Environment and development
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Submarine archaeology and coastal management:
Steps Towards an Integrated Solution in Alexandria, Egypt

Not just one of your usual scientific gatherings, the International Workshop on Submarine Archaeology and Coastal Management, held in Alexandria, Egypt, from 7-11 April 1997, brought together experts from a wide range of disciplines. Underwater archaeologists, antiquity scholars and historians debated issues with coastal engineers, oceanographers and remote-sensing experts and exchanged views with urban planners, museum directors and legal experts. The Workshop was sponsored and organized by UNESCO, the University of Alexandria and the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities. At UNESCO in Cairo and Paris, the Sectors for Culture (Cultural Heritage) and Science (Earth Sciences) worked as a team using the Coasts and Small Islands platform. All of these diverse areas of expertise were united around a single goal: the wise management of cultural heritage sites along the Alexandrine coast, both onshore and underwater, many of which are gravely threatened by erosion, pollution and rapid urban development.

Workshop Logo

Presentations and discussions among the experts from Egypt, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and the USA covered a wide range of pertinent topics. But as particular attention was focused on the pressing issues surrounding the ruins of the Alexandria lighthouse (Pharos) and the Qayet Bey Citadel, this site came to serve as a case study for broader scale action. The Pharos/Qayet Bey site is located near the northern edge of the mouth of Alexandria's Eastern Harbour. To understand the present day situation, we must delve into a bit of history.

Built during the reign of Ptolemy II (3rd Century BC), the Alexandria Lighthouse was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Severely damaged and then destroyed by a series of earthquakes between the 9th and 14th Century, the remains of the lighthouse lie where they fell, submerged in the nearshore waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the Qayet Bey Citadel, stands on the site where the Lighthouse once stood. Built by the Mameluke Sultan Asraf Qayet Bey towards the end of the 15th Century, the Citadel has become an Alexandrine landmark of national importance.

Erosion poses a serious threat to the Citadel. To resolve this problem, a submerged breakwater was created by placing several score 20-ton cement blocks in the waters just offshore from the Citadel's northeast corner. As it turned out, however, these blocks were placed on top of ancient remains of the submerged Alexandria lighthouse site. This led to a great public outcry, so that the construction of the submerged breakwater was slowed and then put on hold in order to allow an archaeological team to survey the site (for further details see our earlier entry "Swimming with the Sphinxes" ). The problem, however, remained. On the one hand, the erosion threatening the Qayet Bey Citadel should be urgently controlled, but on the other, the submerged archaeological site of the Pharos needs to be conserved. In many respects, the Citadel/Pharos dilemma encapsulated the conflicting needs and interests threatening many cultural heritage sites along the Alexandrine coast, as well as elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

After prolonged debate and discussion on these key issues, the Workshop drew up the following Declaration and approved the following Recommendations. The recommendations concern first, the specific issues related to the Qayet Bey Citadel/Pharos site, and second, the broader and more long-term needs for an integrated management of heritage sites along the Alexandrine coast.

The Declaration of Alexandria

The significance of Alexandria in history has made the threat on its land and marine archaeological sites a matter of urgent concern to Egypt and the world.

The recommendations below dealing with the erosion under the Qayet bey fortress and long term preservation and management of the cultural assets of Alexandria have been made by the scientific community attending the International Workshop on "Submarine Archaeology and Coastal Management". With the cooperation of the world community, we believe that Egypt will be able to succeed in the above goals and preserve the cultural heritage of the City of Alexandria as part of the heritage of us all.

10 April 1997, Alexandria, Egypt

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the National Authorities including:
Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA)
Ministry of Culture (Supreme Council of Antiquities , or SCA)
Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources (Coastal Research Institute) and (Coastal Protection Authority)
Ministry of Tourism
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Transport
Ministry of Defense
Governorate of Alexandria

Recognizing the necessity of a strategic framework for future management of underwater and onshore cultural heritage and the need for urgent action to protect and preserve the Qayet Bey/Pharos area.

The workshop recommends that:

I- For the Qayet Bey/Pharos area Pilot Project:

  1. An assessment be made of the present condition of the Qayet Bey Citadel and the threat of erosion to this Citadel. For this assessment, a request to UNESCO be considered, to solicit its assistance in identifying and dispatching competent international experts in engineering and coastal processes. The nature of such an intervention should take into consideration the need to protect and preserve the integrity of both the submerged Lighthouse site and the Citadel.
  2. Concurrently, a targeted program to collect key environmental data be implemented immediately in order to rapidly identify (4-6 months time) temporary remedial actions. These temporary actions are to stabilize the erosion threatening the Citadel without compromising the integrity of the underwater archaeological site until such time as a lasting solution can be found.
  3. No remedial action, including the further placing of cement blocks, should take place until completion of the assessment of the situation of the Citadel and the proposal of temporary solutions after collection, analysis and interpretation of key environmental data, nor without consultation of all appropriate agencies and experts.
  4. In addition, the competent archaeological experts be requested to complete to the extent possible, the surveying and mapping of the underwater archaeological site of the Lighthouse.
  5. The aforementioned data collection program be extended and if necessary expanded in order to provide the environmental information required to identify and implement a long-term and lasting solution which to the greatest extent possible maintains the integrity of both cultural heritage sites.
  6. An ad hoc Task Force, possibly coordinated by UNESCO, be established whose membership should include the relevant decision-making bodies such as the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the Coastal Protection Authority, Ministry of Transport (marine transport), the Coastal Research Institute, the University of Alexandria and the Governorate of Alexandria and other relevant bodies, along with experts in submarine archaeology and coastal processes. This cross-sectoral Task Force will be responsible for setting an overall strategy for implementing and monitoring this pilot project.

II- For a long-term management plan:

  1. A strategic framework be drafted for the conservation and integrated management of the coastal heritage (cultural and natural) to be incorporated into the coastal management plan of the EEAA.
  2. The placement of concrete blocks inside or outside the Eastern Harbour, and any increased use or activity in the Eastern Harbour and Qayet Bey be stopped until the proposed survey recommended in para. 3 has been completed, and urgent action be taken to stop the discharge of sewage into the Eastern Harbour.
  3. To survey the archaeological sites and the geomorphological and hydrodynamic processes, environmental conditions and state of pollution of the coast of Greater Alexandria; and that experts and agencies transmit to the Department of Underwater Archaeology of the SCA all information on the coastal heritage (cultural and natural) of Alexandria.
  4. On the basis of the survey, to set the priorities for the critical problems faced and to direct the continuing monitoring of the area.
  5. The existing laws be studied to ensure that the special problems of the underwater archaeological sites of Alexandria are appropriately dealt with and in particular:
    a) The SCA be included as one of the responsible agencies concerned with the protection of the water environment (Law No. 4 on the Environment, Art. 1.38);
    b) The possibility of establishing a special legal status for the underwater archaeological sites of Alexandria be studied as well as the possibility of inscription on the World Heritage List.
  6. The potential economic value of the archaeological sites of Alexandria for tourists and visitors be studied, e.g. by way of museums, archaeological parks (on-land or underwater).
  7. A small group be established to follow up the recommendations of this workshop, to prepare project proposals and investigate funding possibilities.

Addendum:

The workshop further recognized the importance of the following issues:

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