Alexandria is sinking

Some cities have a great future behind them and are now facing oblivience. Venice is sinking (see here) and so is Alexandria.
Of course, some blame the rising sea levels as a result of global warming, but, just like Venice, most of its peril is man made.

Alexandria dates back to 331 B.C, when Alexander the Great chose to build a city surrounded by two bodies of water: the Mediterranean Sea in the north to make it a trade center, and Lake Mariout to the south, where he directed the Greek architect Dinocrat to design “Alexander’s Harbor.”

But the location was a barren area. So the engineers needed to establish a complex, intelligent system to supply water from the Nile through canals, and then distribute water through a branched pipeline system and store it in underground tanks.

Parts of this old pipeline system still exist but are not functioning, as the new city is built on the top of the many ancient cities that came ahead of it. And this is in itself another cause of subsidence.

Every year the city sinks by more than three millimetres, undermined by dams on the Nile that hold back the river silt that once consolidated its soil, and the problem is exacerbated by gas extraction offshore. Add to that the unchecked building of ever larger (and thus heavier) constructions that force out groundwater.

Even by the United Nations' best case scenario, a third of the city will be underwater or uninhabitable by 2050, with 1.5 million of its six million people forced to flee their homes. Already hundreds of Alexandrians have had to abandon their apartments weakened by flooding in 2015 and again in 2020.

Even without a possible rise in seal levels, a third of the highly productive agricultural land in the Nile Delta could be inundated by salt water.
Across the Delta, the sea has already advanced inland more than three kilometres since the 1960s, swallowing up Rosetta's iconic 19th-century lighthouse in the 1980s.

All this is happening as Alexandria's population is exploding, with nearly two million more people arriving in the last decade, while investment in infrastructure, as elsewhere in Egypt, has lagged. The city's governor, Mohamed al-Sharif, weakly said that the crumbling drainage system for its roads was built to absorb one million cubic metres of rain. But with the more violent storms that have come with climate change, "today we can get 18 million cubic metres falling in a single day".

"Yes, the threat exists and we don't deny it, but we're launching projects to attenuate it," the head of the authority protecting Egypt's coastline Abdel Qader said. A huge belt of reeds is being planted along 69 kilometres of coastline. "Sand sticks around them and together they form a natural barrier," he said.

It all seems a bit too little too late. As the Chinese philosopher and politician Confucius (ca. 551-ca. 479 BC) once said: "A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.”

Remember that the lost tomb of Alexander the Great must be located somewhere in Alexandria, and that the tomb of Cleopatra (and Mark Anthony) is possibly also nearby in Taposiris Magna. They could be lost forever.

The hunt for the tomb of Cleopatra (and Mark Anthony)

Archaeologist Kathleen Martínez (1966) of the University of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and her team are researching a temple complex in the ancient Egyptian city of Taposiris Magna. The ruined city is situated some 50 kilometres southwest of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. In 2022 they uncovered a vast tunnel that experts are referring to as a 'geometric miracle'. The structure runs 13 meters below the ground. The 2-meter tall tunnel had been hewn through an incredible 1,305 meters of sandstone. However, parts of the tunnel are flooded. Its purpose is currently unknown.
Its design, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said, is remarkably similar to the 1,036-meter Tunnel of Eupalinos (Ευπαλίνιον όρυγμα), an aqueduct from 6th century BC on the Greek island of Samos.

Martínez, who has been working in Taposiris Magna since 2004 in search of the lost tomb of Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC), believes that the tunnel could be a promising lead. Previously, the excavations did yield some promising clues, but no definitive proof regarding the whereabouts of Cleopatra's tomb has been found.

The city of Taposiris Magna was founded around 280 BC by Ptolemy II, the son of Alexander the Great's renowned general and one of Cleopatra's forebears. The temple itself, the team believes, was dedicated to the god Osiris and his queen, the goddess Isis, the deity with whom Cleopatra courted a strong association. Coins bearing the names and likenesses of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great have been found there, as well as figurines of Isis.
It is quite possible that Cleopatra and her husband Mark Antony (83-30 BC) may have been interred in one single tomb, because her last wish was that she be buried with Mark Anthony. A wish that was granted by Ceasar. It is also possible that Mark Anthony was cremated, which could mean that Cleopatra can still embrace the urn which contains his ashes.

