Published: March 30th 2011October 22nd 2007
All around me I saw the same, featureless, chalky blue void. If it weren’t for the bubbles coming out of my regulator and rising toward the faint silhouette of the boat above me I couldn’t have even told you which way was up. I sank deeper into the gloom with each passing second. As I went, I carefully equalized the pressure in my ears as I scanned the slightly darker blue below me. My depth gauge read just over 10 meters, so I knew that the bottom was getting close. A few seconds later several shadows materialized out of the void below me, slowly taking on the jumbled shape of a boulder field. One of the objects on the bottom stood out from the rest. Its surface was hidden beneath thousands of years worth of crust and barnacles, but it was still easy to make out its graceful curves and narrow, open mouth. Under different circumstances I would have bellowed a joyous victory cry, but, in the interest of conserving my air, I decided to skip vocalizing my excitement and I just enjoyed the moment. It was a moment that had been long in the making, a childhood dream right up
A Movie Star in Alexandria?
Apparently my long hair confused people into thinking I was Kurt Russell - A few people actually called me Kurt Russell while I was in Alexandria.
there with stepping foot on the Antarctic continent, or seeing the great pyramids, and finally it was being fulfilled. I drifted closer to the object and I reached out with my hands and I cautiously touched the handles on either side of its mouth – It was the real thing! I drifted back a few feet and just took in the marvelous scene. Scattered around the boulders all around me were several more lovely examples of amphorae, the transport container of choice throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. How the amphorae ended up on the bottom of the sea just outside of Alexandria’s harbor was not clear, but, according to our dive-master, the shipwreck was of Greek origin and had been there for more than 2000 years.
We spent the next forty minutes or so gliding over the bottom of the sea admiring several amphorae of different sizes and shapes. Many of the ancient vessels were broken and their pieces were strewn about the boulder field. Others were intact and laying on their sides, or standing upright. The original contents of the amphorae had been replaced with seawater long ago, but some of them still had the small, round tags
Diving on an Ancient Shipwreck
This wreck was located just outside of Alexandria's harbor. It was of Greek origin.
that hinted at what they originally contained. Our dive-master prompted us to follow him over to a wide, sandy patch of seafloor. There we found a massive anchor, possibly ten feet long, with a giant iron ring at one end. I swam along the anchor taking in its graceful lines and its remarkable state of preservation. It was clearly not a part of the ancient shipwreck, but it still had an interesting history, being that it had come off of one of Napoleon’s ships at the end of the eighteenth century. We spent the next few minutes searching the rubble for more signs of the ancient wreck, but we eventually reached the end of our dive and we slowly followed our bubbles toward the surface. We paused our ascent a few meters below the waves for a safety stop. While I waited for my body to purge some of the built up nitrogen from my veins I relived each exciting moment of the dive. I had wanted to dive on an ancient, amphorae-laden shipwreck since I was a young kid and the experience was everything I had hoped it would be. Despite the excitement of the shipwreck, I couldn’t help
but look forward to what was to come during the day’s second dive. It was the main event, the reason I had come to Alexandria, the culmination of yet another childhood dream and the end of a quest that I had begun only a few months before, yet I had no idea what to expect beneath the shimmering sea. We popped up above the waves and congregated around the boat’s swim step. When my turn came, I passed my fins, mask, tank and BCD up to a man on deck and then I climbed up the ladder myself – What a great dive it had been!
We took our time getting ready for the next dive. As we moved the boat our dive-master explained the conditions we could expect during the next dive. He told us that it was a rare day when there were more than a few feet of visibility and that due to the shallow depth of the site we would be subjected to the action of the waves, which could be strong. He then told us a bit about the importance of the site and how it had come to rest on the sea floor
during a massive earthquake six hundred years before. When he finished his description of the dive he ushered us out onto the deck where we took in the impressive view of the huge stone fort that loomed above us. The dive-master smiled and told us that the waves were small and that we should have a good dive. We went to work getting our gear ready and then we walked to the swim step. Under the watchful gaze of the fishermen on the seawall protecting the fort, we jumped into the water one by one. At the dive-master’s signal, we descended as a group into the murky, green depths in the shadow of the fort.
As a kid I had the privilege of exploring the submerged ruins of Atlantis with Capitan Nemo and his men. Later, I swam through beautiful, shark-infested ruins with James Bond and Melina in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Those wonderful stories, coupled with unbelievable true accounts of underwater exploration from the pages of National Geographic, fueled a strong desire in me to swim through and explore submerged ruins. There are only a few places in the world where submerged ruins can be found and most
of those are reserved exclusively for men and women with a piece of paper that says they are ‘experts’. I managed to kayak over one of those ruins in Turkey, but that was the closest I had come to fulfilling my dream. As I descended into the murky shallows just off the shore of Pharos Island, I thought about what an amazing opportunity I had found in Alexandria. Not only did I get to dive on an ancient shipwreck, but also I was descending toward the submerged ruins of one of the most famous structures of the ancient world. It was a structure that had guided countless mariners into the safety of the harbor of the ancient world’s largest city. It stood on Pharos Island for thousands of years until that sad day in the fifteenth century when the earth shook and its giant stones toppled into the sea. I reached the bottom, 5 meters down, at the foot of a massive, rectangular block of red granite. I had about three meters of visibility (the guide later said that he had not seen such good conditions there), but it was enough to see magnificent remains of the Pharos Lighthouse, one
of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’, stretch out into the mysterious gloom in front of me.
