Olvia – Archeological Treasure on the Black Sea Shore

In around 600 BC the ancient Greeks established the colonies of Tyras, Olbia and Hemonassa on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea. Olbia, or Olvia, was situated on the shores of the Southern Bug river and was one of the main trading posts for exporting goods to Greece. The town was enclosed by a stone wall with towers, and was set out in a triangular shape covering around fifty hectares. The upper town consisted of residential buildings centered on the agora, or town square, and a number of temples, while the lower town consisted of dockyards and housing for artisans, most of which is now submerged under the waters of the Southern Bug river. Olvia is a fascinating archaeological site which is the subject of ongoing excavations and well worth the visit for anyone interested in ancient history.

The archeological reservation of Olvia is located in the Ukrainian district of Ochakiv, near the village of Parutino. Between 1901 and 1915, and again between 1924 and 1926, Russian archaeologist Boris Farmakovsky worked on the excavation of Olvian. It seems that, apart from a small scale resettlement by the Romans, Olvia was never fully inhabited after being abandoned by the Greeks. This resulted in it being left relatively undisturbed and artifacts recovered have been plentiful. Among the discoveries have been the distinctive dolphin-shaped coins cast in bronze during the 5th century BC, completely different from the round-shaped coins used in the Greek world at the time. It has been suggested that the shape of the coins originated from sacrificial tokens used in the worship at the temple of Apollo Delphinius.

Inscriptions unearthed in Olvia suggest that the colony followed the religion of Orphism – related to the mythical poet Orpheus who was said to have descended into Hades and returned. Some believe that the so-called ‘father of history’ Herodotus wrote his nine-volume description of the history of the world while staying in Olvia.

Other discoveries at Olvia include wine making facilities with bowls and wine goblets decorated in precious stones, a forty meter deep well which today is used as a ‘wishing-well’ by visitors, and a sacred altar complete with the sacrificial bowl. The site has been declared a National Park and with the Black Sea continuing to erode the shore there is a real concern that more of this fascinating archeological treasure trove will be lost to the water forever.