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  Jean-Yves Empereur
Director of CEAlex
December 2008

Since January 1999, the Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines has been a “Unité Mixte de Service” (UMS 1812) of the French Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique. In June 2007, it was elevated to the rank of “Unité de Service et de Recherche” (USR 3134), and thus became a true team member of the CNRS. This new status has given us greater means and allows us to welcome extra researchers over the long term. Thus, from last September we have received the support of Patrice Pomey, one of the pioneers of naval archaeology and a major actor in this field throughout Egypt and the Mediterranean world. The CNRS has also created a management post (filled by Fanny Alliaud), while the Ministry of Education, Research and Advanced Teaching (MESR) has, through the IFAO, provided us with an archaeologist’s post (filled by Patricia Rifa) to manage our excavation storehouse at Shallalat.

The CEAlex has experienced an exciting year. The constant support of the CNRS management, as well as the other institutions on which we depend, has allowed us to develop the research fields of our team. Since spring of 2008 we have had new cutting edge technological means and our work has multiplied by ten. In consequence, our architectural drawings have grown in depth thanks to a 3D scanner that has reshaped traditional methods. This sophisticated tool has been applied to El-Nabih cistern and the medieval fort of Qaitbay and has produced spectacular results both in look and precision. There is no doubt that we are witnessing a revolution in our work with this new access to a third dimension.

The 3D scanner 3D used Laurent Borel in surveying and plotting el-Nabih cistern. -
Photo @ CEAlex

Our study and restoration laboratories held within the Shallalat storehouse in the heart of the city have also benefited from new equipment that has reinforced our research into archaeometallurgy (with Valerie Pichot) and also in the treatment and conservation of metallic objects. Indeed, the arrival of new tools has been accompanied by an expansion of our restoration team. Under the leadership of Hanna Tawfick, there are now six Alexandrians employed full-time in the restoration of coins, mosaics, paintings, objects lifted from the sea, ceramics, organic matter etc. Our experience is well recognised if one is to judge by the long list of requests for internships from restorers both French and Egyptian. Among the recent achievements of our lab, we might mention the completion of the restoration of the ensemble of mosaics from the Medusa dining room (only the central panel was restored back in 1997 and has been exhibited in the national Museum of Alexandria for the past four years). Likewise, the team has restored the surrounds of the Dog mosaic that can be admired in the archaeological museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

This increase in our activities at Shallalat has necessitated an increase in space available and thanks to the talents of Yvan Vigouroux, stonemason, we have managed to open up two more rooms. These have been restored while respecting the original architecture of this magnificent building that was developed as an armoury by Colonel Galice Bey in the 1840s on the orders of Mohamed Ali Pasha. The Supreme Council for Antiquities has permitted us to use this space for storing, restoring and studying the archaeological material uncovered during our excavations throughout the town.

Excavation storehouse at Shallalat.
One of the two rooms recently restored by a CEAlex team led by Yvan Vigouroux.
Photo Y. Vigouroux © CEAlex

Excavations have continued on three sites:
1) The underwater excavations on the Pharos site are underway at this very moment and, under the leadership of Isabelle Hairy, are aimed at completing the topographical survey and architectural drawing of the site in order to advance the graphic reconstruction of monumental and statuary elements.
2) Laurent Borel is leading the work on El-Nabih cistern that consists of exploratory trenches through the existing layers to determine the different phases of construction. It is more than likely that the results will indicate a different datation to that which has traditionally been accepted. The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE) has contributed to the finacing of the restoration programme of this monument as has the Regional Authority of Midi-Pyrénées with the dispatch of experts and interns of INSA, ENSA and CETIA (1).
3) Thanks to the support of MAEE we have been able to advance in the clearing, by Valerie Pichot, of the Hellenistic cult building at Marea to the south of Lake Mariout. The latest results from this archaeological site will soon be found within the pages of this web site.

The year 2008 has been rich in scientific meetings :
In February, we welcomed some 30 participants to a conference organised in collaboration with Sylvie Denoix and Maria Mossakowska-Gaubert of the IFAO entitled Objets d’Égypte, Corpus pour une histoire économique et sociale (1r-XVe siècle). In mid-April, Michel Tuchscherer, who directs the Ottoman Alexandria project, organised a meeting in the CEAlex around the subject of Alexandria and water, within the framework of the Balnéorient programme. At the end of that same month it was the turn of Christian Décobert, director of the Medieval Alexandria initiative, who brought together some 20 specialists around the theme Alexandrie et le commerce de la Méditerranée médiévale. These last two gatherings will result in publications as part the Études alexandrines series.

In 2009, two conferences are planned.
1) What’s new in Alexandrian archaeology? Will bring together our Egyptian colleagues and the directors of European archaeological missions working in and around Alexandria. It will provide a venue for us to pin-point our objectives, exchange information and harmonise our methods.
2) In November, the CEAlex will welcome the participants in the programme “The child and death in antiquity: funerary practices and social identity” in collaboration with the Centre Camille Jullian of Aix-en-Provence and the UMR ArScAn of Nanterre.

In 2010, two conferences are planned.
One will be around “Commerce and Virtue” within the framework of the RAMSES II: Euro-Mediterranean network and in cooperation with Centre Jacques Berque in Rabat (USR 3136) and the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO, USR 3135). The second will concern amphora studies, following on from the 2007 meeting and will be a moment for reflection upon the use and expansion of the new web site (developed by Danielle Guiraudios) dedicated to this field. The web address reviews of works and articles on amphoras, the catalogue of the Centre Alexandrin d’Études des Amphores (CAEA) library, online resources (old and rare publications about amphoras) and also a catalogue of Rhodian matrices. The work of Gonca Senol of Ege University, Izmir, this catalogue presents the matrices of some 30 eponyms of Rhodes with more than 400 individual examples. This latest addition is probably the most unique and will certainly be much prized by the academic community.

