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Lost Pharaonic Cities of the Deep
Associated Press, June 3, 2000

Archaeologists scouring the Mediterranean seabed announced Saturday that they have found the 2,500-year-old ruins of submerged Pharaonic cities that until now were known only through Greek tragedies, travelogues and legends. Among the stunning discoveries at the sites where the cities of Herakleion, Canopus and Menouthis once stood are remarkably preserved houses, temples, port infrastructure and colossal statues that stand testimony to the citizens' luxuriant lifestyle, which some travelers had described as decadent. This is the first time that historians have found physical evidence of the existence of the lost cities, which were famous not only for their riches and arts, but also for numerous temples dedicated to the gods Isis, Serapis and Osiris, making the region an important pilgrimage destination for various cults. Herakleion, once a customs port where commerce flourished until the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., was found in its entirety. “We have an intact city, frozen in time,” French archaeologist Franck Goddio, who led the international team in the search, told The Associated Press.

The team worked for two years off this city on Egypt's northern coast in waters 20 to 30 feet deep, using modern technology including the use of magnetic waves to map the area. “It is the most exciting find in the history of marine archaeology. It has shown that land is not enough for Egyptian antiquities,” said Gaballa Ali Gaballa, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt’s top archaeology body. At a news conference, underwater television footage of the site was shown to reporters. Some of the treasure was also on display a basalt head of a pharaoh, a bust of the curly-haired and bearded god Serapis and a life-size headless black granite statue of the goddess Isis, sculpted as if wearing a diaphanous cloth held together by knots at her breast. “At long last, these lost cities of Menouthis and Herakleion have been located,” Gaballa said. He said that the cities probably built during the waning days of the pharaohs in the 7th or 6th centuries B.C. will be left as they are in the sea and that only smaller pieces will be retrieved for museums.

Numerous ancient texts speak of the importance of the region and the cities, before they were covered over by the sea, probably after an earthquake. Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt in 450 B.C., wrote about Herakleion and its temple dedicated to Hercules. The sites were also named in Greek tragedies Greek mythology tells the story of Menelaos, king of Spartans, who stopped in Herakleion during his return from Troy with Helena. His helmsman, Canopus, was bitten by a viper and was subsequently transformed into a god. Canopus and his wife, Menouthis, were immortalized by two cities that bore their names. Authors such as Strabo describe the location of the cities and their rich lifestyle, while others, such as Seneca, condemn their moral corruption. Herakleion lost its economic importance after the building of Alexandria. It was probably destroyed by an earthquake, indicated by the position of collapsed columns and walls. They had all fallen systematically in one direction, said Amos Nur, a geophysicist at Stanford University who did the magnetic mapping of the area. The sea encroached on the land after the quake, and ruins of Herakleion are now about four miles from land in the Bay of Abu Qir. The sea also engulfed Canopus and Menouthis. The destruction most likely happened in the 7th or 8th centuries. Divers found Islamic and Byzantine coins and jewelry from that period, but none more recent.