Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Underwater ruins in too deep? $200m plan for Alexandria underwater museum has a huge problem

There's a $200 million plan for an underwater museum, but it has a problem

An underwater museum is planned for Alexandria.


THE waters surrounding the Egyptian city of Alexandria hold some incredible sights that few people have ever laid eyes on.

Entire cities have sunk here, never to be seen again, along with some of the most fascinating ancient structures on Earth that to this day remain enveloped in the murky depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Known as "The Pearl of the Mediterranean", Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331BC and no expenses were spared in its planning and architecture, making it home to many sites of ancient splendour.

The ruins of the Pharos Lighthouse. Picture: E. Khalil/UNESCOSource:Supplied

Much of the region ended up on the ocean floor following a series of earthquakes in the Middle Ages.

That includes the Pharos Lighthouse — one of the seven wonders of the ancient world — along with the Royal Court or Cleopatra's Palace. They lie at depths of between 5-10 and 6-8 metres, respectively.

The Bay of Alexandria as it may have looked. Picture: WikicommonsSource:Supplied

In total, more than 2500 pieces of stonework lie scattered in an area of approximately 25,000 square metres in the Alexandria Bay.

A 1.5m statue of a priest dating to the 1st century was hoisted out of sea off Alexandria.Source:AP

The Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt has longed for years to open the area up to tourists with a bold idea to build the world's first underwater museum. But will it be getting in too deep with the hugely ambitious $250 million project?

The underwater museum is planned for Alexandria. Picture: Rougerie/UNESCO

Designed by French architect Jacques Rougeri, the museum will include four tall underwater buildings along with tunnels to connect them. The total underwater section will by seven metres deep, holding displays for the relics that remain underwater.

This means visitors will be able stroll around and stay dry while soaking up the ancient sites, or if they want to get up close to the structures they can choose to dive.

There will also be a section of the museum above the water surface for the relics that have been recovered.

Yep, that's a walk with a difference.

"Visitors will be able to see the relics either by diving or walking inside underwater tunnels," Youssef Khalifa, chair of the Central Administration of Lower Egypt Antiquities told local news site Al-Monitor.

"The museum will include four tall underwater buildings in the form of Nile boats connected to one another over an area of 22,000 square metres. They will be lined up in a circle with a radius of 40 meters.

There will be underwater tunnels.

"There will also be glass submarines taking tourists on a tour inside the museum."

It's expected to attract three million visitors a year.

A diver inspects a quartzite block with an engraving of a Pharaoh in the sea off Alexandria.Source:AP

The plan was first announced seven years ago in a bid to protect the underwater relics from being stolen, but it has taken a long time to investigate the impact on such construction on the environment.

View from above the ground. Picture: Rougerie/UNESCOSource:Supplied

UNESCO oversaw a feasibility study of the project in 2009 conducted by the European Institute for Underwater Archeology. Then, it sent an international scientific advisory committee over the following year. But soon after, a period of regional turmoil put everything on hold.

Now, the plan has been revived and the Ministry of Antiquities is confident it won't be much longer until it's a reality.

An excavated statuette of a boy Pharaoh dating from the 4th or 5th century BC..Source:News Limited

"Despite the huge cost of the project ... this will not be an obstacle for the completion of the project with the co-operation of UNESCO and other foreign funding countries as the museum will be open to visitors from around the world," Mohammed Mustafa, head of the Ministry of Antiquities' General Directorate of Sunken Antiquities said.


However, there's one problem that they must overcome: pollution that's flooded into the water. Yes, that includes sewage. Not exactly what tourists would be hoping to see float by while walking through the underwater museum.

A huge granite block, part of a stone pillar from a temple in a sunken Cleopatra-era city off Alexandria.Source:AFP

As outlined by UNESCO: "The bay hosting Alexandria's underwater heritage is heavily polluted. This not only clouds the water, making it difficult to view the artefacts, but also accelerates their erosion."

And as noted by one reader of Al-Monitor: "Exactly what tourists want to do go and watch untreated Egyptian sewage pouring into the Mediterranean. Ahh the sights and the smells will be unforgettable."

Artefacts from the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from where Queen Cleopatra ruled.Source:AP

A large statue of the God Hapi, God of the flooding, discovered in front of the major dynastic temple dedicated to Khonsu-Herakles, part of the sunken city of Heracleion in Alexandria.Source:AP

Archaeological discoveries including the statue of an unknown king, a piece of marble wall, an unknown queen, and a statue of the God Hapi found in the sunken site of Heracleion near Alexandria.Source:News Corp Australia