Two ancient cities called Canopus and Herakleion, once thrived in the area of the modern‑day Abu Qir Bay (Abukir) to the west of Alexandria. These two cities already existed before the founding of Alexandria in 332 BC by Alexander the Great.
Canopus and Herakleion were extremely prosperous, deriving their wealth from trade and the taxation of goods brought to their ports for transport on the Nile. They were the gateways into ancient Egypt. A dynasty of Macedonians was founded by Ptolemy I Soter (305–285 BC) after the death of Alexander. This line of kings wished to develop Egypt’s new capital. Trade was thus diverted to Alexandria, as well as a lot of wealth taken from the priests and merchants of Canopus and Herakleion. These cities were very significant religious centers as well, and they retained this importance even after Alexandria overtook them as the center for trade.
Canopus and Herakleion were eventually submerged into the Mediterranean. This was the result of a number of factors. The type of soil and its vicinity to the Mediterranean led to subsidence of the land, meaning that the water‑saturated soil began to compact and collapse over time. A series of earthquakes starting Late Antiquity led to even more destruction, and even more land ended up underwater. The effects of the earthquakes were exacerbated by the existing fragility of the soil. The rise in sea level over the course of the past two millennia submerged what remained of the cities.
Thanks to underwater archaeology, Thonis and Herakleion, which were until only recently remembered only through textual sources, have been rediscovered. Much of the layout of these two cities is well known, with more discoveries on the way. Many artefacts and monuments are being brought out from the depths, including colossal statues, steles, and a variety of religious and daily‑life objects, shedding light on the lives that once populated these two great cities.