The most destructive earthquake. Disappearance of Phalasarna

Early in the morning of July 21, 365, a wave of a powerful earthquake originated somewhere between Paphos and Kourion, about 22 miles southwest of the Aphrodite stone, where is a boundary of African and European continental plates, and passed throughout the Mediterranean completely demolishing cities, beautiful antiques monuments, and killing thousands of people.

Ammianus Marcellinus, an excellent Roman historian of that time, had given probably the most noteworthy description of this earthquake in Egypt. “Slightly after daybreak, while the succession of day was clearly announced by fiercely thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away. Its waves were rolled back, and disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered, and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; and people wandered fearlessly over small things remained above some rest of the waters, collecting fish with their bare hands. Then the roaring sea, as if insulted by its repulse, rose back in turn. Because the mass of waters were returning, when least expected, it killed many thousands by drowning, and frenzied whirlpools, meeting ships, also drowned them. After the anger of the watery element had calmed down, all the destruction was revealed, and lifeless bodies of people killed in shipwrecks were floating faces up or down. Other huge ships, driven off by frenzied winds, perched on the roofs of houses, as it happened at Alexandria, and others were stranded on land nearly two miles away from the coastline”.

In above mentioned Alexandria this earthquake killed 50 thousand people and destroyed 180-meter lighthouse on island of Pharos – the fourth wonder of the world, which was no longer restored. By a strange coincidence, on the same day, July 21, but 721 years earlier (in 356 BC), the temple of Artemis at Ephesus being the third of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world, the Greek main shrine of Asia Minor was burned by the Ephesian Greek Herostratus.

This 11-magnitude earthquake resulted in significant destruction in central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus and Sicily. Almost all towns and settlements were destroyed on the island of Crete. This was the only earthquake of such a size in that region in the all past years. It had three waves.

The first one, lasting only about four seconds, demolished the roofs of buildings. But if many people could survive after the first wave, then the second air wave was deadly. It had an acceleration of about 35 J, which is equivalent to an increase in our weight by 35 times. It is quite obvious that with such an increase in weight the human body can not survive. The shock-wave pressure moving with such acceleration is more terrible. In fact, it is like being struck by the corresponding force. Remember your feelings at the time of a takeoff. You are pressed into the chair, although the acceleration with which the plane takes off is not much different from one joule. Imagine what happens to the human body when it is affected by the instantaneous pulse of an air wave moving at an acceleration of 35 J. The medical fact is a complete disorientation of the person, when the force of gravity increases by 7 times.

Bringing total destruction and forming large undulations on the earth surface, the third wave completed the devastation.

On Cyprus, in the vicinity of Kourion, all died instantly after the second wave. This last stopped moment of life remained steady under the layers of subsequent eras: in 1986, an archeological expedition had discovered the remains of many people buried under the ruins, as they were caught by a catastrophe. A married couple with a one and a half year old baby was buried under some 300 kilogram heavy stone-blocks fallen on them: the woman is still clutching her baby, trying to protect him with her body, and the man, covering baby’s back with his hand, tries at the same time to protect his wife from falling stones. A bronze ring with the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek was on the hand of this dead man.

The Emperor of Constantinople Julian the Apostate, who had made efforts to revive paganism, died 2 years ago, and the pagans interpreted the earthquake in their favor while the Christian authors did it in their own. At that time, the population of entire cities and regions often changed their faith under the influence of a disaster, especially a huge one like this perceived as a God’s punishment: the Emperor Jovian, the successor of Julian, restored the Orthodoxy but ruled for less than a year, died unexpectedly, and was replaced by Valens, a supporter of the Arian heresy. All these secret signs of the Most High against the backdrop of a terrible cataclysm and a tangle of socio-economic problems enabled Procopius, a cousin of Julian, to rebel in Constantinople in September 365. He proclaimed himself the emperor, and it caused such a turmoil that Valens even thought about suicide.

The island of Crete was lifted 9 meters. It can now be observed in Phalasarna, the ancient Greek polis, located in the north-west of Crete. After the Minoan ruins of Knossos, Festus or Malia, the ancient town will seem insignificant and absolutely unattractive – unless you are an archeologist or historian. But Phalasarna always had its own special mystery: its famous port, mentioned in the writings of ancient Greeks and Romans, disappeared without a trace.

Presumably, the town of Phalasarna was founded in the 6th-8th century BC, when the most important cities and towns are coming into being on Crete. The city-state Phalasarna had its own legal code and minted its coins. A woman wearing earrings was depicted on one side of those coins and a trident with the inscription “PhA” on another side. The city sent military advisors and several thousand mercenaries as aid for the Macedonian king Perseus during his war against the Romans (by Livy).

At that time, one of the largest and most important ports on the western shore of Crete was exactly in Phalasarna. The ancient port created in a closed lagoon and surrounded by a ring of fortifications (consisting of walls and towers) was very convenient for the seafaring. The currently visible remains of the city were built around 333 BC, and include several imposing sandstone towers and bastions, with hundreds of meters of fortification walls protecting the city, and a closed harbor: it was protected on all sides by city walls. The harbor is ringed by stone quays with mooring stones, and connected to the sea through two artificial channels. Notable finds in the harbor area include public roads, wells, warehouses, an altar, and baths. Most of these structures were revealed by excavations that began in 1986. The British explorer Captain T.A.B. Spratt, of the Royal Navy, noted in 1859 that the former harbor of the deserted site was now 100 yards from the sea, and that the ancient sea coast must have risen at least twenty four feet. Modern excavation has confirmed this judgment, and also has shown that the harbor was rapidly covered by silted. Radiocarbon dating of fossil algae along the ancient sea level mark on the cliffs around Phalasarna estimates the sudden sea level change at some time more than sixteen centuries ago. A probable event was the great earthquake and tsunami of 21 July A.D. 365 which wreaked catastrophic damage on all the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean and was recorded by Ammianus Marcellinus, and others. An ancient fish basin with two flights of steps carved into the coastal rocks near the harbor entrance has been cracked in half, probably during the same earthquake.

Therefore we advise you to visit Phalasarna, to see the ancient city deserted after it, as well as because of unusually popular beaches ranked in one row of quality with the ones of Balos, and Elafonissi: Falasarna beach was voted, in the CNN poll, among the best 100 beaches of the world.

Phalasarna is located 60 km west of Chania and 15 km away from the port town of Kissamos. In the latter, there is a museum where you can see finds from local archeological sites.

June 2017