Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 14

1. Introduction

Recent archaeological discoveries in and around the ancient harbour of Alexandria have revived interest in the city’s heritage. At the same time, the rapid urban and coastal development of modern Alexandria raises many important coastal management issues which need addressing in order to ensure the harmonious development of human activities while protecting the submerged remains of the ancient city.

The city was built on a limestone ridge which separates the Mediterranean Sea from Lake Mariout. In the last 120 years, Alexandria has increased twenty-five fold in size and now covers all the land between the lake and the sea. Its winter population is about four million people, rising to five million in the summer. It is Egypt’s principle seaport and an important industrial centre, providing 40% of the country’s industrial output.

Geological factors have played an important role in the history and prehistory of Alexandria. Relative sea level changes, resulting from subsidence and global sea level rise, have also played a significant role. Submerged Roman and Greek ruins in the Eastern Harbour and Abu Qir Bay, dating from 500 BC are now submerged 2–5.5 m below the surface of the sea. In addition, major earthquakes have impacted Alexandria during historic times, resulting in the complete destruction of the Pharos Lighthouse. The importance of Alexandria’s relation with the sea has long been clear from ancient written sources and lately there has been a revival of interest in exploring the archaeological traces of this history. The physical remains of Alexandria’s heritage, already threatened by the forces of nature, are now also threatened by intensive man-made development.

Since the 15th century, the Qait Bey Citadel has guarded the outer arm of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour. It is now a landmark of national significance. In the early 1990s the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which is responsible for the Citadel, became concerned about erosion at its north-eastern perimeter and decided in 1991 to entrust the Coastal Protection Authority with taking the necessary protective measures to protect the Citadel from further wave damage.

Work began on the project in 1993 and some 180 concrete blocks, each weighing several tons, were placed about 30 m offshore from the Citadel. A team of divers engaged in shooting a film noticed that the concrete blocks were coming to rest on partly buried ruins. Dumping of the concrete blocks was stopped. The ruins, hidden under the waves and covered in sediment, were those of Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, the Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ironically, Alexandria’s 15th century Citadel was being protected at the expense of the vestiges of its 3rd century BC Ptolemaic Pharos, the building that had once stood in its place.

Recognizing the need to take a comprehensive approach, which would include integrated urban management, the impact of the city’s sewage effluent on the archaeological site, and the unique historical heritage, the University of Alexandria, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) jointly organized an international workshop on Submarine Archaeology and Coastal Management in April 1997. During this workshop, historians told Alexandria’s story from its foundation in 331 BC through to today. Archaeologists gave insights into the challenges and techniques being introduced in the rapidly developing discipline of underwater archaeology. Geologists and oceanographers explained how coastal processes such as currents, sedimentation and waves affect coastal archaeological sites. The threat to Alexandria’s underwater heritage caused by the city’s acidic wastewater, as well as the need for legislation specific to underwater sites, was discussed.

Some of the papers presented in the workshop on Submarine Archaeology and Coastal Management have already been published (Mostafa et al., 2000). This present publication contains the discussions and outcome of the international workshop as well as a description of several follow-up activities. Chapter 2 describes the history of Alexandria, while the summaries of the papers presented at the international workshop, as well as the recommendations and declaration resulting therefrom, are included in Chapter 3. Taken as a whole, they give a picture of the current state of the city of Alexandria and its archaeological sites and go some way to showing how the modern city might learn to live in harmony with its past. It is clear that Alexandria is in need of an integrated management strategy that will allow it to grow and modernize while preserving and making use of its archaeological and cultural heritage. Chapter 4 describes the follow-up activities undertaken since the 1997 workshop. These include a decree establishing a consultative committee, consultations and round table discussions, further investigations and a second workshop. The need for integrated coastal management and future stages for the initiative are discussed in Chapter 5.

 

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