While flying over the Abu Qir Bay, a spacious bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria in Egypt, lying between the Rosetta mouth of the Nile and the town of Abu Qir, a commander of the Royal Air Force of UK noticed some ruins under the water. Much later, after a dedicated search for five years, by screening the vast area of the Abu Qir Bay off the coast of Egypt, the French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio saw a colossal face emerge from the watery shadows. Finally, the ruins of the ancient Heracleion that appeared in a few inscriptions and ancient texts and had become more legend than fact were discovered in 2001, completely hidden away for thousand years, submerged 6`5 km off the coast of Alexandria.
Heracleion, said to be the city where Paris and Helen hid before the Trojan War on their flight from Menelaus, was mentioned by the ancient historians Diodorus, Strabo, and Diodorus. According to Herodotus, a great temple was built at the spot where Heraclesfirst arrived in Egypt, and some historians believe that Cleopatra III was anointed in that temple. It is also said that the city was named after Heracles.
Built in about the 8th century BC on sandy and hard clay soil of some adjoining islands in the Nile Delta, about 32 km northeast ofAlexandria, Heracleion was intersected by canals with several harbours and anchorages. Its importance grew particularly during the waning days of thePharaohs, and in thelater period, it was Egypt's main port for international trade and collection of taxes. Its temples and tower-houses were linked by ferries, bridges, and pontoons, and it also had a sister city,Naucratis, which was another trading port. Although Heracleion had a large temple of Khonsou, son of Amun, between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, when the worship of Amun became more popular, a large temple of Amun-Gereb came up in the heart of the city. Many additions to the temple were made by Pharaoh Nectanebo I, in the 4th century.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 2nd century BC, probably after a severe flood followed by frequent earthquakes, the ground on which the central island of Heracleionwas built succumbed to soil thawing. The hard clay turned rapidly into a liquid and the city with its buildings and temples collapsed and slipped into the water bed.
Among the numerous finds from the site, seven hundred anchors were found lined up in a parking lot, along with sixty-four ancient shipwrecks, and most notably the remains of a massive temple to the god Amun-Gereb.The wrecked ships were treasure troves, containing piles of gold, jewelry, gold coins, and ceramic articles. The remarkably preserved ruins and artifacts made from granite and diorite include, among others, a sixteen feet tall red granite statue, supposed to be the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptolemy II, and two sixteen feet tall red granite statues of Isis, a prominent Egyptian goddess with whom Cleopatra identified herself. Apart from that, hundreds of lucky charms, small statues, and sarcophagi or stone coffins of animal mummies sacrificed to Amun were also found, as it was, evidencing the granger of one of the great port cities of the world 2300 years ago.
In recent times, a specific type of the ancient boat used along the Nile, called Baris, designed concurrent to the description provided by Herodotus in 450 BC, was excavated around 2010 from the water around Heracleion. In fact, no more than 5% of the submerged city area is explored to date.