The idea is not new for the first plans to build an underwater museum in the eastern harbor of Alexandria arose in 1996. Today the project is being revived as Egypt dearly needs a fresh cash inflow from the badly hurt tourists’ industry.
Because of the repeated earthquakes over the centuries, part of Alexandria has sunken underwater and archaeologists-divers have located remains of old palaces and temples in the bay of Abukir, some five meters below the water level. Turning this site into an underwater museum would not only attract visitors but most of all protect the valuable remains of antique Alexandria which are presently threatened by pollution in the bay, poaching by illegal divers and physical damage by fishing boats. It is evident that the political situation in Egypt over the last decennia is not in favor of such a project and that substantial money contributions are needed.
In 2008, the French architect Jacques Rougerie has submitted his concept to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities featuring a building on the shores of the Abukir Bay harbor that would connect with a submerged structure. Fiberglass tunnels would lead the visitor to the sea floor where more than 2,500 objects from antiquity are still laying around. Just imagine walking in this huge aquarium-like space and admiring the grand collection of statues and other relics coming alive through the filtered sunlight. Among those remains are massive blocks, some half-buried in the sand, that belonged to the 130-meters-tall Pharos, the lighthouse that stood here till the 13th century and ranked named among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The magic of an underwater museum will be to see these remains in situ, and that applies to what is believed to be the Palace of Cleopatra, as well as busts of Caesarion (her son with Caesar) and Ptolemy XII (her father). I still have hopes that one day more of Alexander’s city will be brought to light!
The architect’s ambition goes beyond this underwater museum, envisioning an underwater archaeology school to be attached to the museum enabling them to work while the visitors look on from their protective glass corridors! He estimates that the construction of such a museum would take more or less two years, not counting the time involved for surveying and the planning.
It is not certain where the money would be coming from and so far private entities are willing to contribute as well as Chinese corporations. The Chinese, as a matter of fact, have built their own underwater museum at Baiheliang in Fuling along the Yangtze River, which opened in 2009. Here a concrete tunnel with portholes allows the visitors to catch a glimpse of the 5-ft long relief of a fish and rare inscriptions used in measuring the river's level that dates from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and were flooded after the construction of a nearby dam over the river.
When or if the museum in Alexandria will ever materialize is another story, but it certainly would change the way we look at our underwater heritage because for the first time everybody will be able to see the artifacts and ruins as until now only divers could. However, the leaders and the financiers of the project have not come together yet.