Jan 18

Alexandria Lighthouse

The old city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and became a cultural capital of the world. It disappeared around the 4th century AD after a series of earthquakes and a tidal wave.

Despite archaeological interest above ground, the potential for an ancient underwater site was largely ignored. It wasn't until 1961 that the first underwater "excavation" took place - Kamal Abu el-Saadat persuaded the Egyptian Navy to haul out a colossal statue of Isis from the murky depths of the harbour. In 1994, the French archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur and a team of thirty divers from the National Centre of Scientific Research began a comprehensive and detailed exploration of the underwater site. An additional project led by Frenchman Frank Goddio of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology soon followed suit.

Divers and underwater archaeologists have been fishing artefacts from Egypt's coastal waters for years. It's no surprise: The history of this region flows back thousands of years when Pharos Island harboured ships laden with goods from Crete, Phoenicia and the Aegean islands. Greek historian Herodotus wrote of great cities along the Nile Delta when he visited Egypt in 450 BC, more than a century before Alexander the Great swept through the area and founded Alexandria.

However it was not until 1992 when underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his Paris-based European Institute for Underwater Archaeology came to Alexandria to electronically map the Eastern Harbour that what was there began to be revealed. The work was the backbone of later missions, which included an underwater archaeological survey in 1996 and subsequent excavations that revealed scattered remains of the Royal Quarter of Alexandria, dragged underwater more than 1,600 years ago by earthquakes and floods and the remains of the famous Pharos of Alexandria.

While statues, columns and toppled walls impress Goddio, it is the written word carved in stone that stirs his imagination. "I would say that inscriptions are what touch me the most," he says, calling them a "frozen message from the past. "One such message', discovered in 1996 when his team found an outcrop in the Eastern Harbour, remains Goddio's career highlight. "We started to clean the rock and it was a hieroglyph inscription on red granite: it was 'eternal life'," he said. "It was the first antique thing that we found on Antirhodos Island." The submerged island was where Cleopatra's Palace once stood.

Hieroglyphics found dating back to Seti 1 

Goddio also discovered a royal pier, a shipwreck, a sunken peninsula where Cleopatra's Roman lover Mark Antony built his personal retreat, a statue of the goddess Isis cradling a child and scores of outstanding artefacts. "It's so emotional to see something that nobody has seen for 2,000 years," Goddio said of these finds.
On 10 April 2001, French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio presented for the first time his complete map of the sunken quarters of Alexandria.

In 1996, after several years of research in co-operation with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquity and supported by the Hilti Foundation, Goddio discovered the fabled city quarters which had been lost for more than 1,000 years.

Since then, Goddio and his team of archaeologists, historians, geophysicists and divers, have researched and charted the complete harbour with the remains of palaces, temples and harbours, as well as the famous royal island of Antirhodos. Especially interesting were the many foundations, columns, statues, granite blocks and smaller items, as well as an ancient shipwreck, lying in the harbour of the sunken island, which were found during the survey and excavation activities.

Alexandria Map Findings 

This geophysical data has been charted onto a new map (shown above), which is significantly different from all other previous maps both ancient and modern. The map will provide valuable new information for archaeologists and Egyptologists alike. Franck Goddio comments: "Soon after the first electronic surveys of the harbour, we realized that the topography of the ancient quarters of Alexandria was totally different from what had been assumed until now".

The first map of the topography of the harbour was created in 1866 by Mahmud el-Falaki. This map was based on data contained in texts by Strabo, Julius Caesar, Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder, among others. Subsequent maps of the 19th and 20th centuries have all been largely based on this first map. The old maps assumed that during ancient times, most harbour structures and buildings were only in the eastern part of the present port. But, surprisingly, Goddio's work in 2000, Goddio has also uncovered foundations and port structures in the western part.

By the mid-fifth century A.D., the royal palaces and buildings within Alexandria's Great Harbour, which the Greek geographer Strabo so eloquently described, had been destroyed by a series of earthquakes and tidal waves that Stanford University geophysicist Amos Nur believes centred on a fault line stretching from Sicily to Cairo. According to written sources, no fewer than 23 earthquakes struck the Egyptian coast between the years A.D. 320 and 1303, a particularly severe one occurring in the summer of A.D. 365. Over time, the harbour floor dropped more than 20 feet, the Royal Quarters collapsing and sinking beneath the waves.

 Alexandria SphinxAlexandria Statue

Fallen columns, capitals, statues, stone blocks with hieroglyphic and Greek inscriptions, the remains of streets, lead ingots, and amphorae litter the floor of the modern harbour, encrusted with 16 centuries of deposits and bombarded daily by sewage pumped into the water. Surprisingly, enough of the ancient quarters have survived to allow archaeologists to map them.

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