In 500BC, Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion were Egyptian cities of the Nile delta whose ports traded with Greece. Between then and 800AD the cities sank for reasons as yet unknown. Maybe the cities’ enormous sculptures were toppled by a catastrophic earthquake (known to have occurred in 796AD). Or maybe the clay soils underlying the cities became saturated and couldn’t support the enormous weight of the statues.
About twenty years ago the submerged monuments were recovered by divers and now form an exhibition at the British Museum, which is open until 27th November.
Above: Stela, commissioned by Nectanebo I, 380 BC. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.
Left: Hapy, an ancient Egyptian god.
Above: A pink granite garden vat. Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 4th–2nd century BC. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.
Above: a diver shows a marble statue of Osiris. Canopus, Egypt, 1st–2nd century AD. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation
The sculptures show that Egypt was not the insular self-centred country that some historians have believed. The ports of the delta were busy gateways to European cities not so very far away.