Visitors to Alexandria, Egypt, might eventually view the remnants of Cleopatra’s palace and ancient Alexandria at what will be the world's first underwater museum. In early September, Egypt began collaboration with UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, to determine the feasibility of the project. "The wealth of this area is quite impressive," Naguib Amin, the site-management expert from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told National Geographic. "Sort of the whole ancient city of Alexandria is lying under the water, just metres away from the shore."
The museum hopes to display the royal quarters of the Ptolemaic dynasty complete with temples, palaces and streets. The remains of Cleopatra's Palace are among the site’s treasures, where the legendary queen of Egypt once lived with her lover, Marc Antony, before taking her own life.
Ancient Alexandria and its monuments were hidden on the seabed of Alexandria's Eastern Harbour after a series of earthquakes submerged the city around the fourth century A.D.
n 1996 a joint mission by the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) uncovered the city’s remains. Teams of archeologists discovered 26 sphinxes, statues bearing gifts to the gods, blocks weighing up to 56 tons, and Roman and Greek shipwrecks. Divers also located the island of Antirhodos, the site of one of Cleopatra's palaces, and the peninsula where Mark Antony built the Timonium. The remains of the Poseidon sanctuary were also located on the former island, partially surrounded by the royal harbour of Cape Lochias, one of the largest known human-made bays.
The proposed museum would include some of the 2,000 pieces believed to be part of the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world and another ruin off Alexandria’s coast.
"When you go to an archaeological site, you have an irreplaceable emotion. It's not like going to see a movie," Paris-based Jacques Rougerie, the project’s lead architect, explained to National Geographic citing the benefits of the proposed museum. "It's like the astronaut who cannot share with other people what it is like to be in space."
The museum, as currently envisioned, would span three floors. The first floor, an onshore building, hopes to exhibit previously submerged objects from throughout Alexandria and the surrounding area, not only the Eastern Harbour.
The museum’s second floor would contain important items from the sea, installed in their original environment and exhibited in aquariums.
The third level of the proposal, the underwater portion of the museum, would include a Plexiglas tunnel providing a unique window on the sunken ruins of the ancient capital.
If proven successful, this tunnel would extend further into the sea to reach a larger underwater building. Rougerie’s design envisions a construction with four tall glass structures reaching above the water’s surface shaped like the sails of fellucas, the sailboats that have journeyed the Nile since ancient times.
"It will not simply be a museum as such. It is part of a whole vision to revitalize the whole city and its heritage," Amin said.