Heracleion: A city between legend and reality

Founded around 8th century BC, well before the foundation of Alexandria in 331 BC, it is believed Heracleion served as the obligatory port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world.

heracleion 3The ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion was once a legend, something known to modern man only by myth and ancient historians. Heracleion, also known as Thonis, had legendary beginnings, rumored that Helen and Paris of Troy had been stranded there before the Trojan War began. It was also said that Hercules visited the city, giving it its unique name. The formerly thriving city enjoyed a period of extraordinary wealth. It also held religious importance, because of its temple of Amun. Ancient historians Herodotus, Diodorus, and Strabo also mentioned the legendary city.

The ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion vanished over 1,200 years ago, due to major earthquakes and floods, only to be buried under the sand and mud for over a millennium, disappearing beneath the Mediterranean. Despite its substantial presence in Greek history, prior to its discovery in 2000, no trace of the city had been found. Until then, scholars weren’t even sure that Heracleion and Thonis were same city.

Analysis of the site suggests liquefaction of the soil; these phenomena can be triggered by the action of great pressure on soil with a high clay and water content. The pressure from large buildings, combined with an overload of weight due to an unusually high flood or a tidal wave, can dramatically heracleion 2compress the soil and force the expulsion of water contained within the structure of the clay. The clay loses volume, which creates subsidence. An earthquake can also cause this.

Whether occurring together or independently, these factors may have caused significant destruction and explain the submergence of Thonis-Heracleion. The slow movement of subsidence of the soil affected this part of the south-eastern basin of the Mediterranean. The rising sea level also contributed significantly to the submergence of the soil.

When its ruins were discovered underwater by French  archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000, no one was expecting to find this amazing city. Heracleion has an overall research area of 11 by 15 kilometers and is located near Alexandria, Egypt in Abu Qir Bay . Thonis-Heracleion, which lies 6.5 km off today’s coastline, is about 150 feet underwater.

Here are a few things discovered in Heracleion:

  • The remains of more than 64 ships, buried in the thick clay and sand that covers the sea bed;
  •  Giant 16-ft statues along with hundreds of smaller statues of minor gods;
  •  Dozens of small limestone sarcophagi believed to have once contained mummified animals;
  • Gold coins and weights made from bronze and stone;
  • Slabs of stone inscribed in ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian;
  • Anchors for over 700 ships.

After all these found under the sea, who knows what else lies beneath it all, maybe more treasures and amazing findings. Let us await and be amazed untill the next notice.

twistedsifter, earthporm

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