Oricum's quarries - Albania 2016

Latest update January 31, 2017 Started on September 12, 2016

In the footsteps of Julius Caesar on the shores of the Mediterranean sea.

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In The Field

This orthophotoplan was made with one of our drones during our 2016 mission.

It will be the basis of our 2017 mission to Oricum.

We will use our scubadiving gear as well as the brand new Trident to explore and document the underwater remains.

Every aspect of the mission will be conducted under the supervision of an underwater archaeologist, Krisztian Gal.


The archeologists of the University of Geneva and the Albanian Institute asked the Octopus Foundation to search in the sea and the lagoon surrounding the forgotten city for ancient structures. After the 2016 mission, the Octopus Foundation is proud to present a model of the ancient quarries. The cutting of stone was probably the city's main activity. The perfectly white limestone of the Karaburun peninsula was used by the stonecutter in Rome. This multi-layer 3D model highlights a part of the coast that was excavated by the craftsmen of the time.

Oricum 2016 - Ancient quarries multilayer


For this post, I would like to share the schedule of one mission day, so you can have an idea of what’s going on from the moment the alarm clock wakes us all to the time when we finally go to bed.

We wake up usually at 7 am to prepare breakfast. At 8 am, we decided to start with an aerial prospection of the ancient harbor. In order to do so, we had first to put some markers along the shore so the archeologists can have several reference GPS points to have a geographical referenced 3D model and an orthophotoplan.

For this, it is important to know that we use local products that we don’t have to transport in our luggage. The lighter we are, the better it is. As soon as we arrive somewhere on a mission, we spot quickly a tourist beach store and buy several colorful foam rollers. They are very convenient because first, they are really cheap. Then, you can cut them easily in small pieces and even a small piece float perfectly. After buying two of them in the city, we drove to the ancient site as early as possible. Here is the trick : if you wait too long, the sun is reflecting badly in the water and the aerial images are not usable for any kind of 3D because of the mirror effect (the sun is at the exact same position on each picture).

At 9h30, we dispatched the markers first on the beach, then in the water. In order for the markers not to move in the water, we had to come up with an idea. The best we could find in the store were several pieces of rather rigid water hose on top of which we placed pieces of foam (see picture). Once our markers were set, we launched the drone in the air… to realize we were too late in the morning. The sun was already too high in the sky at about 10h30. At least our positioning markers were set for the following morning.

At about 11 am, we were back at the marina to get ready to return to the quarry that is located at about 45 minutes from our small harbor with our sailing boat. We anchored at about 12h30. After a small snack, we jumped in our wetsuit and prepared our diving equipment. Diving at this period of the year (mid September) in Albania, you have to take into account that the sun light is too low already at about 4 pm. So, the best is to dive between 12:00 and 14:00. After 15:00 the light is seriously lacking. This dive went smoothly and Philippe managed to make the photo acquisition of the first underwater zone (20m by 30m) thanks to the guiding rope held by Christophe and Sebastien on each side of the rectangle. During the dive, Julien launched from the boat the drone in the air, to make the aerial photo acquisition of the area (see previous post).

At about 15h30, everyone was back on board. At 16h30, we left our anchorage and arrived in our birth at about 17h15. At 18h00, Christophe was already compressing air in our 4 diving tanks (two 12 liters and two 10 liters) thanks to the small air compressor that our Albanian contact rented us. Chris will need between 1h30 and 2 hours to have them fully loaded for the following day. Philippe was copying and editing the underwater pictures of the day in the boat, while Sebastien and Margaux were preparing the deck of the boat for the following day. In the meantime, Antoine and Julien went straight to the house we rented on the harbor to start working on the 3D model (Julien) and the drawings of the day (Antoine). Margaux followed them to start cooking the dinner. At about 19h30, we realized that it was Margaux’ birthday !!! Damn, we almost forgot !!!

