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Underwater Antiquities

>Underwater Antiquities

The Great Sphinx, the pyramids at Giza, the temples at Luxor—if you’ve been to Egypt, you’ve probably seen them. Next time, you might try putting the Lighthouse of Pharos on your Egyptian bucket list, and don’t worry that it’s at the bottom of a harbor. A new museum proposed for Egypt’s City of Alexandria aims to bring visitors to sunken treasures not seen by the public in over 1,400 years. The idea for an underwater museum first came to the table 20 years ago, when Egyptian officials began studying how to better protect the valuable artifacts in Alexandria from further degradation.

At the moment, relics are under threat by pollution in the bay, poaching by divers and damage by fishing boat anchors. A museum would help safeguard the remaining relics not only as a physical structure, but also as a protected area that could be monitored. In 2008, French architect Jacques Rougerie caught wind of the project and reached out to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to offer his services to create conceptual renderings.

What resulted is a spellbinding design that evokes a sense of Egypt’s deep connection to the past. Rougerie’s design features an inland building on the shores of the Eastern Harbor of Abukir Bay, connected to a submerged structure in the water. A series of fiberglass tunnels brings visitors to the sea floor, some 20 feet below the surface, where more than 2,500 relics stand. Some, like the massive blocks that are believed to be the remains of the once 450-foot-tall Pharos lighthouse, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World before tumbling into the bay in the 13th century A.D., are partially buried.

Rougerie’s design would allow visitors to see the artifacts as they’ve stood for centuries, including what are thought to be the remains of Cleopatra VII’s palace— she of Shakespearean tragedy—as well as busts of her son, Caesarion, and her father, Ptolemy XII. Topped by four tall edifices shaped like the sails of a felucca, the traditional wooden sailboat of the Nile, Rougerie estimates construction would take about two years, plus time required to complete site surveys and planning. Rougerie says that a museum of this type in Alexandria would not only help revive tourism in the city, but also help facilitate further research into the ruins there. A final design will be solicited and chosen following further feasibility studies.