There is a thin line which divides mythology from reality. In fact, we have learned this in the past and proof of that are archaeologists who firmly believed that ancient cities like Ur or Troy were only a legend, until the cities were actually found. The city of Heracleion—not to be confused with the city of Heraklion which is the largest city and the administrative capital of the island of Crete—is another ancient city shrouded in myth. Thought to be a mythical city for hundreds of years, Heracleion was swallowed by the Mediterranean Sea, buried by sand and mud for a period of over 1,2000 years.
Unlike Babylon, Pompeii or the legendary lost empire of Atlantis, few people today have heard of Thonis-Heracleion.
The ancient city of Heracleion was known to many ancient Greek philosophers, among them Herodotus, who referred to this ancient city in numerous of his writings, although the existence of this city wasn’t proven until the nineteenth century.
Also known as Thonis, the city belonged to the Ancient Egyptian civilization and its importance grew particularly during the waning days of the Pharaohs. In the Late Period, it was Egypt’s main port for international trade and collection of taxes.
The ancient city was founded nearly 3,000 years ago, on the site of present-day Abu Qir bay, 15 miles north-east of Alexandria. Today it remains submerged under 150 feet of water, in what is now the Bay of Aboukir.
Its beauty, unmatched for centuries is only part of the incredible story that encompasses this ancient city. For centuries it was thought to be a legend just like Atlantis, it was a city of extraordinary wealth mentioned by Herodotus, and even visited by Helen of Troy and Paris, her lover.
So far, experts have recovered Giant 16 foot statues and found hundreds of smaller statues of minor god spread across the sea floor. Dozens of small limestone sarcophagi were also recently uncovered by divers and are believed to have once contained mummified animals, put there to appease the gods.
The city had a large temple of Khonsou, son of Amun, who was known to the Greeks as Herakles.
One of the most noteworthy artifacts recovered from the sunken city was a magnificent black stele that stands two meters high and is carved with perfectly preserved hieroglyphics from the early fourth century BC The stele reveals some of the intricacies of contemporary taxation in Egypt: “His Majesty [Pharaoh Nectanebo I] decreed: Let there be given one-tenth of the gold, of the silver, of the timber, of the processed wood and of all things coming from the sea of the Hau-Nebut [the Mediterranean] … to become divine offerings to my mother Neith,” reads its edict.
The discovery of the stele was of great importance for archaeologists as it helped solve a great mystery: by comparing it to other inscribed monuments, experts were able to determine that Thonis and Heracleion were not, as previously believed, two different towns, but rather one single city known by both its Egyptian and Greek name respectively.