We spent about an hour exploring the huge rubble field from the ancient lighthouse. There were huge granite columns and beautifully carved column bases strewn about in a haphazard manner. We also found two headless sphinxes sitting upright – I later learned that there used to be a few that had heads, but that they were brought up and placed in the museum in town. The stars of the show for me were the gigantic, rectangular blocks of granite. Each one was the size of a car and was perfectly carved. Some of the blocks had grooves cut into them and others had faint hieroglyphics still visible in their surfaces. I had read that some experts didn’t believe that the ruins were from the lighthouse, thinking that it was some giant ‘dump’, but there was no question in my mind. The orderly nature of the giant blocks looked more like a tall structure had toppled into the sea to me.
I was amazed by the total lack of life around the ruins, but I did manage to find a few
small fish. Just before we ascended back to the surface our dive-master pointed into a small hole in one of the blocks and made a sign depicting an octopus. I looked down in the hole and saw a giant eye staring back at me – I couldn’t believe that such a large octopus could fit in such a small hole!
I took one last look around me at the ruins of the Pharos Lighthouse. My mind drifted back to the first of the seven wonders I had seen, which I found on a dusty side street in Bodrum, Turkey. There the foundations of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and several lovely marble carvings from its flanks hinted at the grandeur of the ancient structure. From there I went to the island of Rhodes, in Greece, where the long-lost Colossus once stood victoriously over the harbor. My quest then led me back to Turkey where a lone column from the massive Temple of Artemis stood erect as a haunting reminder of the abilities of the ancient engineers and architects. At the ancient city of Olympia, in Greece, I found the Temple of Zeus where the magnificent chrysanthemum statue of Zeus once
towered over his mortal worshipers. I then left the ancient monuments of Greece behind me as my quest led me across the Mediterranean to North Africa and the mighty Nile Valley. There I was greeted with a view that couldn’t have been much different from the view that Antipater of Sidon and Herodotus saw thousands of years before. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was the oldest structure on the list of ancient wonders and was the only one of the seven still standing. As I kicked my feet and rose back to the surface above where the sixth of the seven wonders rested on the sea floor I felt an odd longing to continue my quest, but I pushed the though out of my mind – The Hanging Gardens of Babylon will have to wait for a more peaceful time.
I shared a victory meal of local fish with my fellow under-sea explorers back at the dive shop and then I turned my sights to modern Alexandria. I walked down the lovely seaside promenade taking in the kaleidoscope of color from the boats in the busy harbor. A young man came up to me and started up a conversation.
The Sixth of Seven Wonders
Swimming over the Pharos Lighthouse was the culmination of my quest to see six of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
He was from Syria and was attending a university in town. He was excited about practicing his English, which was quite good, so we walked for most of the length of the waterfront as we talked about America and the Middle East and the grand city of Alexandria. As we walked he introduced me to several of his friends who were also hanging out on the promenade – It was a fun walk. Just before we parted ways he turned to me and said, “Are you a movie star?” I was shocked, but I smiled and told him that I wasn’t – He smiled a smile that seemed to say, “I don’t believe you”, and then he enthusiastically shook my hand and we went our own ways.
I headed back to my room in the Hotel Union. The hotel was located in one of the grand old buildings that lined Al Corniche, the seaside thoroughfare that ran the full length of the harbor. I climbed up to the fifth-floor lobby and I grabbed a cup of tea and took a seat at a table beside one of the open windows that looked out over the water. I sat there
for more than an hour soaking up the sea breeze and listening to the hectic noises flowing up from the busy street below and writing of the day’s adventures in my journal. When my journal was up to date, I pulled myself away from the refreshing breeze and headed back to my room to get cleaned up for dinner. I opened the doors that led out to my personal balcony and I let my room fill with the cool sea breeze flowing down the side street that my balcony overlooked. I stood there for a few minutes and listened to the hustle and bustle from the street below while I took in my narrow view of the sea. A comparable room in a seaside hotel in America or Europe would have cost me more per night than a week stay in Alexandria – I was at least getting a glimpse into the life of a movie star!
I ate dinner at a festive local restaurant where I gorged myself on kofta and fuul and then I grabbed a cup of tea in one of the teashops. There I had a long conversation with a man from America who lived
in the Siwa Oasis and had once owned a ranch in Columbia. After several cups of tea and some wild stories from the life of an Ex-pat I headed back to my hotel with several pointers on what to see and do in Alexandria. I opened the door to my balcony, leaned back in a chair and turned my thoughts to the grand adventures to come in the city Alexander built by the sea…
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