Underwater archaeologists working off the Egyptian coast
announced in 2000 the discovery of an entire submerged ancient Egyptian
city. When discussing the find with the media at a news conference in
Alexandria, the French marine archaeologist, Franck Goddio, revealed the
first evidence of what was believed to be the ancient city of Herakleion
A lost world
His divers had located a lost world of temples, houses,
and colossal statues. Numerous artefacts were also recovered from
Herakleion's sister city of Menouthis. It was still not known at the
time what had destroyed the cities more than a thousand 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, with legendary origins as far back as the twelfth
century BC, the city is believed to span the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, and
The city was once at the mouth of the Nile, built
on adjoining islands in the delta and intersected by canals. Now
it lies in Alexandria's Aboukir Bay. Historians always knew of its
existence, along with its sister city, Menouthis, which was
rediscovered late in the twentieth century, but no one had ever seen
'City of sin'
Herakleion was a city that grew rich from taxes
and was once renowned for its lax morals. 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. The city had been built on the Nile silts.
Following the initial earth tremors, and probably the earthquake itself,
the silts could have suffered liquefaction, causing them to shift and
slide, and the city along with them.
As more and more artefacts could be raised from the
sea in subsequent years, it was a mystery that scientists were hoping
to solve. But there was other work going on too. Mr Goddio's divers
used electronic sensors to locate the ruins of another city, this one
believed to be around two thousand years old.
This was the ancient city of Alexandria, founded in
the fourth century BC and now proving to be a treasure trove of lost
However, it was only much more recently, with the
advent of advanced underwater technology, that the full extent of its
ancient ruins could be brought to the public eye. Mr Goddio's team
explored the shallow waters around Alexandria for several years.
In 1998, they recovered a granite sphinx which was
believed to have been modelled on Cleopatra's father. A statue of
the goddess Isis was also discovered (both are shown in the sidebar
As if that wasn't enough, in 1999 they excavated the
remains of the fleet of Napoleon Bonaparte, which was sunk by the
British under Admiral Nelson in 1798. The defeat essentially marked
the end of Napoleon's quest to conquer British India... but that's