So, Julien (who has started a 3D process) and Sebastien rushed in town to buy her a magnificent red Albanian T-shirt with the two black eagles. Back at the house at 20h30, we had a more than wonderful diner, thanks to our "cooking wizzard" Margaux, discussed about the weather for the next days (which is really important to us) and decided to return earlier to the lagoon the following morning.

At about 23:00, we were exhausted, but the computer that was processing the 3D models was seriously bugging. After trying several things, we decided to shut it down for the night… At about midnight - 1:00 am, everyone was sleeping : Margaux and Christophe in the house, and Sebastien, Julien, Philippe and Antoine in the boat. It was now mosquitoes' time !!!


This is great! I think so many people only see the highlights, and they don't realize what goes into an expedition - all the planning and small moments.

As a bonus, here is a drawing of Antoine, of our anchorage next to the quarry.


The following day, we decided to sail to the ancient quarries of the Karaburun peninsula. That's the place where the ancient Greek and then Roman extracted the perfect white limestone blocks and shipped them to be sculpted. One of these ancient quarries is really outstanding, as you can see how the ancient workers sculpted part of the coastline by taking away thousands of heavy blocks.

To give you an idea, we launched the drone to have a full 3D aerial model of the quarry. As you can see, it is not just the coastline. Almost a third of the hill is missing. It gives you an idea of how complex this quarry should have been. Imagine that the road did not exist at the time. It should have been sailing boats coming from Oricum harbour that took to Italy the cargo.

This day was also the day we dived in order to check the underwater side of the quarry. Because we plan to process a full 3D underwater model in order to have a better understanding of the place.

This is an incredible model. I can't wait to see the underwater model.

After the first two acquisitions, we decided to use our drone to cover the whole hill, in order to have a view of the ancient city site. This way, it becomes easier to understand the geographical situation of Oricum. This 3D model was made using Photoscan. Here it is :

After a meeting with the Swiss archeologists at their hotel, and couple of hours of planning, we went to the site of the ancient city of Oricum, with Gionata Consagra. They have been digging and researching for the past two weeks already. And they will keep up the dig for two upcoming weeks. The site seems small. But considering the human, financial and time resources (the archeologists dig just the month of September), it is gigantic. It will need probably several years to reveal many of the city’s remains.

The archeologists are currently studying a segment of the ancient city wall, and what looked like up until recently a ancient theater. In 2013, the archeologists discovered a water tank in the middle of the so-called « theater » proving that it is not in fact a theater. It is most probably more a monumental fountain or a public place that was also used as a water tank. At this point, it is important to know that the city was entirely carved in the stone. With no drinkable water spring around, the city had to collect rain water, in order to survive.

We finish the visit by testing our two drones in two separate photogrammetry. Tests can be useful right ? So, we decided to 3D modelize the work so far done by the archeologists. Here is the Orthophotoplan of part of the city with the monumental fountain.


Finally, we left Gouvia marina very early this morning. The window of « calmness » is supposed to last less than 24 hours. There are still threatening clouds in the sky, but they are manageable. The navigation is supposed to last the day. Our ETA (Estimated Time Arrival) should be 7 PM in Orikum’s very small marina.

We have followed the massive mountains for hours, until we reached the tip of the Karaburun peninsula. At about 6 PM, we were in Vlora bay. Sheltered ? Not really, lightnings and thunder started the second we entered the bay. It is under heavy rain that we finished our navigation and entered the small marina where two other crew members (Christophe and Margaux) were waiting for us since yesterday. Finally, we made it ! We finish the day, organizing our base camp, between our boat and the house that we rented on the harbour. Everything is under control. So far.


Great news. Good luck team.

A view of what we saw from our sailing trip the following day. Antoine, our drawer, managed to depict how impressive are the Albanian mountains that literarily fall in the sea. On the top side, Porto Palermo anchorage, last shelter before Orikum. Drawing by Antoine Bugeon.


That's an incredible drawing!

