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Walking Under the Bay

April 22nd, 2011

Walking Under the Bay

Chelsea Hauck

The UNESCO supported proposal to build an underwater museum in the East Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt will provide an exciting new way to experience the past.  This museum will offer exhibits both on land and underwater with the hope of allowing museum goers to feel the excitement archaeologists have upon discovering a treasure trove of artifacts.  The museum designers plan on building long fiberglass tubes that will serve as a walkway by the myriad of artifacts from the legendary sites such as the Pharos Lighthouse, Cleopatra’s Palace and a few ship wrecks in the bustling Great Harbor.  This design also complies with the UNESCO 2001 Convention on Preserving Cultural Heritage, which specifies that sunken artifacts should remain on the sea floor for contextual value and possible conservation properties the water offers the objects.

Within the safety of the harbor lies a diverse range of artifacts, each containing important historical and contextual information; each worthy of inclusion in the examination of the artifacts that need to be protected.    There is an assortment of 2,500 stone artifacts, ranging from large statuary and monuments to supporting structures, dispersed throughout the Pharos archaeological sites alone.  Twenty-eight sphinxes have been found in this part of the harbor, ranging in dates from the nineteenth through sixth century B.C.  Each sphinx bears the insignia of a Pharaoh from that time period.  There are also four obelisks and fragments of five colossal stone statues.  Many of these monumental artifacts are made out of more prestigious stones such as granite and marble.  Further, there are hundreds of columns, the majority of which are pink granite from Aswan or marble that would have been part of the Pharos Lighthouse.  These artifacts are the types of artifacts that would be prominently put on display both above and below the water in the proposed museum. 

The water in the Alexandria Harbor is full of pollutants that are often stirred up in violent storms that plague the area.  Both pollution and wave action have been very detrimental to the artifacts on the seabed.  There have been a number of suggestions as to the best ways of protecting the artifacts, including placing the artifacts in large self contained boxes that would provide a stable environment and protection to the artifacts.  To create and maintain a system such as this would be almost impossible.  Each artifact would have to go through a slow process of desalination then kept in an environmentally controlled box, which would have to have the water changed periodically to maintain low levels of salinity and pollution.  A better option, in my opinion, would be to systematically clean the water in the harbor, by removing the sewage output vents, this process would create a clean and stable environment that the artifacts could stay in and would be much more cost effective over the long term.  For protection against sand erosion from storms, the artifacts could have protective cases put over them, but these would have some circulation holes so they are open to the environment.  This would create a sustainable and stable environment for the artifacts and museum goers alike. 

General Conservation

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