Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal management sourcebooks 2

Alexandria in an evolving context

Today, with a disproportionately large percentage of the world’s population crowded into the narrow strip of land that borders the sea, coastal regions have become arenas of intense competition. Port development competes with seafront housing projects, industrial pollution threatens artisanal fisheries, coastal wetlands are filled in for urban expansion, sand mining accelerates the erosion of tourist beaches and undermines seaside structures ..., these are but a sampling of the everyday conflicts which characterise coastal regions the world over.

From this point of view, Alexandria is no exception. During recent decades its population has soared due to a steady rural exodus to this urban centre. Its tourist beaches, favoured destinations for Egyptians in summer, are threatened by the untreated wastewater generated by the ever-increasing urban populace. The pollution problem is further exacerbated by Alexandria’s industrial sector, one of Egypt’s largest.

But that which sets Alexandria apart from most other coastal cities, is not so much conflicts over contemporary uses of coastal resources, but rather conflicts between the city which is Alexandria today and the city, or more precisely cities, which Alexandria has been in the past. For through the centuries, Alexandria has been home to many illustrious peoples and cultures and they have all left their traces. As Alexandria struggles to renew its urban core, to resolve problems of traffic, to restore housing for a burgeoning population, to put some order into the urban sprawl ..., everywhere it is confronted and confounded by the archaeological remains of its remarkable past.

At the origin of the present volume is a seemingly banal attempt to deal with coastal erosion. The construction of a mere sea wall has triggered passionate debates over how best to manage Alexandria’s cultural past in the face of contemporary urban and industrial realities.


Since its construction in the late 15th Century by a Mameluk sultan, the Qait Bey Citadel has guarded the outer arm of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour. Today, it has become an Egyptian landmark of national significance. Over the years, however, the waves of the Mediterranean Sea have continually gnawed at its northeastern perimeter and erosion has become an ever-present threat to the integrity of the site. In the early 1990s, the responsible national authority, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), decided that remedial measures must be taken to safeguard the Citadel.

Operations began in 1993 and some 180 cement blocks, each weighing several tons, were deposited on the sea floor along the vulnerable northeastern perimeter of the site. These efforts to protect the Citadel from the onslaught of the sea, however, had an unforeseen impact upon another archaeological site of significance. Hidden beneath the waves and partly buried under bottom sediments were the ruins of the Alexandria Lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Unwittingly, the cement sea wall was being raised on the vestiges of Alexandria’s Pharos.

It was only by chance that a film crew shooting underwater footage discovered that the cement blocks were saving one heritage site at the expense of another. The alarm was rapidly raised and in response to a strong public outcry, the SCA eventually halted the dumping of blocks and launched an evaluation of the underwater site. For this undertaking, the SCA called upon the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) and in particular, the skills and knowledge of Dr. Jean-Yves Empereur, Director of the Centre d’Études Alexandrines (CEA).

This survey work underlined the perplexing nature of the present coastal management dilemma. Two important cultural heritage sites are situated side by side. The Qait Bey Citadel is threatened by encroaching coastal erosion. But remedial measures to protect the Citadel have proven detrimental to the adjacent underwater Pharos site. What can be done? Must one site be sacrificed in order to conserve the other? Or can a solution be found which conserves both sites?


The bio-physical and socio-cultural complexity of coastal environments have brought integrated and intersectoral approaches to managing coastal problems to the fore. Recognizing the multiple facets of the Citadel-Pharos dilemma, the University of Alexandria, the SCA and UNESCO jointly organized an intersectoral workshop on Submarine Archaeology and Coastal Management, which took place in Alexandria from 7–11 April 1997. A comprehensive understanding of the problem was of the essence. Archaeological experts shared their insights on current challenges and methodological innovations in the rapidly-evolving discipline of underwater heritage conservation. Geologists and oceanographers offered their understandings of ocean current patterns, sediment transport, erosion processes and their impacts on coastal archaeological sites. Coastal engineers provided expert advice on alternative measures for mitigating coastal erosion.

