map of Alexandria harbour, showing Antirhodos Island, where
Cleopatra's Temple was located before 365AD.
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332
BC, he founded Alexandria.
For nearly a millennium, Alexandria was the Mediterranean’s bustling
port, with Antirhodos Island inside the harbour. Then Alexandria
was washed into the Mediterranean Sea in AD 365.
Cleopatra may not have been interned in the Temple
Palace, but the port of Thonis-Heracleion was also sunk
by the same tsunami, along with other close by settlements.
Antirhodos (sometimes Antirrhodos or Anti Rhodes) was in the eastern harbor of
Alexandria, Egypt, on which a
Ptolemaic Egyptian palace was sited. The island was occupied until the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla and it probably sank in the 4th century, when it succumbed to earthquakes and a tsunami following an earthquake in the eastern Mediterranean near Crete in the year 365. The site now lies underwater, near the seafront of modern Alexandria, at a depth of approximately five metres (16 ft).
Descriptions of the island were recorded in classical antiquity by Greek geographers and historians. Strabo described a royal house on Antirhodos in 27 BC and wrote that the island's name ("counter-Rhodes") derived from the island's rivalry with the island of Rhodes. Antirhodos was part of Alexandria's ancient royal port called the Portus Magnus, which also included parts of the Lochias peninsula in the East and the island of Pharos in the West. The Portus Magnus was abandoned and left as an open bay after an earthquake in the 8th century.
In 1996, underwater archaeology in the harbour of Alexandria conducted by
Franck Goddio located the island and found that it was on the opposite side of the harbour from where it was placed by Strabo. The excavations showed that the island had been occupied from before the founding of Alexandria and that it was totally levelled and prepared for construction around 250BC.
The island was small (about 500 hectares or 1,200 acres) and fully paved, with three branches leading in different directions. The main branch was 300 metres (1,000 ft) long and had an esplanade facing the site of the
Caesarium temple on the mainland seafront.
On the esplanade Goddio uncovered the remains of a relatively modest (90 metres by 30 metres) marble-floored 3rd century BC palace, believed to have been
Cleopatra's royal quarters. On another narrow branch of the island there was a small Temple of Isis which had at its entrance a life-size granite statue representing a shaven-headed Egyptian priest of the goddess Isis carrying a jar topped with an image of
Osiris. A pair of granite sphinxes flanked the statue, one of which had the head of Cleopatra's father.
Between the branches on the eastern side of the island there was a small port with docks. Here there was a series of 60 columns, each 1 metre in diameter and 7 metres in length, made of red Egyptian granite and topped with a decorated crown. Ancient paintings indicate that the columns acted as the ceremonial gateway to the island. The wreck of a 30-metre long 1st century BC or 1st century AD Roman ship has been identified in the vicinity of the port. Evidence from a hole in the ship's hull suggests that it could have sunk after being rammed by another boat.
The site of Mark
Antony's uncompleted palace, the Timonium, has also been located on the island. Other finds include a colossal stone head thought to be of Cleopatra's son Caesarion, and a huge quartzite block with an engraving of a pharaoh and an inscription indicating that it depicts Seti I, father of Ramses II. Some of the pharaonic objects on the site had been brought from Heliopolis by the
Ptolemaic rulers and re-used to construct their buildings. The remains on the island do not seem to date from later than the Ptolemaic period, suggesting the palace may have been abandoned soon after Cleopatra's death and the absorption of Egypt into the Roman Republic.
abandonment also suggests that Cleopatra was not entombed in
the palace, but elsewhere.
The search for
Cleopatra's elusive tomb, has been at various locations
along the Egyptian coast, including Taposiris Magna.
Perhaps most significant, he has found that much of ancient Alexandria sank beneath the waves and remains remarkably intact. Using sophisticated sonar instruments and global positioning equipment, and working with scuba divers, Goddio has discerned the outline of the old port’s shoreline.
On August 21, in A.D. 365, the sea suddenly drained out of the harbor, ships keeled over, fish flopped in the sand. Townspeople wandered into the weirdly emptied space. Then, a massive
tsunami surged into the city, flinging water and ships over the tops of Alexandria’s houses, according to a contemporaneous description by Ammianus Marcellinus based on eyewitness accounts. That disaster, which may have killed 50,000 people in Alexandria alone, ushered in a two-century period of seismic activity and rising sea levels that radically altered the Egyptian coastline.
Mediterranean Sea is awash with sunken treasures. When Alexander
the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, his companion, Ptolemy I, laid claim to Egypt as his domain. He founded a dynasty that was to rule for three hundred years from Alexandria. Ptolemy II made Alexandria
the center of culture and founded the Alexandria Library and
Museo, the first research center and “think tank.” The Pharos Lighthouse was built, and it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its beam of light could be seen for thirty miles.