Sunken Cities

Article excerpt

Two programmes that make up a premiere Discovery Channel Expedition Adventure Special show that new scientific discoveries may soon redraw the map of the underwater world

Beneath the Mediterranean's blue waters lie the shattered stones of the ancient metropolis of Alexandria, Egypt. For centuries Alexandria, home to Cleopatra and her Roman husband Mark Antony, was a great city; a centre of trade and learning. Broken columns and toppled gods are eerie evidence of a terrible disaster. But what struck the fatal blow to this ancient city? Was it an earthquake? Tidal wave? Catastrophic flood?

In 1992 marine explorer Franck Goddio obtained permission to map present-day Alexandria's eastern harbour. It was not a pleasant chore -- the city's sewage had long been poured into the murky harbour -- yet his team found several significant statues in water less than three metres deep, proving that the lost city was just waiting to be found.

Ancient Earthquakes, Sunken Cities (to be shown on Sunday 18 February at 21.00) pieces together the clues to this geological mystery. Goddio leads an international team of scientists, historians and divers to Alexandria's Abu Kir bay. The hunt yields surprises for Goddio and his co-detectives, Dr Amos Nur, of Stanford University, and Dr Daniel Stanley, a marine geologist with the Smithsonian Institution. Footage from underwater explorations and trips to the Kom el Dikka archaeological dig in the heart of modern Alexandria reveals how scientists are fleshing out just what happened to the city at the end of the eighth century. Computer animation and graphics reconstruct the former glory of Alexandria, including its lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world, and the shocking impact of earthquakes and tidal waves. Can we learn a lesson from the past, it asks. Could modern day coastal cities be at risk from the same ultimate fate?

In a second expedition, co-sponsored by Discovery Channel and the Hilti Foundation, an underwater exploration team again led by Goddio used advanced scientific methods to locate the remains of Cleopatra's sunken palace as well as the entire submerged Royal Quarters in the harbour of modern Alexandria.

Cleopatra's Palace: In search of a legend (to be shown on Sunday 18 February at 22.00) presents an unprecedented look at both the expedition and this legendary queen. Offering a unique look at the Ptolemaic period (Cleopatra was the last of this Egyptian dynasty, which ruled from 323BC to her death in 30B), the programme includes dramatic underwater footage. …