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Mysteries Beneath the Sea

In a recent movie, a submarine crew discovers the famous mythical city of Atlantis hidden beneath the ocean. This is just the latest example of Atlantis's attraction. Atlantis is a legendary island kingdom that may have been destroyed by an earthquake many centuries ago. People have been telling stories about this lost civilization for over 2,000 years.

There is no evidence that Atlantis actually existed, but there really are cities that disappeared in ancient disasters. Scientists have found several of them. Some of these lost cities are located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The sea hid the ruins for centuries before archaeologists began uncovering them. Archaeologists are scientists who study the remains of past civilizations. Their findings help us understand ancient cultures.

Herakleion Surfaces

Perhaps the most exciting discovery is that of Herakleion (her-AK-lee-on), an ancient Egyptian city.

Once a busy seaport, Herakleion fell off the map about 1,200 years ago. A powerful earthquake and tidal wave destroyed the city. For centuries, Herakleion's ancient temples sat hidden beneath the waves of the Mediterranean near the mouth of the Nile River.

In the year 2000, explorers found the city under 30 feet of water. “We found an intact city frozen in time,” said Franck Goddio, head of the recovery team. “Herakleion was completely forgotten.” Divers found ancient houses, streets, and temples.

Scientists began to raise objects from the ruins of the city. Their most impressive discoveries included 20-foot-tall pink granite statues of a pharaoh, a queen, and Hapi, the Nile god of flooding. Scientists also found a 10-ton black stone inscribed with the Egyptian name for Herakleion, “Rahinet.”

In addition to statues and stone tablets, marine archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the Great Temple of Heracles. Heracles was a hero of Greek mythology.

“We hope this will lead to many more interesting discoveries,” Goddio said.

Cleopatra's Palace

Several years before his team uncovered Herakleion, Goddio made another fascinating underwater find: the Royal Quarter of Alexandria.

More than 1,600 years ago, an earthquake shook Alexandria, the most important city in ancient Egypt. The portion of the city known as the Royal Quarter crumbled into Alexandria's harbor.

Today, scuba divers can explore the palaces, statues, shipwrecks, and other ruins of the Royal Quarter. This section of the city was Egypt's cultural center when Cleopatra ruled.

Cleopatra was Egypt's last pharaoh. She became Queen of the Nile at age 18 and ruled with her brothers from 51 to 30 B.C.E. Her palace was built on an island in Alexandria's harbor.

The Egyptian government has allowed the removal of some of the Royal Quarter's statues for a short time. Researchers will make plastic molds of the statues for study. Then, to preserve the statues, scientists will return them to the depths of the harbor.

Water World

Explorers have recently made other important underwater discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea. Off the coast of Lebanon, divers have photographed at least two submerged cities.

One site may be the city of Yarmuta, which disappeared about 3,300 years ago. The other buried city might be Sidoon, an island city. Archaeologists say they need more proof before identifying the ruins.

It is doubtful, though, that either one is Atlantis. That civilization remains a myth—for now.