walking
through a major building complex.
Here was
a thriving industry of textiles.
They were making textiles,
they were selling textile,
Lots of products going in and out.
Lots of coins found here,
showing exchange
with many cities around Greece.
A very, a very rich place.
This ancient factory is
just one of the many pockets
that have been found so far.
And the parallels with Atlantis
are already proving to be strong.
A recent dig uncovered what appears
to be the sanctuary of Poseidon,
the sea God worshipped
both here and in Atlantis.
The evidence already shows that
over 2,000 years,
this city grew to be
huge, rich and powerful,
just like Atlantis.
And the evidence also suggests
that this once glorious place was
destroyed in exactly the same way
as Plato's Atlantis,
starting with a massive earthquake.
About 600 metres east
from this building,
we have found
in one of our excavations
the ruins of a classical building
that was destroyed
by this earthquake of 373 BC,
and actually,
the way the walls are destroyed
shows that there we have
a tsunami action.
Wow. So, you can tell
from the archaeology
that the buildings
were knocked over by a tsunami?
Yes, exactly.
Atlantis and Helike had shared
exactly the same fate.
And as evidence surfaced
from beneath the ground,
Dora dug further into
the ancient records about Helike
where she discovered
another incredible connection.
just like Atlantis in Plato's story,
Helike had been a bustling port.
On the night of the catastrophe,
it was harbouring
a whole fleet of Spartan warships.
the admiral of this fleet was
Plato's most bitter enemy.
We found by looking again
into the ancient sources
that Plato had also a personal
interest in the Helike destruction.
Plato was travelling a lot,
and in one of his travels,
he was captured.
- Wow!
- And so the person tried to sell Plato into slavery.
- What?
- Yeah, slavery.
And here in Helike,
the night of the earthquake,
there were anchored here in Helike's
port Spartan, ten Spartan ships.
Their admiral was called Potts.
This Spartan admiral
was the person
that years ago had tried to sell him
into slavery,
and he got drowned here.
- No.
- Oh, yes.
So, we know this destruction would
have a big impact personally...
- Yes.
- ..on Plato?
- On Plato, yes.
- CooL
Out of all the places
I visited on my hunt for Atlantis,
Helike really does seem to tick
the boxes
as a real candidate for
the inspiration for Plato's story.
The destruction of Helike didn't
just occur within Plato's lifetime,
but it had killed off
his arch enemy.
I really love the way that
Dora and her team combined
a close reading of the ancient texts
with clever digging techniques
to make
some astonishing discoveries.
It really emphasises to me that
you can find something as remarkable
as a lost Atlantis
if you ignore the fantasies
and just follow
where the evidence leads.
Having visited
the extraordinary sites
on the islands
of Crete and Santorini...
dived to the sunken town
of Pavlopetri
and seen buried Helike,
it does often feel as if you're
in the lost world of Atlantis,
by the ancient philosopher.
I would love to go back to the Agora
here in Plato's time
and grab him by the shoulders and
ask him what his inspirations were.
Was it Helike, Akrotiri or Crete
or one of the other places
I've been to,
or was it all just
a product of his own imagination?
In my mind, when Plato was conjuring
up his fabulous story of Atlantis
with its glittering palaces,
bustling ports,
and its terrible destruction,
the chances are
that he was picking and mixing
from all the extraordinary places
that I've seen.
And would he be amazed to discover
that 2,500 years later,
people are still fascinated
by the Atlantis story?
It's contributed to archaeologists
making remarkable discoveries.
And will that interest in Atlantis
and will it drive us to discover
yet more ancient ruins
beneath the waves?