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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 under the reign of Nectanebo I and dedicated to Shu, god of the air. The inscriptions proved to be of great importance for the understanding of the Egyptian calendar and astrology.
The Naos of the Decades, a black granite shrine that dates to the 4th century BC. It was made under the reign of Nectanebo I and dedicated to Shu, god of the air. The inscriptions proved to be of great importance for the understanding of the Egyptian calendar and astrology.
Giant marble head of the god Serapis  - 2nd century BC.
Golden coins dating from Byzantine (7th century AD) and Islamic (8th Century AD) periods, found at Canopus.
Animal footprints preserved at 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 (712-664 BC).
Limestone blocks of a wall. Photograph taken after removing 270 cm of sand.
Head of a diorite statue representing a pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty (Saïte Dynasty) 664-525 BC.
The expedition team is using airbags to raise heavy artefacts like this granite sphinx to the surface.
Cut in hard, dark stone, this feminine body being raised out of the water has a startlingly sculptural quality. Complete, it must have been slightly larger than life-size. The statue is certainly one of the queens of the Ptolemaic dynasty (likely Arsinoe II) dressed as the goddess Isis, as confirmed by the knot that joins the ends of the shawl the woman wears, which was representative of the queens during this time period.
A diver holding a marble head of the god Sarapis. The head dates from the 2nd century AD and was found at Canopus.
Cut in hard, dark stone, this feminine body has a startlingly sculptural quality. Complete, it must have been slightly larger than life-size. The statue is certainly one of the queens of the Ptolemaic dynasty (likely Arsinoe II) dressed as the goddess Isis, as confirmed by the knot that joins the ends of the shawl the woman wears, which was representative of the queens during this time period.
Osiris-Canopus, Marble, 1st-2nd century AD.
The 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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