Visit Thonis-Heracleion – Egypt’s Lost, Sunken City

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Heracleion

A colossal statue of red granite (5.4 m) representing the god Hapi, which decorated the temple of Heracleion. The god of the flooding of the Nile, symbol of abundance and fertility, has never before been discovered at such a large scale, which points to his importance for the Canopic region.
Photographer: Christoph Gerigk
Copyright: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

This is a story that certainly pricked my interest this morning. It involves the discovery of Heracleion (as named by the Greeks but named Thonis by the ancient Egyptians) which disappeared into the sea around 1200 years ago!

Until a decade ago, no one knew if Heracleion, believed to be an ancient harbor city, was fiction or real. Now the researchers who found it—150 feet beneath the surface of Egypt’s Bay of Aboukir—are sharing some of the amazing historical artifacts preserved there.

The finds include 64 ships, 16-foot-tall statues, 700 anchors and countless gold coins and smaller artifacts.

According to underwater archeologist Franck Goddio, credited with having discovered the site, the city was probably built sometime around the 8th century B.C., which makes it older than the famed city of Alexandria. Over the years, it fell victim to a number of natural disasters before being swallowed by the sea, probably around A.D. 700.

“We are just at the beginning of our research,” said Goddio. “We will probably have to continue working for the next 200 years for [it]to be fully revealed and understood.”

It’s believed that gradual soil erosion eventually caused Heracleion to fall into the Mediterranean. “It is now clear that a slow movement of subsidence of the soil affected this part of the south-eastern basin of the Mediterranean,” Goddio writes on his site. “The rise in sea level—already observed in antiquity—also contributed significantly to the submergence of the land.”

Researchers are beginning to more fully understand what daily life was like in the city, also called “Thonis.” Mainly, they describe it as having served as the main hub for sea traffic entering the region, including all trade from Greece.

“We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period,” Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, told the Telegraph. Robinson is part of the team that has been busy uncovering artifacts from Heracleion’s sunken remains.

“It was the major international trading port for Egypt at this time,” Robinson added. “It is where taxation was taken on import and export duties. All of this was run by the main temple.”

The city is also believed to have had a rich cultural history. Helen was said to have visited it with her lover Paris shortly before the onset of the Trojan War.

Thonis-Heracleion

Among the most important monuments that were discovered at the temple area of Thonis-Heracleion is this monolithic chapel (naos) dating to the Ptolemaic period. It served as a key for the identification of the city.
Photographer: Christoph Gerigk
Copyright: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Heracleion

Franck Goddio and divers of his team are inspecting the statue of a pharaoh. The colossal statue is of red granite and measures over 5 metres. It was found close to the big temple of sunken Thonis-Heracleion and reassembled on the site.
Photographer: Christoph Gerigk
Copyright: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

 

Herecleion

An archaeologist measures the feet of a colossal red granite statue at the site of Heracleion discovered in Aboukir Bay.
Photographer: Christoph Gerigk
Copyright: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Thonis-Heracleion.

The stele of Thonis-Heracleion (1.90m) had been ordered by Pharaoh Nectanebo I (378-362 BC) and is almost identical to the stele of Naukratis in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. The place where it was supposed to be erected is explicitly mentioned: Thonis-Heracleion.
Photographer: Christoph Gerigk
Copyright: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

View more image on the official Franck Goddio website at http://www.franckgoddio.org

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Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia