The massive monuments of Giza and the glorious temples of Thebes bear witness to the greatness of the African cities that built them. But other ancient places in Africa rivaled their greatness, yet traces of these magnificent urban centers have been harder to find. These once-thriving cities, located in present-day Egypt, Sudan, and Mali, slipped into obscurity, their splendor remaining lost to history until modern times, when archaeologists made some surprising finds.
Ancient Egypt’s lost city of Thonis-Heracleion is one of the greatest submerged finds ever discovered by archaeologists. For thousands of years it lay hidden under water, with its existence recorded only in a few rare inscriptions and ancient texts. This port at the mouth of the Nile rose after Egypt’s power faded in the seventh century B.C. Known as Thonis to the Egyptians and Heracleion to the Greeks, it thrived as a vital center of trade and culture, and then disappeared.
In 2000, maritime archaeologist Franck Goddio of the European Institute of Underwater Archeology discovered why no trace of it was visible along those shores: The entire city had sunk beneath the Mediterranean Sea by the eighth century A.D. Searching some 4 miles off today’s coastline in Abu Qir Bay, under 33 feet of water, Goddio’s team found the remains of a temple to Amun and a system of canals that would have interlaced the city.