The next stage will be exploring the nearby Mediterranean. Between 320 and 1303 CE, a series of earthquakes rocked the coast. These caused parts of the temple to collapse and other parts were swallowed by the raging sea. In addition, excavations had previously revealed a network of tunnels stretching from the brackish Lake Mariout to the Mediterranean.

But according to Zahi Hawass (1947), former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, there's "no evidence" that Cleopatra is buried at Taposiris Magna. "I believe now that Cleopatra was buried in her tomb that she built next to her palace and it is (now) under the water," the old man claimed in 2021. "Her tomb will never be found."

Kathleen Martínez respectfully disagrees.

Tunisia: Menzel Bourguiba

Most cities around the Mediterranean will proudly trace their origins back millennia. Several of them were early colonies of the ancient Greeks, while others were founded by Romans. Carthage in Tunisia, for instance, was a settlement that evolved into a city-state and then into an empire. It was founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, flourished and was eventually reduced to rubble by the Romans in 146 BC, who later rebuilt the city.
But not every city can be proud of their ancient heritage. In the very north of Tunisia lies Menzel Bourguiba. It cannot trace its origins back to the remote past.

In 1897 Tunisia was a French protectorate. France, wanting to protect its 'African province', decided to build an arsenal on a strategic and secluded location between lakes Ichkeul and Bizerte. A town, needed for non-military personnel and their families, was built on a nearby site. It was named Ferryville to honour the French minister Jules Ferry (1832-1893), the 'inspiration' of the French protectorate of Tunisia. The French expats found the city so beautiful that they lovingly called it 'Petit Paris' ('Little Paris').

Tunisia finally achieved independence from France in 1956 and one can imagine that a city that bears the name of a French usurper was 'tainted'. For that obvious reason, its name was quickly changed to Menzel Bourguiba, which means 'House of Bourguiba'. It is named in honour of the first president of the independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba (1903-2000).
These days, the arsenal has become a ailing shipyard to repair merchant ships. It saw its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, when Tunisia had a much larger merchant fleet and the (then) Soviet Union used the shipyard to drydock its ships. At that time, the yard employed over 1,300 people.

Now, Menzel Bourguiba is a somewhat sleepy town with more than 54,000 inhabitants. It is surrounded by olive trees and is hemmed in by the turquoise-coloured water of both lakes. Sometimes a city has a great future behind it.

Losing the Sea of Marmara

Can a harbour get lost? Can you misplace an entire sea?

The Sea of Marmara connects the Black Sea to the north with the Mediterranean to the south. It has a two-layer current system made up of these compositionally very different bodies of water, flowing to and fro in opposite directions. As less salty, nutrient-rich Black Sea water flows through the Bosphorus – the channel through Istanbul that separates Europe from Asia - it meets the saline, nutrient deficient Mediterranean water in the Sea of Marmara. According to marine scientists, the coexistence of these waters - two currents stacked on top of each other – creates a unique and nutrient rich environment.
For centuries this unique marine ecosystem has been home to a multitude of species of fish, dolphins, crustaceans, mollusks, and corals. Not anymore.

Since the 1970s, the coasts around the Sea of Marmara has seen rapid industrialization and urbanization which resulted in intense pollution. The Sea of Marmara has been slowly filling up with polluted wastewater. Most recently, in late 2020, wastewater from the nearby Ergene River, one of the world’s most polluted rivers, also started to be discharged into the Sea of Marmara, channelled through a 59 kilometer-long pipe out into the open sea. When the local municipality in the city of Edirne studied the water, they found excessive levels of pollutants, including cyanide, nitrogen, chromium, lead, and copper.

