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Lost sunken city of Thônis-Heracleion discovered in Egypt’s Abu Qir bay

[July 20, 2021: Nehal Samir]

Underwater excavations at the sunken city of Thônis-Heracleion, in the bay of Abu Qir near to Alexandria off Egypt’s North Coast, has uncovered the remains of a military vessel and a funerary complex.

A Egyptian-French underwater mission, led by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), are carrying out the excavations.

Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the submerged city of Thônis-Heracleion yielded the remains of a military vessel. The ship sank whilst loading huge blocks from the famed Temple of Amun when it was completely destroyed during a cataclysmic event in the 2nd Century BCE.

The ship was moored at a landing stage in the canal that flowed along the south face of the temple when the disaster occurred. The fallen blocks have maintained the precious naval remains nailed down to the bottom of the deep canal, which is now filled with the debris of the sanctuary.

Ayman Ashmawy, Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, also said that the ship was detected under nearly five meters of hard clay mingled with remains of the temple. Its discovery comes thanks to cutting-edge prototype sub-bottom profiler electronic equipment.


Franck Goddio, the French underwater archaeologist who discovered Thônis-Heracleion in 2000, said that finding such a ship of this antiquity remain extremely rare, and there are only a few other examples.

Ehab Fahmy, Head of the Central Department of Underwater Antiquities at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said preliminary studies show that the hull of the ship was built in the classical tradition.

It does, however, feature some typical Ancient Egyptian shipbuilding techniques, pointing to a local influence on construction.

The ship also relied on long mortise-and-tenon joints and a well-developed internal structure, and there is evidence of reused wood, indicating that the 25 metre ship was built in Egypt.

The long boat was a rowing ship that was also had a large sail, as evidenced from its mast step of considerable dimensions. It featured a flat-bottom along with a flat keel, which proved quite advantageous for navigation on the River Nile and within the Delta.


In another part of the city, a tumulus stretching alongside the north-east entrance canal also revealed remains of a large Greek funerary area covered in rich donations dating back to the very first years of the 4th Century BCE.

It also beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants who lived in the city and controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of the Canopic branch of the River Nile.

The Greeks settled in Thônis-Heracleion during the late Pharaonic dynasties, and they built their own sanctuaries close to the huge Temple of Amun. The temple and sancturies were destroyed, however, and their remains were found mixed with those of the Egyptian temple.

Important remains from the temple of Amun, discovered in a pristine state of preservation, slipped into the deep canal during a landslide caused by a land liquefaction phenomenon.

They bear witness to the richness of the city’s sanctuaries, now located under the sea 7 km off the modern-day coast of Egypt.


Thônis-Heracleion was for centuries Egypt’s largest port on the Mediterranean Sea before the foundation of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE.

Several earthquakes followed by tidal-waves which triggered land liquefactions caused a 110 square kilometre portion of the Nile Delta, along with the cities of Thônis-Heracleion and Canopus, to collapse into the sea.

Both cities were rediscovered by the IEASM, in collaboration with the Underwater Archaeology Department of Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in 2001 and 1999, respectively.

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