J E A N-Y V E S E M P E R E U R
Alexandria was the Mediterranean’s bustling center of
trade until the port
was washed into the Mediterranean Sea in AD
365 by a tsunami.
He is quoted as saying:
“We supposed old Alexandria was destroyed,” Empereur says, his voice bouncing off the damp smooth walls, “only to realize that when you walk on the sidewalks, it is just below your feet.”
It was a calm spring day when Empereur and cinematographer Asma el-Bakri, carrying a bulky 35-millimeter camera, slipped beneath the waters near the fort, which had been seldom explored because the military had put the area off limits. Empereur was stunned as he swam amid hundreds of building stones and shapes that looked like statues and columns. The sight, he recalls, made him dizzy.
In 1994 archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur, founder of the Centre for Alexandrian Studies (Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines), made an exciting find in the waters off Pharos Island. He had been called in by the Egyptian government to map anything of archaeological significance in this underwater area before a concrete breakwater was erected over the site. He mapped the location of hundreds of huge masonry blocks; at least some of these blocks are believed to have fallen into the sea when the lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1300s. A large amount of statuary was also discovered, including a colossal statue of a king dating to the 3rd century BCE that was thought to represent Ptolemy II. A companion statue of a queen as Isis had been discovered nearby in the 1960s, and these statues representing the deified Ptolemy and his wife, Arsinoe, are thought to have been placed just below the lighthouse, facing the entrance to the harbour. Based upon these finds, the Egyptian government abandoned the idea of a breakwater and planned instead an underwater park where divers could view the many statues, stone sphinxes, and remains of the lighthouse.
Jean-Yves Empereur (born 1952 in Le Mans) is a French classical archaeologist. He studied classical studies at the Sorbonne, where he obtained agrégation in 1975 and his doctorate in 1977. From 1978 he was a member and from 1982 to 1990 Secretary General of the École française d'Athènes. He has been involved in numerous excavations in Greece, Cyprus and Turkey and has been director of the Center d'études Alexandrines since 1990, which is primarily responsible for archaeological research in Graeco-Roman Alexandria. He published illustrated books and television films on these excavations, including in the port of Alexandria. In 2007 he received the Prix d'archéologie Cino Del Duca. In 2018 he was elected a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres; he has been a corresponding member since 2013. He is a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute. He is a member of the Legion of Honor (Knight), bearer of the Ordre national du Mérite, the Ordre des Palmes Académiques and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
The Hellenistic Port of Amathonte. In: Vassos Karageorghis, Demetrios Michaelides: Proceedings of the International Symposium: Cyprus and the Sea: organized by The Archeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus organized by The Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus and The Cyprus Ports Authority, Nicosia 25– September 26, 1993. University of Cyprus, Nicosia 1993, ISBN 9963-607-08-X, S. 131–138.
A short guide to the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Alexandria. Sarapis, Alexandria 1995, ISBN 977-5633-01-X.
Alexandria rediscovered. Fayard, Paris 1998, ISBN 2-7028-1161-2.
Alexandrina 1. French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Kairo 1998, mit Christian Décobert: Medieval Alexandria 1. French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Kairo 1998.
A short guide to the Greco-Roman Museum of Alexandria. Harpocrates, Alexandria 2000, ISBN 977-5845-02-5.
Alexandria: yesterday and tomorrow. Collection “Discoveries
Gallimard” (nº 412), Gallimard, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-07-076240-8.
Alexandrina 2. French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Kairo 2002 mit Marie-Dominique Nenna: Necropolis 2. French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Kairo 2003.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Rediscovered Wonder. Collection “Discoveries Gallimard” (nº 352), 2. Auflage, Gallimard, Paris 2004, ISBN 2-07-030379-9.
The Mediterranean Sea is awash with sunken treasures. When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, his companion, Ptolemy I, laid claim to Egypt as his domain. He founded a dynasty that was to rule for three hundred years from Alexandria. Ptolemy II made Alexandria the center of culture and founded the Alexandria Library and Museo, the first research center and “think tank.” The Pharos Lighthouse was built, and it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its beam of light could be seen for thirty miles.
The ocean has swallowed umpteen civilizations, just in the past 10,000 years. We may never discover other lost towns and cities, such as to understand our past, or even explore those we know of, unless the secrets of the ocean are shared.
Ocean awareness, or literacy is not presently high on academic agendas. It is a shocking statistic that we know more about Outer Space, than we do our underwater kingdom. Televised documentary programmes have done a great deal to make life under the waves more popular, highlighting the marine litter problem that is of major concern to oceanographers and biologists. With plastic now seen in the remotest corners of the globe and deepest trenches of the ocean.
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