But this interdisciplinary array still only addressed part of the many-dimensioned problem. Alexandria’s cultural heritage is menaced not only by erosion, but also by the city’s heavily polluted coastal waters and the incessant pressures generated by a rapidly-growing metropolis. The dismal condition of coastal waters defaces the underwater archaeological sites, precluding their development for tourism. Furthermore, the heightened acidity of polluted waters augments their corrosive capacity, accelerating erosion of the largely calcareous coastline. Wastewater management must be part of any long-term solution and these and other interventions must be co-ordinated through a comprehensive urban planning process. In other words, to develop a global understanding of the problem and set into place an integrated management strategy for Alexandria’s natural and cultural heritage, one cannot do without an intersectoral group of experts, stakeholders and decision-makers.


This volume brings together the contributions of twenty-seven experts from a wide range of disciplines and fields. While the juxtaposition of these seemingly disparate and unrelated themes and issues is unusual and even somewhat unsettling, recognition of the vital role that each of these contributions has to play is an essential first step towards an integrated and comprehensive solution for Alexandria. Today, Alexandria is rising to the challenge of weaving these multiple strands into a unified vision of the problem and its solutions.

The volume opens in Part 1 with two historical contributions that impress upon the reader the enduring significance of Alexandria as a strategic trade centre in the eastern Mediterranean. M. El-Abbadi provides a rich account of the military, political, economical and even meteorological dynamics that shaped Alexandria’s destiny as ‘the greatest emporium of the inhabited world’. To continue this saga, H. Tzalas guides the reader through a fascinating series of ancient plans and maps of the two ports of Alexandria. The nine maps reproduced in this volume extend over a period of 400 years.

From history, the theme shifts in Part 2 to archaeology or more specifically the history of underwater archaeological discoveries off Alexandria’s shores. S. Morcos provides a personal and passionate account of early archaeological discoveries, including that of Bonaparte’s fleet in Abu Qir Bay, Jondet’s investigations of Alexandria’s ancient Western Harbour, and Abul-Saadat’s exceptional archaeological finds in the Eastern Harbour area. The intriguing life story of Kamel Abul-Saadat, Egypt’s first and self-made underwater archaeologist, is revealed through the excellent investigative work of H. Halim. These early archaeological campaigns have opened the way for current investigations of the Pharos site under the direction of J.-Y. Empereur, who offers the reader an overview of discoveries made to date. Archaeological findings beneath the waters of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour are reported upon by F. Goddio.

Underwater archaeological sites present unique challenges for cultural heritage interpretation and conservation. Many countries around the Mediterranean basin are struggling to come to terms with this relatively new field. In Part 3, Alexandria’s underwater archaeological discoveries are set in the context of the Mediterranean seascape. H. Frost stimulates the reader’s imagination with her account of early predecessors to the Pharos lighthouse at Byblos and Ugarit, where stone anchors set at the lighthouse base and fires set on the roof, offered symbolic and material guidance to bring ships to safe anchor. Like Alexandria, other ancient ports have been the object of archaeological investigation. N. Bonacasa reports on findings at the port of Sabratha in Libya, and A. Simossi describes the configuration of the port of Thasos in Greece. D. Kazianis, while providing an inventory of underwater discoveries in Greece, offers insights into the threats posed to underwater cultural heritage by smugglers, fishing and harbour construction, as well as the role of conscientious individuals in reporting underwater discoveries. In a richly-illustrated contribution, E. Felici provides an important inventory of underwater sites along the Italian coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, including detailed analyses of harbour construction techniques.

Special techniques in archaeological research and conservation are presented in Part 4 and Part 5. Remote-sensing is one valuable tool with growing application in archaeological investigation and conservation. F. El-Baz provides an overview of the current state-of-the-art with a focus upon applications in egyptology. H. Carr demonstrates the abilities of side-scan sonar for locating and imaging, with remarkable definition, submerged man-made objects. N. Tongring and N. Driscoll go on to propose how sonar remote-sensing can be applied in Alexandria’s harbours to help resolve some of its persistent archaeological mysteries. But the management of underwater cultural heritage requires not only an appreciation of the diverse nature of underwater sites, and of novel techniques for their discovery and interpretation. The conservation of artefacts found underwater (Part 5) necessitates the development of specialized techniques for ex situ preservation, as described by H. Wellman, and even more challenging procedures for in situ protection against vandals and pirates, as proposed by I. Negueruela. V. Sommella tackles the thorny, but inevitable challenge of managing the complex data sets generated by submarine archaeological research.

