There are ancient places in this world which hold vast secrets and mysteries that have existed since time unremembered. Here in the corners of the globe pervaded with both history and legend, sitting on the edges of the ancient world, we can find areas that both enthrall and puzzle to this day. Certainly one such place is the Black Sea, sprawled out between Southeastern Europe and Western Asia, bounded by the Pontic Mountains to the south and by the Caucasus Mountains to the east, and bordered by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. With an area of 436,400 km2 (168,500 sq. mi) and a maximum depth of around 2,212 m (7,257 ft.), the Black Sea is a vast body of water that was once an integral waterway in the ancient world, and has long been an essential part of the many ancient civilizations that shared its shores, including the Greeks, who considered it the edge of the known world. It was once called merely “The Sea,” and later came to be known as the “Inhospitable Sea,” due to the savage tribes that lived along its shores in the days before the Greek civilization somewhat tamed the region, after which it became known conversely as the “Hospitable Sea,” and has long been a crucial location lying at the crossroads of ancient civilization. It is also a place of both ancient and modern mysteries, ranging from lost civilizations, to strange phenomena, unexplained disappearances, and bizarre beasts.
Considering this long history, it is perhaps no surprise that the Black Sea holds several historical mysteries and oddities. Some of the most oft-discussed and indeed controversial mysteries to be found here is the idea that the lost city of Atlantis can be found in these waters, and that indeed it was the location of Noah’s Biblical flood. The story of the legendary Atlantean civilization can be traced back over 2,000 years to accounts given by the great Greek philosopher Plato, in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, in around 360 BC. Plato claimed that Atlantis was the home of a powerful seagoing civilization in the Atlantic Ocean that was larger than ancient Libya and Asia Minor (modern Turkey) put together, and that its great kings had originally descended from the god of the sea, Poseidon, before being inevitably diluted with mortal blood. Over its long history, the civilization of Atlantis was said to have conquered large areas of land, including Western Europe and Africa, and they were described as being an unstoppable force. This reign was said to have continued until the Atlanteans tried to invade Athens, after which some cataclysmic event sank the entire civilization “in a single day and night,” burying it within the sea and sparking debate over its existence and true location ever since.
While it has often been argued that Atlantis was merely an allegorical tale told of by Plato to illustrate the intricacies of politics, there have obviously been those who believe it to be a literal place that really existed, and the search for Atlantis has become a legendary quest for millennia. The problem lies in the fact that not only is it not known if Atlantis was ever a real place, but despite the fact that the land itself was described by Plato in great detail right down to its mountain ranges, plains, forests, plant life, architecture, and culture, its actual location is rather vague. For centuries, the location of Atlantis has been claimed to have been “discovered” in such disparate places as the North Sea, at Land’s End off the British coast, the Mediterranean Sea, and even Antarctica, Indonesia, the Caribbean, and the coast of Africa. One of the most popular theories is that Atlantis represents the Minoan civilization on the islands of Crete and Santorini, which indeed was wiped out by a catastrophic volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami that inexorably tore through everything in its path.
Another theory which has gained momentum in recent years is that Atlantis was actually located within the Black Sea, and was submerged by a great flood in around 5,600 BC. The notion that a devastating flood occurred in the region is not in and of itself completely far-fetched, as there has been a good amount of research that has uncovered intriguing evidence of just such an event. One of the main driving forces behind the idea of an ancient great Black Sea flood, also called the Black Sea deluge hypothesis, is research conducted in 1996 by two Columbia University marine geologists by the names of Dr. William B. F. Ryan and Dr. Walter C. Pitman III. Based on geological and climate data from the area, the two scientists theorized that the Black Sea had once been a freshwater lake, and had experienced a deluge of water from the Mediterranean and Aegean seas via the Bosporus, which is a narrow strait that connects them to the Black Sea. The scientists claimed that for 300 days, water roared in through the strait at a terrifying, phenomenal rate, quickly inundating 155,000 km2 (60,000 sq. mi) of land, raising the water level by over 500 feet, and greatly increasing the size of the Black Sea. Other research has supported these findings and it is mostly agreed upon that flooding did indeed occur in the region, although there has been much debate as to the suddenness and extent of the flooding, with some researchers coming to the conclusion that it was mild rather than the sudden, catastrophic deluge postulated by Ryan and Pitman.
Despite the controversy as to how rapidly this flooding occurred, if Ryan and Pitman’s theory is correct then it gives credibility to the idea that a sudden flooding event could have rapidly swallowed the region, and this has led to the idea that the ancient land of Atlantis may have been one of the casualties. There have been a few researchers who have claimed to have found evidence that Atlantis lies in the Black Sea. Notably, German researchers Siegfried and Christian Schoppe concluded that it was inundated here based on a clue to the location of Atlantis given by Plato; that it was located near the Pillars of Hercules, which is often speculated to be the Strait of Gibraltar but which Siefried and Schoppe believe to be instead the Strait of Bosporus at the Black Sea. Other suggested possible locations suggested for Atlantis in the Black Sea are off the coasts of the coastal cities of Sinop or Trabzon, in Turkey.
One of the more recent researchers to uncover such evidence is underwater archeologist Robert Ballard, most known for being the one to locate the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. Ballard agrees with the theory that a great flood swept through the region, and puts the timeframe at around 5,000 BC. The team used robotic submersibles to explore an area off the coast of Turkey and found evidence of an ancient submerged shoreline 400 feet below the surface, as well as remains of what appears to be human habitation, such as artificially placed rectangles of stone and evidence of a structure believed to have been possibly a farmhouse. Although it is not necessarily evidence of Atlantis, it does support the idea of an ancient, epic flood in the region, and even if Atlantis is a myth it could have possibly been influenced by this very flood. This notion of a great deluge in the Black Sea has also caused much speculation that tales of this cataclysm could have been passed down over the generations by oral tradition of the illiterate survivors in the mountains to become the original basis for the Biblical story of Noah’s flood, or even that it is literally the flood mentioned in the Bible.
