THE UNDERWATER SITE OF QAITBAY – Initial conclusions
A monumental doorway
|Above: Middle fragment
of the lintel of the monumental doorway.
Right: One of the two uprights of the monumental doorway. (1)
Photos André Pelle & M-D. Nenna - © CEAlex – all rights reserved
If the stated aim of the study of
this site is to explore a now disappeared space, of which the dismantled
monuments are the fossils, one must understand why we are underwater
in the first place. In effect, if we accept the idea that the sunken
blocks were once parts of prestigious monuments, then what are they
doing underwater? History and geomorphology can reply to that question.
The site, as well as a large part of the Alexandrian coastline, are
now underwater due to subsidence which most probably occurred at two
moments: after the tsunami of 21 July, 365AD, to which several ancient
texts refer, and around the 8th century, according to the conclusions
of a recent geomorphologic study. This sinking of the littoral beneath
the Mediterranean took much of the ancient city with it.
|But what is there to prove that our fragments are in place? This question meant checking the competence of our tools. Thanks to the Geographic Information System (GIS), the virtual maps have clearly shown how the pieces might join together, tracing out their fall pattern. This information coupled with a study of the seabed relief, allows for the proposed simulation of the mechanics of the doorway’s collapse. It fell in situ from its original situation near the two lower fragments of the western upright and middle fragment of the lintel.|
From cartography to analysis
Part of the map of the underwater site : north-western zone
|1 - Topography and descriptive inventory
of the ancient blocks.
|2 - Topography of the seabed relief.|
|3 - Analysis of the seabed: to the west, a horizontal rocky plateau rising to 5 metres beneath sea level is separated by a deep fracture (north-west/south-east) from a second plateau that slopes gently downwards towards the north-east to a depth of 8 metres; to the south-east this latter has split into slabs that have slid down the slope.|
|4 - Analysis of the blocks: identification of seven fragments of a monumental doorway in red Aswan granite lying on both sides of the fracture.||5 - Analysis of the matches between blocks: putting together the elements of the two jambs and of the lintel, and then reconstituting the doorway from these pieces shows the line of collapse of the construction.|
|6 -The line of collapse indicates the orientation of the doorway, which leads to an initial hypothesis as to the emplacement of the Pharos.|
Maps I. Hairy - © CEAlex – all rights reserved
|Simulation of the collapse of the Pharos doorway|
Drawings I. Hairy - © CEAlex – all rights reserved
|The question as to what type of construction this door
belonged is partly answered by its relative thinness, which would exclude
the possibility of it being part of a defensive wall, something that might
have been envisaged given the height. But then we come back to whether
it was the doorway of the Pharos itself. A look at ancient texts can give
an initial historical proof. The accounts of two medieval authors who
both saw and described the Pharos, the Andalusian Arab Haggag Yussef Hamid
al-Balawi al-Andalousi (1166) and the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battouta
(1349), allow for the calculation of two measurements: the length of one
side of the square ground plan of the first level and that of the thickness
of this wall. This latter calculation corresponds perfectly to the thickness
of our doorway.
In this way we can establish a connection between history and archaeology and this entranceway becomes the first known fossil of the ancient lighthouse. Standing on the scale of the Pharos, is it holding any further messages?
(1) The two fragments of the upright were lifted from the water in 1995. Placed upon the jetty by the Mameluke fort, they were not able to join the other lifted pieces in the open-air museum at Kom el Dikka because of their great size and weight.
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