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Parts of the city of Alexandria were destroyed by a series of natural disasters. Here you can see an animation of the now submerged »Portus Magnus« as it looked during Roman times, according to Franck Goddio's excavation results.

Sunken Civilizations

The City

Alexandria was among the largest and most magnificent cities in antiquity. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the architecture and culture of Rome itself were overshadowed by the Egyptian city. Palaces and temples dominated the skyline. The beauty of this political, religious, cultural and scientific capital aroused the admiration of visitors such as the Greek geographer Strabo. The population had already passed the 100,000 mark shortly after Alexandria’s founding. The city’s c. 130 metres high Pharos lighthouse represented one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Alexandria was also famous for its huge library with about half a million roles of papyrus. Parts of the city’s royal quarter with its temples, palaces, royal gardens and harbour structures were situated in the eastern harbour, called the Portus Magnus. Here, on the Island of Antirhodos and the Poseidium Peninsula, Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony and the famous Cleopatra used to stay.

Due to a combination of natural phenomena, including a series of earthquakes and tidal waves, the Portus Magnus and parts of the city’s ancient coastline sank beneath the sea. For more than 1,200 years temples, buildings, palaces, statues, ceramics, coins, jewellery and every day objects lay untouched on the seabed covered by thick layers of sand and sediment.

Video

Remnants of parts of the sunken royal quarter of Alexandria.

Pictures

Priest carrying an Osiris-jar, and the two sphinxes found nearby. The figures were cleaned and re-erected where they had been found.
A falcon-headed crocodile-sphinx made out of Granodiorite probably dates back to the 7th-8th century BC.
The statue of an Isis priest holding an Osiris-jar found on the sunken Island of Antirhodos in the great harbour of Alexandria. The statue from black granite is 1.22 meters high.
A silicon-soaked cloth is taken below the surface, placed on the inscribed block and overlaid with a thin sheet of lead, which is then gently hammered by the diver. The lead is held in place by straps to ensure uniform pressure during the polymerisation period. Eighteen hours later demoulding reveals the inscription on the silicon membrane.
A diver eye-to-eye with a sphinx made out of black granite. The face of the sphinx is believed to represent Ptolemy XII, father of the famous Cleopatra VII. The sphinx was found during excavations in the ancient harbour of Alexandria.
White marble torso of Hermes discovered in the southern branch of the Island of Antirhodos in Alexandria harbour.
This granite head (80cm) is attributed to Caesarion (Ptolemaios XV), son of Cleopatra VII and Julius Caesar. It is part of a statue of about 5 metres in height and dates from the 1st century BC. It was found in Alexandria’s ancient harbour opposite the Island of Antirhodos.
View on the wreck discovered in the ancient port of the Island of Antirhodos after the removal of sediment. The analysis of the in mud well preserved wooden remains and of parts of the cargo shows that this ship might date back to the 1st century BC. Within the general grid of the site a metallic frame is positioned with squares of 50 cm x 50 cm, to help the archaeologist writing down the data.
Marble head of Antonia Minor, mother of Roman emperor Claudius. It was found in the ancient harbour of Alexandria.
Head of black granite statue found on the Poseidium peninsula. It represents an elderly man, bald, probably a priest from the Ptolemaic period.
Divers of Goddio's team contemplating the statue of a priest carrying Osiris-Canopus, and two sphinxes found nearby. The figures were cleaned and re-erected where they had been found.
This granite head (80cm) is attributed to Caesarion (Ptolemaios XV), son of Cleopatra VII and Julius Caesar. It is part of a statue of about 5 metres in height and dates from the 1st century BC. It was found in Alexandria’s ancient harbour opposite the Island of Antirhodos.
Statue of an ibis in white limestone from the Ptolemaic period. This effigy of the sacred animal of the egyptian god Thot must have stood in a religious building, not far from the banks of the eastern port.
A ceramic bowl that dates from the 1st century BC - 1st century AD. Its shape suggests that it may have been used for divination rituals. To this day, the inscription ‘DIA CHRESTOU O GOISTAIS’ remains open to various interpretations.
Papyriform pink granite column which belonged to a colonnade of a building that was originally in Memphis. The names of Thoumosis IV, II and Sety Merenptah are still visible.

The Discovery
The eastern port of Alexandria as it looked during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The today's sunken lands and structures are marked in yellow.

In 1992, the IEASM began underwater explorations under the supervision of Franck Goddio and in cooperation with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. The zone of research covers the current eastern port, which measures approximately 400 hectares in area. After an extensive programme of electronic surveys to create an accurate map of the harbour floor, archaeological remains buried under the sediment were located by selective mechanical soundings or through the use of electronic detection instruments such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) magnetometers

The archaeological campaigns have made it possible to develop, for the first time, a complete panorama of the famous Portus Magnus. The topography obtained is very different from what had been previously imagined from ancient texts. We now know how the eastern port of Alexandria looked during the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. 

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