The CEAlex web site is constantly being up-dated, thanks to the care of its webmaster, Danielle Guiraudios, and the team members of the CEAlex. The latest novelty to be noted is the link “On-line resources” that leads to the text of old and rare publications on both ancient Alexandria and the more modern city. The digitising was undertaken by a team of 5 within the CEAlex under the guidance of Gaël Pollin.

The digitising of the French-language press of Egypt, a vast cumulative project that will demand numerous years of effort, has received a boost with a grant from the French national Research Agency (ANR). One can already consult the present state of this project on this website. In addition, the DVD-Rom series continues to grow. After the Description de l’Égypte, the voyages de Champollion and of Vivant Denon, we are preparing an edition of Cailliaud’s expedition to Thebes, Meroe and Siwa between 1819 and 1822.

The rhythm of our publications also continues. In the ten years of its existence the CEAlex’ Études alexandrines series, published by the IFAO press, has grown to 17 volumes. The most recent issues concern the Sarapeion, the three-day conference on medieval Alexandria and writings on cosmopolitan Alexandria in Alexandria ad Europam. Three other volumes are under press at this moment, one of which is a new number in the Ottoman Alexandria collection. We are extremely gratified by the success enjoyed by the Études alexandrines. The volume dedicated to numismatics sold out in one year and we are into a second impression, and four other numbers are likewise out of stock and awaiting reprinting (2).

Alongside these academic works, we are also concerned with publishing books aimed at a more general public. Thanks to the support of the Midi-Pyrénées regional authority, we have been able to publish and Arabic version of Le Copain de l’archéologie that has already proved popular. In the series of short guides from the CEAlex, Isabelle Hairy has written Les coulisses de l’eau à Alexandrie, that traces the long history of water management in Alexandria (3).

This last title looking at water, its storage and the famous underground cisterns, has been published in connection with the exhibition that will take place in October 2009 in the Laténium museum of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, under the scientific direction of Isabelle Hairy. This will be the occasion to admire the models that Michel Coqueret has patiently constructed over the last few years as well as to publish a full catalogue bringing together the research of the CEAlex team and collaborators.

Our university involvement has been crowned by the successful presentation of two theses; one by Emmanuel Botte on fish storage amphoras and the treatment of tuna, garum and fish-based condiments: the other by Oueded Senounne on voyagers to Alexandria, the catalogue of which has several times been up-dated on this very web site. No less than seven other theses are underway at the moment, covering subjects involving the work and research of the CEAlex.

The Educational Outreach Service has not been resting on its laurels. Catherine Sabry, Marwa Abdel-Ghawab and Anaïs Perrin have planed an Alexandrian autumn dedicated to the mosaic. There has been an exhibition of photos of ancient and modern mosaics at the French Cultural Centre (CCFA), a exhibition of magnificent modern mosaics by Egyptian artists, and workshops in mosaic making for children, with prizes! All of these events and activities have had a great popular success, and the associated lectures filled the halls of the CCFA and the Bibliotheca.

Throughout this autumn, Raymond Collet’s video films of the restoration of the Medusa and Dog mosaics have been screened. These films come as new additions to the catalogue of 13-minute documentaries that can be consulted within the CEAlex web site, as well as at the web address Several of these shorts, intended for educational use, can be downloaded for free. Despite the limited means employed in their production, these films have met considerable success and received prizes at international festivals. This fact encourages us to continue a series that adds to our Educational Outreach Service.

An so to close this round up of our latest activities, I would like to thank all those whose faithful support has helped us in our efforts to publicise and develop the different facets of Alexandria’s heritage. Firstly, we recognise the institutions that have supported us, most notably the CNRS, to which we are proud to belong. By nominating new collaborators to the CEAlex team, the CNRS has reinforced our means of action in an appreciable manner, particularly during a period of general retrenchment. Our thanks also go to the Ministry of Education, Research and Advanced Teaching for funding a new post and increased financial support; to the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, whose grant has funded the Marea excavation and contributed to the restoration of El-Nabih cistern. Two regional authorities have also supported us; PACA with three Overseas Volunteers and constant help with our Educational Outreach Service: Midi-Pyrénées with a contribution to the programme of study and redevelopment of El-Nabih cistern and also with publishing projects. This latter region is looking to increase its collaboration with Alexandrian institutions and we can but rejoice. Finally, a special thanks to the associations that have helped us along and encouraged us sometimes with visits to our very work sites: the recently founded association Sarthe-Alexandrie, supported by the Sarthe General Council, and the ACEA. To all the members of these groups, a huge “Thank You!”

Beyond the media recognition of our work, we really need this support, especially in this period of economic difficulty. While the Euro falls against the Egyptian Pound, inflation gallops worryingly ahead. The two phenomena together are causing serious financial difficulties for teams working in this country. More than ever, we need your support.

Jean-Yves Empereur

(1) ENSA = Ecole Normale Supérieure d’Architecture
INSA= Institut National des Sciences Appliquées
CETIA= Centre d’Études du Tourisme, de l’Hôtellerie et de l’Alimentation

(2) These works can be ordered from the site;

(3) These books can be found at

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