On the seabed of Alexandria's Eastern Harbour lie the royal quarters of the Ptolemaic dynasty complete with temples, palaces and streets. Queen Cleopatra's Palace and Antirhodos Island, now near the centre of the harbour between Qait Bay fortress to the north, Silsila on the east and Mahattat Al-Raml to the south, were in the same position.
These magnificent monuments were hidden beneath the waves after sinking in antiquity until 1996, when a joint mission by the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), with sponsorship from the Hilti Foundation of Liechtenstein, began scientific and archaeological studies in the Eastern Harbour. . . .
Following all these discoveries, all that was required was an underwater museum to make these monuments accessible to the public. However, setting up an offshore, submarine archaeological site anywhere is not an easy task, let alone in a city with the water pollution problems of Alexandria. Yet the remarkable discoveries made by underwater archaeologists over the last decade justify further serious efforts for what would be an invaluable cultural exercise.
The site and form gives cause for conjecture. Should it be in Alexandria's Eastern Harbour, the Sisila area or Abu Qir Bay? What will it look like? Should it resemble the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney or the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology at the spectacular Uluburun Wreck in Turkey, or the Musée de Marine in Paris? All these display a collection of sunken ship wrecks, flora and fauna.
These questions and more were raised at an international workshop held in 2006 to discuss the feasibility of constructing such a museum. On the table were a projected ground plan, an architectural design and a programme to study the environmental conditions of the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria and its state of marine pollution, the socio-economic problems related to the success of the underwater archaeological museum project, and its urban impacts. The workshop was held under the umbrella of UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture at the Alexandria Art Creativity Centre, where a multidisciplinary team of 28 international and Egyptian experts were gathered.
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