From Al Ahram Weekly – Original Article
Will Egypt build the first offshore underwater museum? Nevine El-Aref investigates
Setting up an offshore, submarine archaeological site anywhere is not an easy task, let alone in a city with the water pollution problems of Alexandria. Yet the remarkable discoveries made by underwater archaeologists over the last decade justify further serious efforts for what would be Egypt’s first ever offshore underwater museum.
The site and form gives cause for conjecture. Should it be in Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour, the Sisila area, or Abu Qir Bay? What will it look like? Should it resemble the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney or the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology at the spectacular Uluburun Wreck in Turkey, or the Musée de Marine in Paris? All these display a collection of sunken ship wrecks, flora and fauna.
These questions and more were raised at an international workshop held last week in Alexandria to discuss the feasibility of constructing such a museum. On the table were a projected ground plan, an architectural design and a programme to study the environmental conditions of Alexandria’s Mediterranean Sea and its state of marine pollution, the socio- economic problems related to the success of the underwater archaeological museum project and urban impacts. The workshop was held under the umbrella of UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture at the Alexandria Art Creativity Centre, where a multidisciplinary team of 28 international and Egyptian experts were gathered.
On the eve of the workshop participants were taken on a field visit to Alexandria’s underwater archaeological sites, and listened to a presentation by Egyptian authorities on the current situation and recent activities carried out in the Eastern Harbour and around the Qait Bey Fort. This is also one of the suggested locations for the submarine museum.
The workshop was very well organised by the Cultural Development Fund (CDF). The opening session began with a short documentary relating Alexandria’s ancient history from its inception by Alexander the Great up to modern times. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni’s speech, delivered by Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), revealed that the aim of the workshop was not only to study the possibility of building the world’s first ever underwater archaeological museum in Alexandria, but is also to set up international principles as a model or a pilot project for any country which wanted its own submarine museum. Singapore, China and Greece are on top of the list.
For his part, Hawass described the initiative as a “beautiful dream” for Alexandria. He told the assembled experts that he had decided four years before to stop removing all ancient objects from the seabed with the exception of coins, jewellery and small artefacts that were vulnerable to looting.
“Hence, it is about time to think about an underwater museum to make such magnificent monuments accessible and visible to all,” he said.
If it happens, it’d be a incredible show, but I dread to think of the cost, let alone the conservation and engineering headaches a project like this would entail. Also, it opens up some interesting ideas. It states in the article that the larger artefacts wouldn’t be moved form their current location. Since museums function as conservation, archive and study centres for artefacts, this would seem to be taking the traditional idea of a “safehouse” of historical artefacts for future generations in a whole new direction. It raises some interesting questions. I’ll be watching this with quite some interest. Either way, less sewage in the bays of Alex is good news all round, for archaeology, for marine life and city residents alike.