Off the coast of Alexandria, and mostly at Abu Qir and the eastern port, lies a myriad of sunken treasures. They are relics of the great city of the Ptolemies and Romans, much of which collapsed under geomorphic changes—including coastal erosion and earthquakes—that tossed antiquities, palaces and even the Great Library under the waves.
Over the past 15 years archaeological work in the towns of Herakleion and Canopus, which were once thriving trade centres in the area of Abu Qir east of Alexandria, has led to important discoveries. On Monday 7 September the French President, François Hollande, opened in Paris an exhibition by the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) under the title ‘Osiris, Egypt’s Sunken Mysteries’. Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damati, Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shukry, Tourism Minister Khaled Rami, internationally renowned archaeologists and other prominent figures from various countries attended the highly anticipated event. The exhibition is scheduled to run until 31 January 2016.
Exhibition in Paris
Mr Hollande thanked President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for choosing France to hold the exhibition, and said that the decision demonstrates the good relations between the French and Egyptian governments and the people. It must be acknowledged that it was French archaeologists who did most of the underwater excavation.
Mr Hollande seized the opportunity to stress the depth of relations between France and Egypt on the cultural, political, and economic levels, and especially their alliance against the terrorism.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said that holding the exhibition in Paris reflected France’s appreciation of Egyptian culture and antiquities. The exhibition, he said, is taking place under growing challenges facing the Middle Eastern region including the challenge of maintaining the cultural and civilisational rich heritage that dates back thousands of years. It is no secret that this heritage is now threatened by terrorist groups who claim it is tantamount to idolatory, as well as by acts of looting and illicit trafficking by organised crime networks.
Mr Shukry thanked the Institut du Monde Arabe for its distinct role as a cultural bridge between France and the Arab World. He also thanked archeologist Frank Goddio who over the past three decades has directed the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (EIUA) and has achieved very important discoveries. Mr Goddio was the pivotal figure behind the excavation of the sunken antiquities off the coast of Alexandria.
For his part, Dr Damati said that the exhibition was expected to bring in high revenue. Holding exhibitions abroad, he said, was among the best ways to promote interest in Egyptian antiquities; the Paris exhibition is the first to be outside Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. It is scheduled to tour Zurich and London once it closes in Paris.
Abu Qir, Pharos, and the sunken port
To narrate the mysteries of the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris, dozens of artefacts were carefully gathered on loan from museums across Cairo and Alexandria to make their first journey outside Egypt, and be seen by ancient Egyptian history enthusiasts around the world.
More than 250 pieces will be on display at the Institut du Monde Arabe between 8 September 2015 and 31 January 2016. The exhibit spans a 1,100-square-metre space and includes 18 pieces of antiquity carefully selected form among the collection of the Egyptian Museum, 31 from the Alexandria National Museum, 22 from the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, and 15 from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina museum.
Most of the artefacts displayed were gathered during the underwater excavation carried out by the EIUA under Franck Goddio in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities near Abu Qir in Alexandria. It must be noted, however, that some of the most important antiquities were also found in the sunken port adjacent to the island of Pharos, where the famous lighthouse of Alexandria once stood, especially in its southwestern area. Exploring the sunken monuments in Egypt began as long ago as 1933, and the sunken monuments of the royal district were discovered by the Egyptian diver and explorer Kamel Abul Saadaat. Over many years, several huge statues have been raised from the seabed, and a map for the region and the treasures it carries has been developed in cooperation with UNESCO.
The pieces displayed in the Paris exhibit illustrate the legends of the god Osiris, which are among the most important religious myths of ancient Egypt and inspired a large part of its art and culture. The most distinguished pieces in the exhibition include a small bronze statue of a pharaoh found in Herakleion, near Abu Qir. The statue, wearing a blue crown and in the walking mode, is holding a stick in his right hand. There is also a statue of the goddess Taweret dating back to the 26th dynasty (664 – 525 BC). The maternity goddess appears in the form of a hippopotamus standing on the paws of lion, with her breasts sagging. Among the objects is a tunic that dates back to the 22nd Dynasty (c. 890 BC) found in the tomb of Sheshonq II at Tanis. An Eye of Horus from the Ptolemaic era represents Horus the god, the son of Osiris, who was injured at the hands of his uncle Set and was healed by the power of the god Thoth; the eye symbolises the healing of the wounds and body.
16 September 2015