The following morning we finally flew to Corfu. The weather was not perfect, but the plane could at least land on the island’s airport. To give you an idea, in the picture you can guess how much rain it should have poured on the island the previous night, as mud was in the sea water all along the island’s coast.

We spent the entire afternoon preparing our sailing boat. But the problem was really the weather that did improve but just temporarily. A major thunderstorm was in motion for the coming night maybe the next day. The real problem was not the storm itself but the fact that we were planing a sailing trip that would take us most of the next day without any form of shelter once we would pass the half way point. As you can see on the map, Saranda is the first albanian city-port (which is not really a shelter) and then, next to the small city of Himare, there is this huge anchorage, called Porto Palermo. Perfect for winds coming from any direction. But then, after Porto Palermo… there is no shelter left. Just mountains that fall directly in the sea. As you can see on the small map, this passage is the narrowest in the Adriatic. So, when weather conditions are bad in the area, there are worse in this passage. You don’t want to try something reckless… Never in this region. So, we decided to wait one more day in port.


Here is the expedition map, using a plane and our expedition sailing boat. This map is useful to understand our trip, from Greece to Albania.


Our first day was travel day. After nearly two months of nice and warm summer weather, we landed in Athens (Greece) with a major thunderstorm. In our second plane that was supposed to take us to the island of Corfu (where is located our boat), the pilot announced that the weather was so bad over our destination that the previous flight had to turn around and fly all the way back to Athens because it could not land: visibility, wind, rain, thunder… mother nature can be really surprising sometimes. So, our airplane company offered us a night in a hotel near the airport. Expeditions are coming with all sort of surprises !


Wow. Stay safe team. Looking forward to following along.

Hi everyone ! I have first to apologize for not having posted during the mission. First of all, we were just six crew for this Albanian mission and you cannot imagine how many things we have to deal, each one of us, to complete everything. In addition, Albania is not the best place to find a good internet connection. Finally, archeology can be a sensitive subject as we don’t know in advance what will be discovered. To make things short, the mission went smoothly but it was really hard to post live. We decided to post the expedition a bit later. Later is now. Many apologies to those who were expecting it live.

To start with, here is the first episode of our first mission in Albania (in English). It will give you an idea of what to expect.

If you want to see the rest of the season, it is right here : bit.ly/2ek4ORy


Expedition Background

Hidden at the very end of the bay of Vlora in Albania, Oricum's ancient harbor is a jewel of historical importance. This site, which saw Julius Ceasar’s first conquest in enemy territory during the Roman civil war (against Pompee and the Senate), has been completely forgotten up until 2005. Incredibly, until the beginning of the 21st century, this ancient harbor city has remained untouched. Indeed, it is safely located on the military ground of Albanian's main naval base. It is still a NATO base today, meaning that very few civilians have been allowed to access and visit the site.

In 2009, things have changed nonetheless. Swiss archaeologists from the University of Geneva have teamed up with Albanian archaeologists to study the ancient city of Orikos (Greek) or Oricum (Latin). In 2012 and 2013, they started to dig and uncovered different important parts of the city. These early excavations can be followed through the video documentary that the OCEAN71 Magazine team realized over two seasons: http://bit.ly/2cQFEcx

In 2016, the excavations have resumed and the Octopus Foundation has decided to support the search of the city with a full marine documentation. Near the city's harbor, Julius Ceasar mentions in his own writings a hidden port that was protected «from the dominent winds by the city». Today, a lagoon is located in the vicinity which could very well have been used at the time as a harbor. Moreover, the main activity of ancient Oricum was the extraction of the pure white limestone of the Karaburun peninsula. Some say that several of these blocks were used for the massive walls of the Colosseum in Rome… Today, several abandoned quarries are still visible along the coast. Yet, what lies beneath the surface is still a mystery as there aren't any diving infrastructure in Albania. The Foundation has tasked the OCEAN71 team with researching and documenting this area for the scientists, and of course, for the public.


Excellent! Can't wait to follow along with this expedition.

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