A view From the Bridge

Sights and sounds of seabed cities

Posted on behalf of Kerri Smith


Stele of Thonis-Heracleion found in Abu Qir Bay, Egypt.

©Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation. Photo: Christoph Gerigk

In his tome Histories, written around 440 BC, the Greek chronicler Herodotus relates the juicy tale of Helen of Troy escaping with her lover Paris (also known as Alexandrus) to a city on the Egyptian coast.

“Now there was (and still is) on the coast a temple of Heracles…” Herodotus wrote of the spot. The city is referenced in a handful of subsequent texts as Heracleion, after the temple. But modern historians and archaeologists searched in vain for traces of Heracleion. It seemed to have vanished.

Enter French archaeologist Franck Goddio, who looked where others had not: under the sea. In the early 1990s he began an intricate survey of the seabed a few kilometres off the north coast of Egypt, in the bay of Abu Qir. In 2000, he and his team found the remains of a city, and reasoned it must be Heracleion. When they found a large inscribed stone referring to a town called Thonis, they realised this must be a city with both Egyptian and Greek names, and christened it Thonis-Heracleion. (Learn more in this Nature Podcast and video.)

Raising the stele of Thonis-Heracleion from the seabed.

Raising the stele of Thonis-Heracleion from the seabed.

©Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation. Photo: Christoph Gerigk

A new exhibition at the British Museum, Sunken Cities, brings some of the most impressive artefacts from Thonis-Heracleion and nearby Canopus to London, de-salinated, de-barnacled and standing tall (see Andrew Robinson’s review here), revealing the cities as melting pots of Greek and Egyptian culture.

Kerri Smith is Nature’s podcast editor. She tweets at @minikerri. Hear from Goddio in this interview for the Nature Podcast, and see more in this video about Sunken Cities at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. The exhibition runs through 27 November.


For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.


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