The Black Sea has more modern mysteries as well. There is an area not far from the Black Sea island Snake Island that has since at least the 13th century been associated with strange disappearances and phenomena. The approximately 8 to 10 square kilometer expanse of water was first mentioned by the Turks and Russians in the Middle Ages, who spoke of roving whirlpools that appeared here out of nowhere to churn across the surface and swallow flocks of sea birds, ships and even small islands. The Turks called this terrifying phenomenon the “Whirlpool of Death,” and the Russians referred to it as the “White Whirlpool.” Fishermen in the area long avoided this place, and considered it to be a cursed region from which those who entered never returned. Some traditions of the mysterious whirlpools say that they actually sought out and hunted down sea going vessels, as if they had a malevolent will of their own, and they were known to appear even on placid waters with no warning.
Whether these strange spontaneous whirlpools ever existed or not the Black Sea has nevertheless been the scene of numerous bizarre disappearances. On May 31, 1944, the Soviet battleship Tiolkovsloi was approximately 70 km south of the Crimea peninsula in daylight under clear conditions when another ship reported that it had suddenly been enveloped by a black fog with green flashing sparkles, after which it blinked off of radar and out of existence. Only two months later, 5 reconnaissance aircraft were also allegedly overcome by a black fog with similar green sparkles and were never seen again. On December 5, 1945, 5 Soviet bombers also abruptly disappeared after sending transmissions that they had encountered a heavy fog. Search efforts to locate the planes did not manage to find any trace of the missing planes or even any scrap of wreckage, and their fate remains unknown. Such strange disappearances have continued right up into more modern times, such as the inexplicable vanishing of a Greek plane in 1990 in clear weather. These vanishings have been speculated to be perhaps caused by a large magnetic anomaly in the region which appears to be slowly on the move, wandering about the sea and perhaps causing airplane or electrical malfunctions. The phenomenon has gained the nicknames “The Black Sea Triangle” and “The Black Sea Vortex,” as well as the more sinister “Triangle of Death.”
Even creepier is an incident that allegedly occurred in 1991 on an offshore Russian oil platform. One day, the platform suddenly went silent, and all efforts to contact it failed to get any response. A team was sent to investigate, and found that the hulking platform had broken free of its moorings to drift 50 km over the ocean from its original position. When a boarding party went to investigate, it was found that all 80 oil workers who had been aboard were nowhere to be seen, and even more strangely had left behind all of their belongings and half-eaten meals, as if they had left in a big rush. An air search of the area found no trace of any of the 80 missing men, and their baffling disappearance appears to have never been solved.
The Black Sea is not without its strange creatures as well. A strange report comes from an article entitled UFOs in the Soviet Waters, by a Paul Stonehill. In the account, a spear fisherman by the name of Borovikov was diving in the Black Sea’s Anapa region when a group of three bizarre beings that can only be described as some sort of merfolk, came swimming up out of the murk below. According to the report, the strange creatures had milky white skin, humanoid faces with bulging eyes, and fish-like tails. One of the creatures allegedly noticed Borovikov and stopped to observe him for some time, and its two companions followed suit before finally one of them waved a webbed hand at the human diver in a gesture whose meaning will likely forever remain unknown before they all swam closer. The group apparently came quite unsettlingly close to the frightened diver before stopping and darting off in unison. What were these enigmatic beings and what did they want? Did they ever even exist at all?
The mysteries of the Black Sea can be found not only in the sea, but also below it. According to accounts spanning back to before World War I, there allegedly exists an ancient subterranean system of two vast tunnels measuring thousands of kilometers long that wind through the earth under the sea to connect Romania to Turkey. Although it is unknown who built these tunnels, for what purpose they were constructed, or even when they were built, sheep herders from the region of Dobruja, in the south-east of Romania, were said to bravely venture forth into their dark recesses in order to take their sheep over into Turkey for export to the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, it is said that the military closed off and guarded the entrances of these tunnels in order to prevent clandestine crossing of borders and surprise attacks from the enemy. During the communist era, the Romanian government purportedly knew about these tunnels and did their best to keep people from entering them, either for safety reasons or because they were hiding something within. Allegedly, soldiers at work on construction of the Danube-Black Sea Channel in the 1980s accidentally stumbled across a secret entrance into the mysterious tunnels in a cemetery in the Murfatlar area, and used it to secretly cross over into Bulgaria. Although the origins of the alleged vast expanse of underground tunnels have been speculated to be everything from an advanced ancient civilization to aliens, no one really seems to know much about them. The true original purpose of these tunnels, who built them, exactly how old they are, and how those responsible for making them managed such a technological marvel of engineering as building such immense tunnels under the Black Sea in ancient times, remain a mystery.
It seems that there will always be mysteries tied to the awe-inspiring, ancient places of our world, in particular those which are pervaded with a long, rich history. The Black Sea is a prime example of a place which is at once a sweeping marvel of nature as well as an important cradle for early civilizations of the region, and it is perhaps no wonder that it has cultivated its share of mysteries, legends, and oddities. Here history meets the world of the weird, and one wonders if we will ever understand these enigmas. For millennia this has been a place of wonders and legend, and perhaps it will remain so for a millennia more.