History Files


Ancient Egypt

The Lost City of Herakleion Uncovered

by Frank Gardner, BBC News, 3 June 2000



Underwater archaeologists working off the Egyptian coast have discovered an entire submerged city dating from ancient times.

At a news conference in Alexandria, the French marine archaeologist, Franck Goddio, revealed the first evidence of what is believed to be the ancient city of Herakleion.

A lost world

His divers have located a lost world of temples, houses and colossal statues.

Numerous artefacts were also recovered from its sister city of Menouthis. It is still not known what destroyed the cities more than 1,000 years ago.

The remains of Herakleion were found less than ten metres beneath the surface of the Mediterranean.

Dating from before the fifth century BC, it is believed to span the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, and Byzantine eras.

Herakleion was once at the mouth of the Nile and is now in Alexandria's Aboukir Bay.

Historians always knew of its existence, along with its sister city, Menouthis, which was rediscovered last century, but no one had ever seen the evidence.

It was a city that grew rich from taxes and was once renowned for its lax morals.


'City of Sin'

Curiously, this so-called 'city of sin' was also a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the eastern Mediterranean.

Here, people worshipped the Pharaonic cult of Isis well into the first millennium AD.

Yet something happened that wiped out the city. One theory is that an earthquake shifted the angle of the Nile, causing this city of several thousand inhabitants to sink beneath the water.

As more and more artefacts are raised from the sea, it is a mystery that scientists will be hoping to solve.

Mr Goddio's divers have been using electronic sensors to locate the ruins of a city believed to be around 2,000 years old.


Technological advances

The ancient city of Alexandria is proving to be a treasure trove of lost civilisation.

However, it is only recently, with the advent of advanced underwater technology, that the full extent of its ancient ruins is being brought to the public eye.

Mr Goddio's team has been exploring the shallow waters around Alexandria for several years.

In 1998, they recovered a granite sphinx believed to be modelled on Cleopatra's father. A statue of the goddess Isis was also found.

Last year, they excavated the remains of Napoleon's fleet, which was sunk by the British under Admiral Nelson in 1798.



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