Archaeologists Find Sunken Egyptian City

After more than four years of underwater searching and digging, archaeologists today displayed the remains of a vanished Egyptian city.

The scientists discovered Herakleion, the precursor to the once-powerful capital of Alexandria, beneath the sand under just 10 or so yards of water.

Today, they showed off some of their most impressive finds atop a barge, including 20-foot-tall pink granite statues representing a pharoah, a queen and Hapi, the Nile goddess of flooding; and a 10-ton black granite stela, or engraved stone, with "Rahinet," the Egyptian name for Herakleion, inscribed on its bottom.

‘Mouth of the Sea’

The stone, some 19 feet tall and 9 feet wide, had been in 15 pieces under the sea bottom, and was one of the largest ever found. The scientists also displayed another such slab, about one-third the size.

"This was a very interesting mission," said Frank Goddio, a Frenchman archaeologist who headed the team. "We discovered so many things. This site is amazingly rich."

Using magnetic wave technology, the divers found the basin of what used to be the city's harbor and electronically surveyed and charted it, finding palaces and temples. Next to the harbor, they found 10 antique shipwrecks.

A coliseum, houses, temples and several other artifacts lay amazingly intact at the bottom of the sea, the archaeologists said. They said they found the statues on the site of what used to be the Great Temple of Herakleion.

The scientists may have also helped solve the mystery of how one of the most thriving cities of ancient Egypt — now in the bay of Abu Qir about 3.5 miles off the coast of the modern Egyptian resort of Alexandria — seemed to simply disappear.

The shipwrecks made them lean toward the idea that Herakleion and two nearby cities were engulfed by a huge, sudden earthquake and tidal wave some 1,200 years ago.

Artifacts to Tour the World

The cities had been known only through ancient writings, such as travelogues and comedies, until Goddio's team announced its discovery about a year ago. They say they discovered the ruins in 1996.

The writings recounted the city's splendor and decadence, and also referred to a temple dedicated to Heracles — or, in Latin, Hercules — the legendary son of the supreme god Zeus, from whose name the city appears to have taken its name.

The writings put the founding of the city more than 2,300 years ago, before ancient Alexandria was founded in 331 B.C.

Herakleion was at the mouth of the Nile, flourishing for thousands of years, from early times of the Egyptian pharaohs into the Middle Ages, according to historians.

The Egyptians used to describe the city as the "city of the mouth of the sea."

The discoveries have led to a new map totally different than any of previous attempts. The first one was drawn in 1866 based on the ancient writings, and several others were drawn during the 19th and 20th centuries.

All assumed that most construction was on the eastern part of the port. Goddio and his team discovered that there were some structures on the western side as well.

The stela and statues are to be taken to a laboratory for desalinization treatment before going on an international tour at the end of 2003.