The writing hook
“It is a moonlit night, a night lit by the largest moon in ten years, and you can just see it setting far away beyond the horizon. The sails of your ship are full and you are making good time to reach the next port, probably before midday. As the first rays of the rising sun bounce on the waves of the open sea, you notice something shining right under your ship. Leaning over the side, you can clearly see a mighty statue with a glistening, golden crown looking up at you from the deep. Around it you can see the dark shapes of ruins, ruins spanning out beneath the waves. You are sailing over a lost, sunken city filled with untouched treasures…”
The historical facts of the sunken cities
This hook is based on the amazing discovery of the sunken cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus off the coast of Egypt. We (myself and Janet) visited the “Sunken Cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” exhibition at the British Museum just last week and we were amazed. The story goes thus: historical record shows that, before the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, there was already a major port at the mouth of the Nile’s delta that allowed trade between the “Greek Sea” (Mediterranean Sea) and the rest of Egypt (via the Nile and its canals).
However, the city literally disappeared from record around 700 AD. Mathematician and ex-amateur archeologist Franck Goddio had been searching for 20 years before he found the city of Thonis-Heracleion under the waters of the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The sunken city was a Greek port, established by Greek mercenaries after they helped the Pharaoh of the time. It soon grew to become a massive trade hub of the Mediterranean world. The dual name of Thonis-Heracleion came from this multicultural history – the Egyptians called it Thonis, whilst the Greeks referred to it as Herakleion.
Sadly the city was built on sandy soil, which meant that slowly but steadily the city, under the weight of its massive structures, was inching ever closer to its watery grave. Around 700 AD came the death blow – a massive event (probably an earthquake or tsunami) hit the city and damaged the foundations and shoreline, suddenly moving the whole city to the depths of the sea.
Fortunately for the marine archaeologists, the tonnes of silt from the river delta have preserved the artefacts and material culture remarkably well. The number of amazing, unique artifacts increases every day – everything from small, golden jewellry to massive 18 foot tall (8 meters) statues of Pharaohs and their Queens.
The Discovery of Thonis-Heracleion sunken city
The video below is a 45-minute documentary about the discovery of the city. It’s really worth your time if you want to learn more about its discovery and the artifacts found so far!