June 5, 2000
Archaeologists scouring the Mediterranean seabed announced Saturday they
have found the 2,500 year-old ruins of submerged Pharaonic cities that until
now were known only through Greek tragedies, travelogues and legends.
Among the stunning discoveries at the sites-where the cities of Herakleion, Canopus and Menouthis once stood-are remarkably preserved houses, temples, port infrastructure and colossal statues that stand testimony to the citizen's luxuriant lifestyle, which some travelers had described as decadent.
This is the first time that historians have found physical evidence of the existence of the lost cities, which were famous not only for their riches and arts, but also for numerous temples dedicated to the gods Isis, Serapis and Osiris, making the region an important pilgrimages destination for various cults.
Herakleion, once a customs port where commerce flourished until the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., was found in its entirety.
"We have an intact city, frozen in time," French archaeologist Frank Goddio, who led the international team in the search, told The Associated Press.
The team worked for two years off this city on Egypt's northern coast in waters 20 to 30 feet deep, using modern technology including the use of magnetic waves to map the area.
"It is the most exciting find in the history of marine archaeology. It has shown that land is not enough for Egyptian antiquities," said, Galalla Ali, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt's top archaeology body.
He said the cities-probably built during the waning days of the pharaohs in the 7th or 6th century B.C. will be left as they are in the sea and only smaller pieces will be retrieved for museums.
Herakleion lost its economic importance after the building of Alexandria. It was probably destroyed by an earthquake, indicated by the position of collapsed columns and walls.
The sea encroached on the land following the quake, and ruins of Herakleion are now about four miles from land in the Bay of Abu Qir. The sea also engulfed Canopus and Menouthis.
The destruction most likely happened in the 7th or 8th century. Divers found Islamic and Byzantine coins and jewelry from that period, but not more recent.