Arikamedu is an archaeological site located 4 kilometres in the South of Pondicherry (enclave in Tamil Nadu), in the Kakkayanthope locality. The city was built on one of the shores of the estuary called Thengaithittu, some hundred meters from the Bay of Bengal. The choice of this site was strategic: close to the Ocean, the place represented then a shelter for boats. Arikamedu is also called "Poduke", that means "eroded mount".
In the antic period, South of India was under the rule of Cholas (2nd century BC – 2nd century AD), an old local dynasty which also reined over Sri Lanka and which was mentioned in Mahabharata. Under their reign Arikamedu was an important commercial harbour in the Indian subcontinent, opened towards the rest of Asia and linked to Rome and Greek cities. Arikamedu was also considered for its pearl necklaces exchanged with other Indian harbours.
During the 1940s the Scottish Mortimer Wheeler led an important operation of archaeological excavations. He is famous is his field of study for the development of a new excavations technique: the "Wheeler method" consists separating the ground in multiple squares. Several relics were then found, of which potteries and coins with Tamil and Roman inscriptions. Amphora found during archaeological excavations could suggest that wine was a central element of trade between Europe and India. Olive oil was also important in Roman exportations. These types of liquid were transported with amphora. The Southeast of India is historically considered for its cotton production and the quality of its weave realized by local craftsmen: it is possible that the textile was another exchanged commodity.
The sailing in the antic period was made by coastal navigation: boats followed coasts without overlooking it; the high sea was considered like too dangerous to venture – who knows which gods lived there ... The sea road used between Europe and South India thus passed through East of the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt, ships followed then the Red Sea to arrive into the Arabian Sea. Following the coasts of Arabian Peninsula then Persia, vessels then had to border West of the Indian subcontinent, to cross the South point and to rise again towards Arikamedu.
Arikamedu appears to loose influence at the end of the 3rd century AD. Nevertheless recent discoveries of amphora seem to put into perspective this decline: inscriptions found on amphora date back the origin to Constantinople and its East Roman Empire. The harbour trade could thus remained active till the 7th century AD. Other tracks of trade with Asian regions as medieval China, famous for its pottery and ceramic arts, also highlight the longevity of commercial activity. Nevertheless the city looses its importance to become only a Tamil fishermen village. From European colonial period, it's the nearby village of Pondicherry that expands and welcomes a new harbour due to the construction of a pier.
Between 1771 and 1773 the site is occupied once again by a French Jesuit seminary and its adjacent residence. Only the entrance columns and a brick arch are still viewable: they represent the only tracks of past today visible to the naked eye. Vegetation, mangoes and coconut palms invade the rest of the place. If you want to observe the archaeological discoveries from Arikamedu, you can visit the Pondicherry museum!