Secrets of the sunken city: An ancient metropolis under the Sea of Egypt
Located just four miles from the shore, French archaeologist and maritime explorer Franck Goddio found one of the most incredible sunken cities in the history of underwater archaeology.
As he was preparing for another dive in Egypt’s Bay of Aboukir, he came across a granite block that would forever change history, as he discovered an ancient city that was believed to be a myth, just like Atlantis is today.
‘Then I saw it,’ says the 68-year-old founder and director of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology. ‘A giant block of granite.’
He cleaned the granite block as much as he could, until to his amazement, a giant toe emerged from the mud, discovering one of the seven pieces of an immense pink granite statue of the ancient Egyptian god of Fertility, Hapi.
However, the pieces of a once giant statue of Hapi were only a few of the hundreds of incredible artifacts discovered by Goddio and his crew, recovered from the seabed located four miles off the coast, as they rediscovered the lost ancient Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. Thonis was considered one of the most important cities before the creation of Alexandria. Thonis came into existence in the 8th century at the Canopic branch of the River Nile, where numerous canals linked the city to nearby Canopus.
However, the road that eventually led to this incredible discovery was long. In 1933, while flying over the area, an RAF pilot noticed anomalous shadows in the water. He spoke of his sighting to a member of the Egyptian royal family whose home bordered the sea. Soon after, a diver was sent down to investigate what the pilot had seen, to discover the head of a statue of Alexander the Great.
‘I knew from ancient texts that Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus had existed,’ Goddio says. The ancient Greek travel writer Herodotus claimed there were great temples there, and the pilot’s story increased Goddio’s suspicions.
‘There was an obvious reason why the cities had not been discovered on land. It was because they could not be on land.
The discovery is proof that there are countless treasures located below the Sea. Thonis-Heracleion is just one of the many sunken cities which were believed to be a myth until they were actually discovered.
‘It turned out that Herodotus was right,’ Goddio says. ‘He was talking about the kind of ships they used, and we found the ships, over 80 wrecks. Everything he said has been confirmed – first by discovering the cities, the temple, and specific artefacts. And we have barely touched it. There is much more out there.’
Many large cities just like Heraklion, Alexandria and Canopus were destroyed by catastrophic natural disasters. Researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted a study of the Mediterranean tectonic plates and discovered that a geological fault could have caused a great earthquake and tsunami in the year 365 AD. According to scientists, the earthquake that struck the region in the past could happen again since they calculated that due to the geological features, the area is prone to catastrophic earthquakes every 800 years.
The fate of Heraklion was shared by other ancient cities that suffered similar catastrophes hundreds or thousands of years ago, some of them are the ancient city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC and the ancient city of Canopus.