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Heracleion Underwater (Egypt)

Heracleion Underwater (Egypt)

Heracleion , also known by its Egyptian name Thonis , and sometimes called Thonis-Heracleion, was an ancient Egyptian city located near the Canopic Mouth of the Nile, about 32 km (20 miles) northeast of Alexandria. Its ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, currently 2.5 km off the coast, under 10 m (30 ft) of water.A stele found on the site indicates that it was one single city known by both its Egyptian and Greek names. Its legendary beginnings go back to as early as the 12th century BC, and it is mentioned by ancient Greek historians. Its importance grew particularly during the waning days of the Pharaohs.


Heracleion was originally built on some adjoining islands in the Nile Delta. It was intersected by canals with a number of harbors and anchorages. Its wharves, temples and tower-houses were linked by ferries, bridges, and pontoons. The city was an emporion (trading port) and in the Late Period of ancient Egypt it was the country’s main port for international trade and collection of taxes. It had a sister city, Naucratis, which was another trading port lying 72 km (45 mi) further up the Nile. Goods were transferred inland via Naucratis, or they were transported via the Western Lake and through a water channel to the nearby town of Canopus for onward distribution.[3]

Heracleion had a large temple of Khonsou, son of Amun, who was known to the Greeks as Herakles. Later, the worship of Amun became more prominent. During the time when the city especially flourished between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, a large temple of Amun-Gereb, the supreme god of the Egyptians at the time, was located in the middle of the city. Pharaoh Nectanebo I made many additions to the temple in the 4th century B.C. Sanctuaries in Heracleion dedicated to Osiris and other gods were famous for miraculous healing and attracted pilgrims from a wide area. The city was the site of the celebration of the “Mysteries of Osiris” each year during the month of Khoiak. The god in his ceremonial boat was brought in procession from the temple of Amun in that city to his shrine in Canopus.[citation needed]

During the 2nd century BC Alexandria superseded Heracleion as Egypt’s primary port. Over time the city was weakened by a combination of earthquakes, tsunamis and rising sea levels. At the end of the 2nd century BC, probably after a severe flood, the ground on which central island of Heracleion was built succumbed to soil liquefaction. The hard clay turned rapidly into a liquid and the buildings collapsed into the water. A few residents stayed on during the Roman era and the beginning of Arab rule, but by the end of the eighth century AD what was left of the city had sunk beneath the sea.

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