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Raising Alexandria

By Andrew Lawler

More than 2,000 years after Alexander the Great founded the city, archaeologists are discovering its fabled remains, from the likely site of Cleopatra’s palace to pieces of an astonishing lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. There’s no sign of the grand marbled metropolis founded by Alexander the Great on the busy streets of this congested Egyptian city of five million, where honking cars spouting exhaust whiz by shabby concrete buildings. But climb down a rickety ladder a few blocks from Alexandria’s harbor, and the legendary city suddenly swims into view.

Down here, standing on wooden planks stretching across a vast underground chamber, the French archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur points out Corinthian capitals, Egyptian lotus-shaped columns and solid Roman bases holding up elegant stone arches. He picks his way across the planks in this ancient cistern, which is three stories deep and so elaborately constructed that it seems more like a cathedral than a water supply system. The cistern was built more than a thousand years ago with pieces of already-ancient temples and churches. Beneath him, one French and one Egyptian worker are examining the stonework with flashlights. Water drips, echoing. “We supposed old Alexandria was destroyed,” Empereur says, his voice bouncing off the damp smooth walls, “only to realize that when you walk on the sidewalks, it is just below your feet.”

Read the original article at: Smithsonian Magazine

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