Marine archaeologist Eva Grossmann on how she discovered the Byzantine Port of Apollonia

Eva Grossmann, photo: archive of Post Bellum

“Everyone was looking north, but topography led me to look south and that’s how I found the Byzantine Port of Apollonia,” says Czech-born marine archaeologist and researcher Eva Grossmann. Eva escaped Nazi persecution when her mother hid her and her elder sister at their grandfather’s house for the duration of the war. In 1949 the family fled to Israel where Eva graduated in marine archaeology and Egyptology. In the first of a series of interviews with Israelis with Czechoslovak roots conducted by the Czech Centre in Tel Aviv she talks to the centre’s head Robert Mikoláš about her life during the coronavirus crisis, how she discovered the submerged Byzantine Port of Apollonia and her avid interest in marine archaeology even after her retirement.

Eva Grossmann,  photo: archive of Post Bellum

Eva Grossmann with her friend in 1945,  photo: archive of Post Bellum
Mrs. Grossmann, how are you spending these days?

“What am I doing? I have a garden, so I have been planting potatoes, radishes, carrots and some flowers, watering it, weeding it, while listening to the singing of birds. I also read in order to keep my mind sharp and try to solve some mathematical exercises. But I can see that I don’t remember much. I like to read for example ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ or Shiller’s ‘The Song of the Bell’. But I also enjoy reading Karel Erben, which we were always bored with at school. Robert, I’m very lucky, I don’t need people. Perhaps because for four years of my life, between the age of 8 to 12, I was alone only with animals, I quite like to be by myself.”

You have gone through some very difficult times, as a child you were hidden from the Nazis, then the communists nationalized your family’s property and after your departure to Israel you experienced several wars. How do you perceive the current coronavirus crisis?

“I don’t talk about politics. During the frequent wars here, we all had the feeling that things were heading towards peace or at least towards a truce. The coronavirus will disappear sooner or later, if people obey the rules. But the orthodox believe that it’s the will of God and nothing can stay in the way of that. That’s the reason why the illness is affecting their cities so badly and they are running away out of fear and bringing it to us.”

You are a well-recognized Israeli archaeologist. Among your most famous discoveries is the Byzantine Port of Apollonia. Could you tell us a bit more about how the discovery came about?

“I’ll try to keep my answer short. In Roman times, there were three roads leading from Nablus, Sebastia and Afek/Jerusalem to Apollonia. They didn’t build them just to look at the sea. Apollonia was a city, there were buildings, not just huts. Graves can be found even in Kfar Shmariahu, so the city probably reached up to there. In addition to that, the city was producing glass, wine but mainly argaman – red colour from Murex shells used for colouring fabrics. For one Roman dress you would need up to 10 000 of these shells. Everybody was looking for the port to the north of the city, but I had decided to follow the topography and I that’s how I found the main port. The Greeks and the Romans always had two ports – one for international trade, where the loading and unloading of goods took place and a small one for fishermen and coastal trade.

Roman house ruins in Apollonia,  photo: Gilgamesh,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“You know, the stream by the shore flows from the south to the north, from Egypt to Anatolia. But there are 3 points where the stream flows the other way around: Gaza, Apollonia and south of Haifa. Probably, it's the Coriolis effect. Scientists at Haifa University ignored it, since it didn't fit in with their research. They claimed that Apollonia couldn’t have a harbour, because the entrance to the harbour cannot be from the south side. Otherwise it would be clogged by sand. For 3 years, almost every day, we threw marked bottles into the sea from the north side of the small harbour. If someone curious didn't take them out, they all floated to the south. It was simple but effective.”

Are you still interested in archaeology? Have any recent discoveries caught your attention?

“I follow the work of Dr. Sean Kingsley, director of the institute Wreck Watch. They are focused on maritime archaeology. Besides that they are monitoring ship wrecks and protecting them from looters. At the same time they do research, for example with help of a robot they dug up ships from the Spanish Tierra Firme fleet from 1622, which lay 700m deep in the sea.”

Eva Grossmann, née Fromowitz, was born on the 9th of August, 1932 in Olomouc as the youngest of two daughters. Her father, Wilhelm Fromowitz, came from a Jewish family and her mother, Helena, was raised as a Christian. Eva started attending school, but both she and her sister, Ricarda, were summoned to a transport in 1942. To save them their mother sent them into hiding in their grandfather’s house. They remained there until the end of the war. After the liberation, Eva returned to school. In April 1949, after the Communists nationalized their property, the family fled to Israel. Eva continued her education there, graduating from university with a degree in archaeology and Egyptology, specializing in underwater archaeology.

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