The sinking of Atlantis is one of the many famous stories to come out of ancient Greece. That area is one of the most earthquake prone in Europe, so it is not difficult to see how such a legend developed. However, the city of Helike was destroyed in 373 BCE by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami mirroring the fictional Atlantis.
Helike was located on the northeastern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula on the Gulf of Corinth in an area called Achaea. It was the leader of the Achaean League, a confederation of twelve city states and important center of trade. Helike founded colonies as far away as Italy and Asia Minor. Its patron deity was Poseidon, and Helike looked to him to protect them from earthquakes and the wrath of the sea. The temple of Helikonian Poseidon was famous throughout the Classical world and mentioned in the same tone of reverence as Delphi.
Things were going well for the city. There were colonies and trade. However, in the winter of 373 BCE something went wrong. There were signs of problems- ‘intense columns of flame’ and all the small animals high tailed it to the surrounding mountains. Then on a winter night that same year, there was a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The rescue party sent to Helike afterward found nothing. Poseidon had failed them.
There were rumors that this was punishment for refusing a request from its Asian colonies for the statue of Poseidon. Legend said the city would not even give them a model and killed the representatives who asked. Poseidon did not take kindly to this and had the city swallowed by the sea.
The site became somewhat of a tourist attraction. There were reports of the bronze statue of Poseidon causing problems for fishermen. Ancient Romans would sail over the site and look at the ruins. Then the site was lost to time and tide.
Then in 1988, researchers Dora Katsonopoulou and Steve Soter discovered through study of ancient text Helike was not in the Gulf of Corinth as thought. The text said “poros”, which could be an inland lagoon. In 2001, their hard work paid off and they found the ruins of Helike.