DIVERS DISPLAY TREASURES

FROM LOST CITIES

By

Charles Olivier

And

Deepa Shah

 

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Express Newspapers

The first treasures from the ancient city of the Gods emerged from the sea after 2,500 years yesterday.

Herakleion was once one of the most magnificent cities in the world, a center of culture and art that boasted the beautiful Temple of Hercules.

Helen of Troy was among it's fabled visitors. But an earthquake doomed it to be swamped by the sea off the Egyptian coast.

Now the first wonders of the ancient civilization have been returned to land after they were uncovered by an international team of experts.

Marine archaeologist Franck Goddio plucked from the sea a statue of the Goddess Isis, carved from the igneous rock diorite. he also found complete houses, temples and other astonishingly well-preserved statues in the Mediterranean four miles off Alexandria.

 

The remains, which include a port with a sea wall, cover nearly one square kilometer

Mr. Goddio, who also discovered Napoleon's flagship and Queen Cleopatra's palace off Egypt, said the moment of discovery was unforgettable. He told the Sunday Express:

"It was very exciting. It was a big moment. Working under water was extremely difficult. We had to remove one meter of sand to get at the remains and visibility was not always good. We were lucky to find something. Marine archaeology is very expensive. If we had not found something it would have been a disaster."

Herakleion was the major city at the principal mouth to the Nile. Mythology tells the story of Menelaus, King of the Spartans, who stopped there during his return from Troy with Helen.

The city, which was destroyed around the 8th century AD, was one of many legendary for their riches that existed around Alexandria, the cultural capital founded by Alexander the Great.

It was forgotten until the 1930's when an Egyptian Prince with an interest in Archaeology began diving, but he only found a few slabs on the ocean floor.

                            Goddio used underwater Hoovers to remove the sand after seismic tests showed the scale of the ruins. Among the remains are the fragments of a famous altar piece, the Naos of the Decade, which is covered with images and inscriptions chronicling the movement of the stars.

Zfolt Kiss, a polish specialist in Greek and Roman sculpture, said: "The pieces being found are of extremely high quality, quite beautiful."

Two other submerged cities, Canopus and Thonis, have been found nearby, but relics have not yet been retrieved from them.

"We're very excited because we are finding complete cities - cities that were heard about from classical writings." said archaeologist Gaballah Ali Gaballah. "The excavation could last 50 years because there is so much there."

Goddio said: "So far we have removed about 12 statues and sculptured heads which will go to the Greco-Roman museum in Alexandria. My team will spend the next few months mapping out the streets and trying to identify the buildings we have found."

TV archaeologist Professor Antony Spawforth, of the Department of Classics at Newcastle University, said;

"These developments are potentially very exciting. I look forward to more discoveries."

Copyright  Express Newspapers 2000.

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