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13 February 2004
The year 2004 begins with promise: salvage excavations, restoration of ancient structures, exhibitions, books and films are all in the pipeline. The rhythm of the CEAlex team has not slowed down.
Salvage excavations are still the central pillars of our activities and there is no shortage of occasions for such. It is a continual battle trying to save what remains of the Ptolemaic capital. Of course, this does not imply an attempt to stop the development of this modern town, home to some 6 million people. That would be foolish and empty of common sense. What is to be hoped is that one day a kind of balance can be found between the urban pressure of a major city in full expansion and the safeguarding of its extraordinary heritage, a heritage that could well represent an important factor in economic development during the coming years.
The land dig on Fouad Street (the former Greek Orthodox Patriarchate) directed by Francis Choël and Marie Jacquemin is now some ten metres below street level. Ptolemaic vestiges are there and we must now struggle against the water table. The results from the Terra Santa dig have surprised us and do not reflect the prior geophysical prospections. We have found quarries, cut rock faces, and here and there cavities in the rock that lead into underground galleries some 6 to 8 metres deep that we are beginning to explore. In the Gharaba cistern the clearing work continues, throwing up new information about the town’s hydraulic system. All the above subjects will be expanded on in this version of the CEAlex website.
At sea, the underwater excavations are far from over and still require two campaigns of two months per year. The classifying of the thousands of architectural blocks on the Pharos site is progressing and, quite recently, the architect Isabelle Hairy has been able to reconstitute the frame of a monumental doorway made of Aswan granite that stood 11.45 metres beneath the lintel. The jambs weighing more than 70 tonnes, the lintel, the slabs with hinge sockets for the double panelled door all belonged to a gigantic monument; this was, with little doubt, the doorway to the Pharos itself. As for the colossal statuary, we discover new fragments with each campaign and, little by little, these six colossi – three couples of a Ptolemy and his queen – are becoming whole again. One can imagine that in a few years we will be able to reconstitute them in their majesty next to the monumental doorway.
The ancient and medieval cisterns are also one of our research subjects and we are fortunate that Gaz de France, which has just signed a contract that will make Egypt the second largest provider of natural gas to France, has decided to assist in the restoration and presentation of one of the most beautiful of Alexandria’s cisterns, that of el-Nabih. A detailed pre-project proposal has been prepared by the architects, Laurent Borel and Chrystelle March. They are working in tandem with a stonemason, Yvan Vigouroux. After visitors have explored the interior of this cistern on three levels of columns, an on-site museum will retrace the 2300-year-old story of water in Alexandria. This exhibition will first be presented in the PACA (Provence, Alpes, Côte d’Azure) region of France at the beginning of 2005 and will then travel to Alexandria for the inauguration of the cistern.
Every time we commence a salvage excavation in Alexandria we are sure to uncover mosaics. These were one of the specialities of ancient Alexandria (as is pointed out by writers such as Pliny the Elder) and they were often used for domestic flooring. A number of these mosaics are presently held in the reserves of the Graeco-Roman Museum of Alexandria. The Egyptian authorities have decided to build a museum to exhibit these masterpieces. Soon, it is to be hoped, Alexandria, like Antakia and Tunis, will have its own Mosaic Museum. In order to aid this ambitious project, we have proposed to the Supreme Council of Antiquities that some 18 mosaics be transported to the Musée de l’Arles Antique for restoration. An agreement is due to be signed between the General Council of the Bouches-du-Rhône Department and the Egyptian Minstry of Culture. The resultant exhibition, entitled “Peintures de Pierre” (Paintings in Stone), after an expression used by Pliny the Elder, will be presented in Arles at the beginning of 2006 and, after their restoration, these mosaics will take their place in the new Alexandrian museum.
The 18 February 2004 sees the opening of a new programme at the Cathédrale d’Images, in the former quarries of the Alpilles. This year the Cathèdrale offers an evocative promenade through Alexandria, conjured up by the projection of thousands of photographs onto stone walls of 10 metres height. It is the chance to rediscover, for example, the Necropolis site that we excavated 5 years ago and that has now sadly been obliterated due to the pressures of the modern town. A percentage of ticket sales to this event will be donated to salvage excavations in Alexandria
The CEAlex has never limited itself only to the study of Alexandria’s ancient period but has always looked at the entirety of the city’s history. Thanks to the coordinating work of Michel Tuchscherer, professor at the University of Aix-en-Provence, we are actively participating in the rediscovery of three centuries of Ottoman Alexandria. The Turks arrived here in 1517 and left their mark on the history, institutions, topography, urbanism and architecture of the town. In conjunction with other research centres, such as CEDEJ and IFAO in Cairo, the Heritage Department of Senghor University in Alexandria, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the MMSH and the University of Aix-en-Provence, we have begun a series of enquiries into this period and an initial gathering of researchers was organised in autumn of 2003. This project is developing well and a website will be dedicated to it. This can be found at the address: http://ottoman.cealex.org
The study of amphoras at Alexandria actually gave birth to our team almost 25 years ago and it remains one of the research priorities of the CEAlex. The reason for this, well illustrated in many of our publications, lies in the fact that the Graeco-Roman Museum holds more than 160,000 stamped amphora handles and each salvage excavation floods us with new documentation. Alexandria was, as Strabo wrote, the emporium of the world, the central market of the Mediterranean, before being overtaken by Rome. The quantity and variety of amphora material coming from the then known world, along with the quality of stratigraphic contexts offered by the salvage excavations all go to making Alexandria the centre for the study of Greek and Roman amphoras. A specific we
And lastly, in presenting this new version of the CEAlex website, I would like to express my thanks to all the members of the team who have assisted our efforts through their hard work and enthusiasm. I must single out Danielle Guiraudios, who has built this site and kept it up to date with infinite patience despite the unpredictability of salvage digging that makes us less available that she might have wished. In face of all obstacles, Danielle has received recognition for her efforts: up to December 2003, our site figured among those “to be discovered” on the web portal set up in October 2003 by the French Ministry of Culture. Our new web host will now allow us to provide continuous updating, and not just with fixed date editions.
And a final thank you (last, but not least!) to our Scottish Alexandrian, Colin Clement, for translating this site into English. Colin manages a small publishing house “Harpocrates”. Visit the site at: http://www.harpocrates.com.eg to discover quality books about Alexandria in English, French, and soon Arabic and Japanese.
Have a look through our website. You will discover progress in our research, results and set backs, and if you have a feeling for our enthusiasm and efforts then why not try to contribute to the saving of Alexandria. Join our team through the Friends of the CEAlex -http://acea.cealex.org By becoming a member of our association you will be welcomed in Alexandria. We will be proud to show you what we are trying to save and to share with you the results of our endeavours.
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