The Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt have given the go ahead to plans for the world’s first underwater museum. Visitors will be allowed a rare view into the submerged ruins of ancient Alexandria, which dates back to 365 AD. Plans for the museum have been on hold since 2008 because of often violent political turmoil in the region.
The museum, designed by French architect Jacques Rougerie, will consist of a series of underwater fiberglass tunnels connecting waterfront galleries to underwater viewing areas where visitors can see the ruins in context.
Although the main thrust of the museum is no doubt financial, the project will also protect the ruins which are prominent targets for antiquity thieves. Youssef Khalifa, chair of the Central Administration of Lower Egypt Antiquities, says that without a permanent surrounding infrastructure and 24/7 security, policing of the site is virtually impossible.
“The museum will reshape the Arab region, as it will be the first of its kind in the world. Undoubtedly it will revive tourism and boost the Egyptian economy after a long recession and also protect one of the world’s unique underwater archaeological treasures.” says Khalifa.
The proposed museum will include pieces believed to be from one of the seven ancient wonders of the world – the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse.
The ancient city of Alexandria once stood on an island but was literally sunk into the sea by earthquakes in the fourth century. It sits in one of the world’s largest man made bays and is a treasure trove of history. Archaeologists have mapped more than 2,000 submerged objects in the area of the bay. Archaeologist-divers have found thousands of objects including 26 sphinxes, human cut stone blocks weighing 56 tonnes, statues bearing gifts to the gods and even Greek and Roman shipwrecks.
Naguib Amin, the site-management expert from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities says, “The wealth of this area is quite impressive. The whole ancient city of Alexandria is lying under the water, just meters away from the shore.”
The 270,000 square foot area proposed for the museum in Alexandria Bay is protected by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.