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Exploring Greek Legendary City Of Heracleion

By James Donahue
 
The great port city of Heracleion was long a place of Greek mythology. It was a place named after the Greek God Hercules, who was said to have visited there. Helen of Troy and her lover, Paris were said to have also walked its streets. Great ships from all over the world were said to have visited the place.

For centuries this ancient city was but a legend since no trace of it was ever found. Then in 2000, when French underwater archaeologist Dr. Franck Goddio was searching at the mouth of the Nile River for the remains of ancient French warships, he discovered Heracleion instead.

As archaeological exploration has gone on, the evidence has become clear. Heracleion not only existed, but it was indeed a great port city and perhaps even more than historians ever expected it to be.
 
The mystery is why this amazing place completely disappeared beneath the Mediterranean about 1,200 years ago and became nearly lost from the historical record. The very name was preserved only in ancient classic writings and a few inscriptions found carved in stone by archaeologists.
  
The old Egyptian and Greek names for this city also recorded it as Thonis. How this city gained two different names also remains somewhat of a mystery. Research at the site has revealed that the city actually had two different names. The Greeks called it Heracleion and the Egyptians named it Thonis.
 
Already found at the site are the remains of several great temples, including the temple of Amun, the remains of over 60 ships that apparently sank into the sea with the city, giant 16-foot stone statues, buildings with inscriptions, jewelry, coins, ceramics and the remains of a civilization that just disappeared, almost without giving its inhabitants time to escape with their personal things. Heracleion has been called a civilization frozen in time.

Because it lies 150 feet under the sea, the archaeological exploration has been a slow process. The remains of the city are so large, covering an area estimated from 11 to 15 kilometers wide in western Aboukir Bay, some are estimating that the work will continue there for the next 200 years before all of the city’s secrets are known.

This much is believed. The city was probably founded around the eighth century BC, it rose to prominence as a place of great beauty and a center of commerce between the sixth and fourth century BC, and then sank into the sea. It was replaced by the City of Alexandria, which became a great center of knowledge and the arts.

One of the researchers, Dr. Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Center for Maritime Archaeology, said in a recent interview that the site is amazingly preserved. “We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period. There were things coming in from Greece and the Phoenicians.”

The site offers the largest number of ancient ships ever found in one place; all of them well preserved after lying buried under layers of clay and sand at the sea bottom for centuries.

The divers also have found over 700 ship anchors and a vast network of canals and channels that appeared to have given the city a sense of resting on a series of islands.