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Remnants of a wall in Canopus, filmed after the removal of 270 cm of sand.

Sunken Civilizations

Following traces of legend and history

The ancient city of Canopus is mentioned many times by classical authors and the fathers of the church. The oldest mention of Canopus can be found in a poem by Solon, from the first half of the 6th century BC. According to the poet Nicander (2nd century BC), Menelaus’ helmsman, Canopus, died here, bitten by a viper on the sands of Thonis. The city located close by was named after this unfortunate sailor: Canopus. During the last Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period, Canopus was famous for its sanctuaries of Osiris and Serapis. Pilgrims from all over the world came to visit in search of miraculous healing.

Throughout the existence of the grand sanctuary of Herakles in Heracleion, the God Osiris was taken from here on his ritual barque to his sanctuary in Canopus. This procession created a mystical tie between the two neighbouring cities. During Roman times Canopus was condemned in literature for its extravagant feasts, however, attracting many visitors. Emperor Hadrian, in order to keep alive the memories of the good times he enjoyed in Canopus, even had a replica of part of Canopus built at Villa Hadriana outside Rome. After the destruction of the temples by Christian iconoclasts, the construction of a powerful monastery followed. It became famous for holding the relics of Saint John and Saint Cyril. Those relics brought to the monastery the same powers for miraculous healings as the former pagan temple of Osiris-Serapis and consequently the site continued to be a place of pilgrimage.

The fate of the eastern suburbs of Canopus was identical to that which befell Thonis-Heracleion: the sea repossessed these places with their rich histories.

Pictures

Parts of the Naos of the Decades, a black granite shrine that dates to the 4th century BC. It was made in the reign of Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) and dedicated to Shu, god of the air and the winds. The inscriptions proved to be of great importance for understanding the Egyptian calendar, mythology and astrology.
The Naos of the Decades, a black granite shrine that dates to the 4th century BC. It was made in the reign of Nectanebo I (380-362 BC) and dedicated to Shu, god of the air and the winds. The inscriptions proved to be of great importance for understanding the Egyptian calendar, mythology and astrology.
Marble head of the god Serapis, 2nd century BC, (H 59 cm, l cm) discovered on the site of the temple dedicated to this god, A creation of the Ptolemaic period, this god was associated with Isis and took over some of the functions of Osiris. The cult grew throughout the Geek and Egyptian community and became very popular. The god’s main temples stood in Canopus and Alexandria.
Golden coins dating from the Byzantine (7th century AD) and Islamic (8th Century AD) periods, found at Canopus.
Animal footprints preserved on the site of Canopus after removal of 2.5 m of sand.
Archaeologists measuring the numerous granite columns excavated at Canopus.
Portrait of a pharaoh, Quartzite, 25th dynasty (712-661 BC presenting the characteristic traits of the statuary of the 25th so-called Ethiopian Dynasty (8th century BC).
Limestone blocks of a wall. Photograph taken after removing 2.7 m of sand.
Head of a diorite statue representing a pharaoh of the 26th (Saite) dynasty (664-525 BC).
The expedition team using airbags to raise heavy artefacts like this granite sphinx from the seabottom. Once on the surface, they are lifted on deck of the support ship by crane.
Raising from the sea an over life-size black diorite statue of stunning sculptural quality, probably representing Arsinoë II, She is dressed as the goddess Isis with the knot on the right shoulder clasping the fine linen tunic, a ceremonial dress of the Ptolemaic queens.
A diver holding a slightly over life-sized marble head of the god Sarapis dating from the 2nd century AD and found at Canopus.
This over life-size black diorite statue of a stunning sculptural quality probably represents Arsinoë II, dressed as the goddess Isis with the knot on the right shoulder clasping the fine linen tunic, a ceremonial dress of the Ptolemaic queens.
Osiris-Canopus, marble, 1st-2nd century AD.
A Byzantine gold ring from Canopus is mounted with a tiny oil lamp, the band is decorated with an undulating garland.

The Discovery

Two kilometres to the east of the modern port of Aboukir, the IEASM have identified a zone that contains numerous archaeological remains, including some that clearly corresponded to those discovered by Prince Toussoun in 1933. This site consists of a row of ruins 150 metres long. Broken shafts of columns of red granite are combined with limestone construction blocks and other architectural elements. Artefacts, including jewels, crosses, coins and seals of the Byzantine Period, were found during the IEASM investigations here. To the north of these structures, under almost two metres of sand, are the well-preserved foundations of a wall that measures 103 metres long. It is suggested that this wall would have surrounded a temple, which from the scale of the wall would be the largest Egyptian shrine found thus far in the region.

Pieces of granite inscribed with hieroglyphs were found here. These proved to be further parts of the Naos of the Decades, a famous monolithic chapel, parts of which had already been found underwater at this location by Prince Toussoun in 1933. Among the other fragments of statuary found in this area was a remarkable marble head of the god Serapis, dating from the Ptolemaic Period.

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