Latest news from the sites

December 2005

Dear Friends,

You will discover a completely new look to the Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines web site. Fuller and better organised thanks to the talents of our web manager Danielle Guiraudios, it will present to you the variety of our efforts to save Alexandria’s heritage. There is first of all, the buried heritage with our on-going excavation of the Gharaba cistern to the west of the city. As you know, the cisterns are an important part of our research and several are being excavated and we continue the project to rehabilitate el-Nabih cistern, thanks to the financial support of Gaz de France. Some magnificent models of these cisterns are being prepared and here you can find recent images of them. We are hoping in the near future to mount an exhibition dedicated to the history of water use throughout 2300 years of the city, examining how the Alexandrians, unable to count on rainwater, managed to channel, stock and distribute the waters of the Nile.

The land dig known as Terra Santa was closed in June 2004 with surprising results. While two independent teams of geophysicist, one Greek the other German, had drawn up maps indicating numerous anomalies in the sub-soil, the excavation revealed that the bedrock sometimes appeared just a few centimetres beneath the surface of the modern city whereas at several other spots the face of a limestone quarry descended vertically some 5 metres. There were no medieval or ancient vestiges near the surface, only some wells and subterranean canalisations that attest a Ptolemaic occupation, the structures of which appear to have been systematically cleared in the modern era.

The first excavation zone of the Fouad Street site has been explored down to the ground water and Hellenistic levels have been reached. These display a residential quarter that fits into the grid plan urbanism of ancient Alexandria. The study of the stratigraphy and archaeological material has begun and will lead to a reference publication on this site that is adjacent to the Canopic Way

On the southern bank of Lake Mariout, some 40 km to the south-west of Alexandria, the excavation of Marea Island has greatly progressed with the unearthing of a large, ancient metallurgy workshop. This site, generally dated to the 5th to 7th centuries AD, now reveals an occupation that goes back to the Hellenistic era. To the north of the isle, the traces of a large building have been plotted and this will be the object of a new dig in the months to come.

The underwater excavations continue with the usual two campaigns per year. Documentation of the immense submerged puzzle that is the monumental site at the foot of Qaitbay Fort progresses and there is talk of reconstructing in the near future the colossal doorway of the Pharos next to the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Watch this space… As for the shipwrecks, the exploration goes on and allows for a better understanding of the commercial relations between Alexandria and the rest of the Mediterranean.


At the request of the Supreme Council for Antiquities in October and November 2005, we participated in the redevelopment of the open-air underwater museum at the site of the Roman Theatre in the centre of town. In 1996 some thirty pieces – sphinxes, obelisks etc. – were lifted from the underwater site of the Pharos, brought to land, desalinated and then displayed at this spot. Nine years later, this exhibition required a serious rethinking and one can discover lots more details on the new layout in a page dedicated to the Qaitbay excavations.

The open-air underwater museum at the Roman Theatre of Alexandria : assembling the obelisk of Seti I. Positioning the upper section.
Photo © CEAlex.

Inaugurated two years ago, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is on its way to realising all the hopes, and more, that were invested in it. Around the library itself are museums, exhibitions, and a conference hall that houses numerous international events of real quality. The Bibliotheca has become the very cultural engine of Alexandria and is well positioned to enhance the city’s development. We are presently discussing the signature of several agreements aimed at the safeguarding and presentation of Alexandria’s heritage. In our next up-date we will provide more details of these projects that include the digitising of Egypt’s francophone press as well as the exploration of the city’s underground.

You will remark that our dedication to publishing has not slackened either. The scientific collection Études alexandrines now includes 9 volumes and a further 6 are under press with the IFAO covering subjects as diverse as the Tanagras of the Graeco-Roman Museum, the Pharos excavation, medieval Alexandria, the cisterns etc. Alongside these works designed for the specialist, we are continuing our efforts to share our knowledge with the general public through a series of 13-minute documentary films directed by Raymond Collet and André Pelle, a photographer with the CNRS. These will cover, for example, what happens to coins discovered during our digs or the way in which Michel Coqueret creates the extraordinary 1/20th scale models of the ancient cisterns. Five films are already available and some fifteen others will be under production in the coming months. This new collection, demonstrating all the different facets of the archaeological profession, should be of interest to school pupils, university students and all those fascinated by archaeology.

I am particularly happy to announce the launch of a new DVD-Rom collection entitled Grandes expéditions scientifiques du 19ème siècle. As from now you can, for a special offer price, subscribe for a copy of the Description de l’Égypte. All 9500 pages of text and 1000 plates with a built-in search facility are contained on one disc, a mere 12cm in diameter and weighing only 35 grammes! The DVD-Roms to follow in the early months of 2006 will include the Voyages of Vivant Denon and Les monuments d’Égypte et de Nubie by Champollion.

Within the same idea of producing quality material for the general public, we continue to collaborate with Harpocrates Publishing. The latest offerings are: Alexandrie sous tes voiles, aquarelles/pen & inks by Julien Solé; a collection of photographs by André Pelle with a preface by Georges Moustaki entitled The Colours of Alexandria; and the soon-to-appear Alexandrian Scrapbook featuring the detailed and insightful sketches of Marine Estrangin. You can consult the catalogue at

LThe eleventh edition of our newsletter covering the recent work of the team will be sent out during the month of June. Many of these are destined for the members of the Association of Friends of the CEAlex, the number of whom has leapt from 140 in 2004 to 213 this year. I would like to thank them warmly for their support. At the same, time I would like to thank the companies Gaz de France, Vinci, Rhodia and the Foundation BNP Paribas for their welcomed assistance in our efforts to save Alexandria’s heritage. Our thanks must also go the PACA and Midi-Pyrénées regions and last but not least to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Research as well as the parent institutions of our team, IFAO and CNRS. To all, many thanks!

Jean-Yves Empereur
Directeur du CEAlex
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