Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Out of sight, but not out of mind

By Nevine El-Aref

It is no easy thing to establish an offshore submarine archaeological site anywhere, let alone in a city with the water pollution problems of Alexandria. Yet the remarkable discoveries made by underwater archaeologists, which include the remains of Cleopatra's palace and other Ptolemaic treasures, justify further serious efforts for what would be Egypt's first offshore underwater museum.

A workshop held by UNESCO and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) in Alexandria last week went a long way towards establishing the ground plans for the pilot project. Following a year of surveys and research in the Eastern Harbour in an effort to implement the plan, the workshop participants discussed the need to draft an outline of the project as soon as possible together with cost estimates covering the establishment of the museum. The SCA urged that earlier recommendations to UNESCO to register the Qait Bey fortress and the Eastern Harbour as protected archaeological sites on the World Heritage List be actively followed up.

The very serious issue of the sewage outfall in the sea which obscures underwater visibility and increases pollution was high on the agenda. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, secretary-general of the SCA, said that the Alexandria governor had promised that the three main sewage tunnels ending in the archaeological area would be closed permanently in the near future and that the drainage would instead be diverted to a sewage station in Maryut. "The on-land-treated waste water will be used for growing woodland areas southwest of Alexandria," he said.

Already, a number of concrete blocks of the breakwater by Qait Bey fortress have been removed and the workshop urged the total removal of all the blocks. Calls were made to clean up certain archaeological structures and remove accumulated sediment and also to consider how they should best be restored on site.

As a preliminary step to protect the fortress, the workshop urged the SCA to carry out a survey of the foundations and bedrock of the edifice along with shallow seismic scanning of the submerged sections.

The workshop also highlighted the need, ahead of any work on the projected museum, for a detailed map with full descriptions of all the archaeological objects located offshore. "This is a two-year project which will entail a survey by divers and require a boat equipped with modern technology," said Gaballa.

The possibility of establishing a UNESCO Chair for Sustainable Coastal Development in the University of Alexandria, in order to reinforce the ongoing activities in the city, was considered by the workshop and will be pursued.

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