Unearthing the sunken cities of Herakleion

Alexandria on the Nile delta was a prominent centre of the Greco-Roman civilization. Unlike the ancient Egyptian excavations at Luxor, Cairo etc very little has been found of this syncretic culture that blossomed near Alexandria. Despite appearing in the works of Homer, Herodotus and others, the cities of Heraklion, Canopus and other such cities had disappeared by the end of the 8th century AD. Gradual subsidence of the soil, coupled with a rise in sea levels led to a gradual disappearance of these cities from the modern map.

Until now. Thanks to some pioneering efforts by the Frank Goddio foundation, IEASIM (European Institute for Underwater Archaeology) and the Egyptian Supreme council of Antiquities, the secrets of these submerged worlds is revealed to us. For the first time after 1200 years, we can set our eyes on an pristinely (well, almost!) preserved set of monuments from the city excavated from their underwater depths through a combination of outstanding scientific exploration and cutting-edge engineering.

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These cultures reached their peak sometime between the 6th to 4th century BC. It was a fascinating fusion of Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures. The objects recovered from the excavations highlight the cities’ glory, the splendour of their grand temples and the historic evidence: colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewellery and coins, ritual objects and ceramics. It is as if watching a civilization frozen in time.

If you have the time, this is a great documentary by the Discovery channel of the search for these lost worlds.

In case you feel like being there to have a closer look at these magnificent monuments, then look no further. The Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum is the place to go. Exhibiting till the end of November 2016 are several artefacts carefully chosen from these underwater excavations. Several of these items on loan from the Egyptian museum have been out of the country for the first time since the Arab spring. The exhibition displays are breathtaking. For example, the imposing granite statue of the god Hapy, an 8 tonne, 5.4 metre tall statue barely fits within the 5.5 Metre height of the museum structure.

When you are going to the museum (or if you want to simply browse through the exhibition), do not forget to download our Sunken Cities – British Museum App. Featuring the background of the excavations and a handy description of the finds, the app is an useful companion to understand more about this fascinating discovery.

Last edited on : July 5, 2016