News from the sites

mosaique nilotitque - détail
Jean-Yves Empereur
Director of CEAlex
March 2011
Detail from the Nilotic mosaic showing a hippopotamus
Photo André Pelle, © CEAlex

The Revolution of 25 January has given rise to yet more stirring moments in Egypt’s long history and we have been privileged witnesses to events that have transformed at one fell swoop the very landscape of the country. There is a feeling of living through great moments of an ever accelerating history. On the negative side, the extent of the thefts from archaeological sites and storehouses throughout the country has not yet been entirely realised nor indeed have these thefts stopped, and we are still awaiting the restructuring of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) in the form a new ministry. On the local front, we are seeing a rapid transformation of mentality with a remarkable and refreshing wave of free speech and expression. There is a thirst for knowledge and discovery, a desire to understand, and as a result our aid is being solicited from all sides. The union of tour guides – unfortunately short on work at the moment – has asked us for up-dates on the latest discoveries from the sites and we have already organised 4 days of lectures with several more planned for the coming weeks before the hoped for return of cultural tourism. Curators from the SCA have been following our week-long programmes on museology and museography, while for the inspectors there are training courses in ceramology, archaeological photography, illustrating excavation material and architectural blocks, GIS etc. All in all, dozens of hours of training have been provided for our colleagues and we have also received a request for an excavation school. We will, of course, do our very best to respond positively, even though we are well aware that such efforts need a large and highly qualified team, and thus a sizeable and specific financial investment that has not until now been foreseen in our budget.

We would especially like to thank the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique for its efficient support during this eventful period, and notably the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (InSHS) which houses the unit that manages missions abroad. CNRS investment in Alexandria has granted us the extra means to create a management post (1/3 time) and employ a part-time programme developer. As for the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, it continues faithfully in its support of our investigations at Marea, a settlement situated some 50km to the south of Alexandria. Our excavations have already revealed that this site is not Byzantine in origin, but dates back to the early Hellenistic era, indicating the importance accorded to the Alexandrian hinterland during the early period of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Our underwater excavations have also advanced with a good campaign on the Pharos site, and work on the medieval cistern of El-Nabih has likewise progressed. The exhibition concerning the history of water use at Alexandria has proven a huge success in the Laténium Museum at Neuchâtel, with roughly 25000 visitors from 22 October 2009 until 30 May 2010. We are at present recreating this exhibition in the town of Le Mans where it will be inaugurated on 25 November 2011 with a new catalogue containing articles by all the CEAlex team as supervised by Isabelle Hairy.

An exhibition of mosaics is also under preparation in cooperation with the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. Restoration work on the mosaics advances tessera by tessera, and here we can see work underway on the magnificent Roman era pavement discovered at Thmuis, in the heart of the Nile Delta. It shows a Nilotic scene with pygmies, crocodiles, hippopotami (Figs. 1 & 2) and, in the centre, a banquet under a canopy. This mosaic and many others that are under restoration by a CEAlex team of 8 restorers supervised by Hana Tewfick, are all ultimately intended for exhibition in a future mosaic museum in Alexandria.

Mosaic 21641 from the Graeco-Roman Museum under restoration by the CEAlex team
in the SCA storerooms at Shallalat. Photo J. -Y. Empereur, © Cealex.

Research projects

The CEAlex is participating in 5 projects of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR), of which two are coming to an end this year (“Suds, imaginaires et imaginaires des Suds” and “L’enfant et la mort dans l’Antiquité”). However, another, Franco-German, project entitled “Ceramalex” is beginning and will bring together some 15 specialists, through the cooperation of the IFAO and the University of Cologne, to study the characteristics of the ceramics that were produced in Alexandria and its region. The aim is to create an atlas that will be available on-line.

At the same time, research concerning architectural surveying in 3D, on land and underwater, continues within the ANR SeARCH cf. as well as in collaboration with the Institut Géographique National and the Ecole Supérieure Nationale de Géographie.

The Library

The CEAlex library has expanded greatly with no less than 718 volumes, articles and periodicals entering the collections, thus making more than 12000 titles available to university students, researchers and archaeologists of the SCA. It is worth reminding that the library can be consulted through the CEAlex website at:

The collective work Alexandrina 3 is now in print, the 19th volume in the series Études alexandrines. Another 3 volumes are in press: Alexandrie ottomane 1 by Michel Tuchscherer & Maria Pia Padani, and Images antiques d’Alexandrie by Hélène Fragaki should be out in a few weeks, while La vaisselle fine de l’habitat alexandrin, Contribution à la connaissance de la mobilité des techniques et des produits céramiques en Méditerranée orientale du IIe siècle av. J.-C. à l’époque claudienne by Sandrine Elaigne will be available before the end of the year. These titles can be ordered on-line through the IFAO website:


DNew documentary films have been made by the video directors Raymond Collet and André Pelle, most notably on the traditional sailing vessels of Lake Borollos, while others are in the editing stage. The catalogue can be seen here

The educational outreach service

The educational outreach service of the CEAlex conceived and organised, by bringing together a number of Alexandrian partners, the first Heritage Days in our city in 2010. There were some 2000 visitors, a fine result for a premier, and a project that will be repeated next October. Our two youth workers, Marwa Abdel Gawad and Louise Rolland (PACA Regional Volunteer Service) also took part in the Science Fair and they are training SCA inspectors to be able to present the sites they manage to school-age children. Their activities can be followed through the web pages:

The CEAlex on the Net

Under the supervision of our webmaster, Danielle Guiraudios, the CEAlex now has several sites that reflect its different lines of research. Other than the general site, one can visit a site dedicated to amphoras, one for Ottoman studies, that of the educational outreach service, as well as the different programmes of the ANR in which the CEAlex is involved: EMA - IMASUD - SeArch - PFE (Presse Francophone d’Egypte) - CERAMALEX (en cours)


I would like to close with thanks to the institutions that support us: other than the CNRS, whose central role along with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs I have already mentioned, we have also received assistance from the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research, and from the regional authority Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur.

Finally, we wish success and prosperity to the new Friends of the Centre des Études Alexandrines‑Île de France section, which comes as an addition to the already existing Sarthe-Alexandrie.
These two associations are contributing effectively to the preservation of Alexandria’s cultural heritage and we thank all of their members.

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