In Northern Egypt, where the Nile meets the Mediterranean sea, a powerful city once stood as the gateway to Egypt, but then it disappeared over a millennium ago, toppled, perhaps, by an earthquake. For at least 1,200 years it sat underwater until 2001 when a French underwater archaeologist, Franck Goddio, discovered it. For the past 12 years, he’s worked with others to recover artefacts 30 feet underwater and now has quite an impressive collection to show off.
So far, they’ve recovered stone statues up to 16 feet tall, 64 old ships, gold coins, stone inscriptions, more than 700 anchors and even limestone sarcophagi that once held mummified animals. The city of Heracleion dates back to the 8th century BC and was Egypt’s main port city at the time of the pharaohs. Famous visitors included Helen of Troy and Hercules. But the city sank in the 6th or 7th century (CE), probably because it was built on unstable sediment that was no match for earthquakes and floods.
The coastline is now 6.5 km further back. Goddio worked with a German film crew to produce a TV documentary about the project and what they’ve found so far, which will be airing in Europe soon.
While the artifacts aren’t yet on display to the public, here are a few lost cities you can visit on your own:
Top 5 lost cities
- Port Royal, Jamaica: Once known as the ‘wickedest city on Earth’, this pirate hot-spot now sits underwater. With a special permit, scuba divers can visit the site.
- Machu Picchu: This iconic Inca estate dates back to the 15th century but was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest and only became known to the outside world in the 20th century.
- Yongaguni-Jima, Japan: Some think these large underwater rock formations are natural, while others think they’re evidence of an ancient civilization.
- Petra, Jordan: Once a thriving city, Petra declined during Roman rule but much its rock-cut architecture still stands.
- Pompeii, Italy: History was frozen in time at Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the city in ash and pumice in 79 AD, preserving buildings and even bodies as they were at the time of the eruption.
Closer to home
Lake Minnewanka, just outside of the town of Banff is said to contain the best preserved underwater historic village in Canada. The town of Minnewanka Landing was established on the shores of the lake in 1888, but after dams were built nearby, the water level rose by over 30 metres, submerging the village. Today, scuba divers can see the foundations of old houses and the town’s hotel, the village wharf as well as various artefacts like old stoves, lanterns, bed frames and coffee pots.
Heracleion photo: © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Christoph Gerigk