As underwater sites occur below the high tide mark, their legal status requires clarification in order to provide a sound basis for their protection from plundering. In Part 6, V. Négri provides the reader with an assessment of conventions and laws in the Mediterranean region, while L. Prott, from UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage Division, examines international instruments that may be effectively brought to bear, in conjunction with national legislation, to protect Alexandria’s offshore heritage.

In Part 7, the reader’s attention is turned to environmental considerations that must figure in an integrated management plan for the coastal heritage sites of Alexandria. The problem of land-based sources of marine pollution and their impact on offshore archaeological sites is described by Y. Halim and F. Abou Shouk, as well as O. Aboul Dahab. A. El-Gindy assesses ocean current patterns in the Eastern Harbour and Qait Bey areas, and their impacts on the circulation of polluted waters. D. Aelbrecht, J.-M. Menon and E. Peltier present the results of a detailed modelling study of wave propagation and sedimentation in the Qait Bey area, under different wind and wave regimes, as well as with different dispositions of a hypothetical sea wall. Finally, A. Fanos and O. Frihy provide a review of coastal processes influencing shoreline change along Alexandria’s shorefront.

The volume closes with the topic of integrated coastal and urban planning in Part 8. I. El-Bastawissi argues the case for establishing a coastal management plan for Alexandria. V. Mastone presents the management policy established for underwater sites in the Boston (USA) area, from which some lessons learned can be applied to the Alexandria case. To conclude, M. Zaharan presents the existing urban Master Plan for Alexandria which grapples with the many challenging problems of population growth, pollution, housing, cultural heritage protection and tourism development.


United by their shared concern for the conservation of the Citadel and Pharos sites, the Workshop participants combined their diverse and distinct sets of knowledge, experience and expertise, and provided the Egyptian Authorities with a comprehensive set of recommendations. Currently being translated into action, these recommendations point the way towards a long-term and integrated solution to Alexandria’s coastal problems.

To initiate and guide this process, several missions of international and national experts have been launched during the period 1997 to 1999. The SCA and UNESCO (in particular its Cairo Office, the Divisions of Cultural Heritage, of Earth Sciences and the Coasts and Small Islands platform) with the support of Électricité de France, jointly organized a mission of international experts from France, Germany and Italy in September 1997, to examine the Qait Bey Citadel site and consult with national experts from the University of Alexandria, the Governorate of Alexandria, the IFAO/CEA and other relevant bodies. The mission identified a course of action whereby measures can be taken to protect the Citadel from erosion, without impinging upon the Pharos underwater site. Actions are now underway to stabilize the Citadel and gradually remove the submerged breakwater that defaces the Pharos site.

In September 1998, a second mission of international experts from Australia and Turkey was sponsored by the SCA and UNESCO. Its mandate focused upon conservation and development options for the underwater archaeological sites of Alexandria. In consultation with relevant national experts and authorities, its was recommended to develop the Qait Bey, and eventually the Eastern Harbour sites as underwater museums and to consider their nomination for World Heritage Status. Water pollution, however, continued to be identified as a major obstacle to the realisation of these goals.

For this reason, UNESCO also drew its International Hydrological Programme (IHP) into the project. Co-operating once more with the SCA, experts missions focusing on the problem of wastewater management were sent to evaluate the situation in Alexandria in December 1998 and January–February 1999. Egyptian and Dutch experts collaborated in the formulation of recommendations that identify steps towards a comprehensive solution to this major problem. Continuing co-operation with The Netherlands has since led to a follow-up mission in November 1999 involving a social scientist and a water engineer, who will bring their findings before an international conference to be held in The Netherlands in February 2000 to strengthen intersectoral approaches to water resources management.

As this book goes to print, progress continues to be made towards a strengthened dialogue amongst decision-makers, stakeholders and experts. While their viewpoints and understandings may differ, they nevertheless converge upon a common integrated solution that will allow the city of Alexandria today to live alongside and in accord with its illustrious past.


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