Alexandria was among the largest and most magnificent cities in antiquity. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the architecture and culture of Rome itself were overshadowed by the Egyptian city. Palaces and temples dominated the skyline. The beauty of this political, religious, cultural and scientific capital aroused the admiration of visitors such as the Greek geographer Strabo. The population had already passed the 100,000 mark shortly after Alexandria’s founding. The city’s c. 130 metres high Pharos lighthouse represented one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Alexandria was also famous for its huge library with about half a million roles of papyrus. Parts of the city’s royal quarter with its temples, palaces, royal gardens and harbour structures were situated in the eastern harbour, called the Portus Magnus. Here, on the Island of Antirhodos and the Poseidium Peninsula, Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony and the famous Cleopatra used to stay.
Due to a combination of natural phenomena, including a series of earthquakes and tidal waves, the Portus Magnus and parts of the city’s ancient coastline sank beneath the sea. For more than 1,200 years temples, buildings, palaces, statues, ceramics, coins, jewellery and every day objects lay untouched on the seabed covered by thick layers of sand and sediment.
A silicon-soaked cloth is taken below the surface, placed on the inscribed block and overlaid with a thin sheet of lead, which is then gently hammered by the diver. The lead is held in place by straps to ensure uniform pressure during the polymerisation period. Eighteen hours later demoulding reveals the inscription on the silicon membrane.
A diver eye-to-eye with a sphinx made out of black granite. The face of the sphinx is believed to represent Ptolemy XII, father of the famous Cleopatra VII. The sphinx was found during excavations in the ancient harbour of Alexandria.
This granite head (80cm) is attributed to Caesarion (Ptolemaios XV), son of Cleopatra VII and Julius Caesar. It is part of a statue of about 5 metres in height and dates from the 1st century BC. It was found in Alexandria’s ancient harbour opposite the Island of Antirhodos.
Statue of an ibis in white limestone from the Ptolemaic period. This effigy of the sacred animal of the egyptian god Thot must have stood in a religious building, not far from the banks of the eastern port.