Toxic wastewater from factories along the Sea of Marmara’s coast is also discharged into the sea. In addition to this, waste from large ships, excessive fishing, and extensive land reclamation projects using land fill along its coasts have added to the Sea of Marmara’s burden. As a result, the Sea of Marmara has seen frequent episodes of red tide and enormous blooms in green algae.
In the summer of 2021, an unexpected explosion of mucilage, a thick substance produced by algae that has earned the nickname 'sea snot', led to the death of thousands of sea creatures. Triggered by warming temperatures and excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the sea, the mucilage acted as a blanket on the shores. It prevented oxygen and sunlight from entering the water, clogged the gills of fish, and killed thousands of spawning fish, crabs, and stingrays.

The plan to create a new waterway linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara will further disrupt the delicate ecological balance between them and put Turkey’s freshwater resources at risk.

Levent Artüz, a hydrologist, says that the Sea of Marmara has hit “rock bottom.” He says that the mucilage crisis, caused by the unusually rapid proliferation of microscopic phytoplankton, is just another symptom of an ecosystem that is currently wildly imbalanced. Artüz makes the dramatic claim that the Sea of Marmara has already died, and now exists as a lifeless body of water.

The fall of Constantinople in AD 1453

Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and subsequent Byzantine Empire, founded in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine the Great at the existing Greek city of Byzantion (more commonly known by the later Latin Byzantium). Constantine named the city Nova Roma, meaning ‘New Rome’, later emerging as the sole capital of the Roman Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476.
The city was protected by a vast system of defensive land walls, especially by the famous double line of the Theodosian Walls, built form the 5th century AD onwards, which defended the city successfully from several lengthy sieges.

With the advent of the Ottoman Empire in 1299, the Byzantine Empire began to crumble. Constantinople was already in decline, mostly the result of the Justinianic plague (541–549 AD) which killed almost half the population and the sacking by Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204).

By 1450, Byzantine territory had shrunk to just a few miles outside of the city gates, leaving the once powerful Empire that dominated the Mediterranean a mere city state.

When Mehmed II succeeded Sultan Murad II in 1451, he devoted himself to strengthening Ottoman forces in preparation for attacking Constantinople. The siege of Constantinople began in on April 6th, 1453. Byzantine forces defending the city totalled around 7,000 men who stood against a force of between 50,000–80,000 Ottoman soldiers.

Attempts to attack the city from the sea were thwarted by a giant chain that blocked the entrance to the Golden Horn. Mehmed ordered the construction of a road of greased logs and circumvented the chain by dragging his ships overland, forcing the Byzantines to reduce their garrisons on the land wall to protect the city sea walls.
Multiple land assaults against the Theodosian Walls were repelled with large Ottoman losses, resulting in Mehmed to offer lifting the siege if the Byzantines surrendered the city. Mehmed promised he would allow the emperor and the city inhabitants to leave with their possessions, moreover, he would recognise the emperor as governor of the Peloponnese.

Constantine responded by saying: “As to surrendering the city to you, it is not for me to decide or for anyone else of its citizens; for all of us have reached the mutual decision to die of our own free will, without any regard for our lives.”

The final assault began on May 26th, 1453 with successive waves of soldiers that overwhelmed the defenders at several points along the city walls.

The loss of Constantinople was seen as a crippling blow to Christendom, exposing the West to a foe that could match the armies of Europe and lead to centuries of conflict. Many Greeks fled the city and found refuge in the Latin West, bringing with them knowledge and documents from the Greco-Roman tradition to Italy and other regions that helped to propel the Renaissance.

Mehmed declared himself Kayser-i Rum, literally “Caesar of Rome”, that is, of the Roman Empire, though he was remembered as “the Conqueror”. He founded a political system that survived until 1922 with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Constantinople was again renamed to Istanbul in 1930.

