An Underwater Museum in Egypt

©Jacques Rougerie Architecte. The Great Sphinx, the pyramids at Giza, the temples at Luxor—if you’ve been to Egypt, you’ve probably seen them. Next time, you might try putting the Lighthouse of Pharos on your Egyptian bucket list, and don’t worry that it’s at the bottom of a harbor. A new museum proposed for Egypt’s City of Alexandria aims to bring visitors to sunken treasures not seen by the public in over 1,400 years.

In the works since 1996, the plan to build an underwater museum in the Eastern Harbor area of Alexandria’s Abu Qir Bay has again been revived. Mamdouh al-Damaty, Egypt’s minister of antiquities, announced in September that the country was once again prepared to move forward with the ambitious scheme.

“This area was one of the most important areas in the world for around 1,000 years,” says Mohamed Abd El-Maguid, the head of the department of underwater activities at the Ministry of Antiquities. “In five meters of water, we have these remains of palaces and temples, but nothing people can see with their own eyes. Having a museum like this will attract more tourists that will help the economy move again.”

The idea for an underwater museum first came to the table 20 years ago, when Egyptian officials began studying how to better protect the valuable artifacts in Alexandria from further degradation. At the moment, relics are under threat by pollution in the bay, poaching by divers and damage by fishing boat anchors. A museum would help safeguard the remaining relics not only as a physical structure, but also as a protected area that could be monitored, El-Maguid says.

After 1997, UNESCO got involved, helping to define a potential museum project. In 2006, stakeholders convened at a roundtable workshop to further refine the project’s goals, but everything was put on hold in 2011 after the January 25 Revolution and ensuing political upheaval. Talks resumed in 2013.

El-Maguid had a meeting with al-Damaty this past September during which he says the minister affirmed the commitment to build an underwater museum in Alexandria, and that he anticipates site feasibility studies will start as soon as funding is secured. The Egyptian government, strapped for cash, isn’t expected to contribute any money towards the project, El-Maguid says, but private entities have expressed an interest in possibly helping out, including Chinese corporations. According to a policy report by the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenboch University in South Africa, Hutchison Whampoa and other Chinese companies have already made significant investments in Egypt’s infrastructure and port redevelopment projects.

“The Chinese are coming in force,” El-Maguid says. “But part of the feasibility study would be how to finance the museum.”