Beer in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greeks mostly drank wine, but they may also have brewed beer, according to a study that describes the discovery of two (probable) Bronze Age breweries. The discoveries may be the oldest beer-making facilities in Greece.
'Textual evidence from historic periods in Greece clearly shows that beer was considered an alcoholic drink of foreign people, and barley wine a drink consumed by the Egyptians, Thracians, Phrygians, and Armenians, in most cases drunk with the aid of a straw,' Soultana Maria Valamoti wrote in her study[1].

This suggests that prehistoric Greeks were probably using alcoholic drinks for feasts during the entire year, instead of just on a seasonal basis when grapes were ripe.

Archaeologists found the remains of several buildings that may have been used for beer making: some at Archondiko in northern Greece, and another at Agrissa, a site south of Archondiko on the eastern side of Greece. Both sites had been destroyed by fire, which turned them into veritable time capsules, Valamoti said. After the fire, the prehistoric people appear to have moved out, leaving countless burned artifacts behind, including the remains of sprouted cereal grains.

At Archondiko, archaeologists found about 100 individual sprouted cereal grains that could be dated to the early Bronze Age (circa 2100 to 2000 BC). At Agrissa, they found about 3,500 sprouted cereal grains dating to the middle Bronze Age (circa 2100 to 1700 BC).
The discovery of sprouted cereal grains is significant. To brew beer, a brewer needs to sprout cereals (a process known as malting), which turns the grain's starch into sugars. This sprouting process is then interrupted by roasting the grain. Next, the grains are coarsely ground and mixed with lukewarm water to make wort, which helps convert the remaining starches into sugars. Finally, the sugars in the malt are used by yeast and turned into alcohol. This yeast is potentially present in the air around the brewery, introduced by adding grapes into the liquid, or from other sources, like dates.

In addition, archaeologists found a two-chambered structure at Archondiko that 'seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the rear chamber, possibly even below 100oC,' Valamoti wrote. Given that a temperature of 70oC is ideal for preparing the mash and wort, it is certainly possible that Ancient Greekse used this structure during the beer-making process, she said.

There were even a number special cups found near the sprouted grains, suggesting they may have been used to serve beer. However, some of these cups were difficult to drink from, so it's possible that people there sipped beer through straws, Valamoti said.

[1] Soultana Maria Valamoti: Brewing beer in wine country? First archaeobotanical indications for beer making in Early and Middle Bronze Age Greece in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany – 2017

Ancient Greek docters prescribed the Mediterranean diet

The Greek physician Hippocrates (~460-370 BC) reputed said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." However history cannot attribute that quote to him[1].

Experts at the University of Exeter studied texts of ancient Greek doctors and found that they believed rich flavours could improve the food’s nutritional potency, while one of them, Galen of Pergamon (129-~216AD ), prescribed food recipes containing garlic and onions to his patients[2]. Galen saw nutrition as an essential part of the medical art, along with pharmacology and surgery.”
As Professor John Wilkins explained, "The ancient diet resembled the modern Mediterranean diet but obviously (still) without oranges and lemons from China and tomatoes from South America. The diet is largely based on regional plants, which the doctors generally preferred over imported luxuries."

Galen’s writings included recipes for pancakes and put under discussion the types of bread and cakes that should be eaten. The physician also warned of the dangers of milk, which, according to him, contains whey and solids that may block the narrow channels in the liver in susceptible individuals. This suggests he already understood the effects of lactose intolerance. His recipes included simple cooking techniques, designed to bring out the flavour of basic ingredients and he even wrote about how snails should be boiled twice to reduce their laxative properties. Galen even recommended spices such as pepper, ginger and cinnamon to his patients, while other doctors recommended fruits and vegetables.

Although each country around the Mediterranean presents its own food choices and traditions, recipes from each culture present a substantial overlap, therefore distinctive cuisines share nutritional attributes and ingredients.

[1] Diana Cardenas: Let not thy food be confused with thy medicine: The Hippocratic misquotation in e-SPEN Journal - 2013. See here.
[2] John Wilkins: Good food and bad: Nutritional and pleasurable eating in ancient Greece in Journal of Ethnopharmacology - 2015