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The Sinking of Alexandria: Facing Up to the Catastrophe Coming

city of Alexandria, Egypt
Alexandria, Egypt. Credit: Ahnaf Saber / wikimedia commons CC-BY 3.0

The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Egypt is in danger of vanishing under waves within decades. Alexander the Great’s metropolis on the Nile Delta is on the edge of catastrophe due to the rising sea levels brought about by global warming and its sinking landmass.

According to the United Nations, even the best case scenario would still force 1.5 million people out of the total population of six million to leave their homes if a third of the city was underwater or uninhabitable by 2050. The ancient ruins and historic treasures would also be in danger of destruction if Alexandria sinks.

Every year, the city sinks by more than three millimeters. This and the constant flooding, as in 2015 and 2020, has already caused many Alexandrians to flee their homes.

The situation today seems even more dire given the distressing prediction made by the UN’s panel of climate experts. According to the IPCC, the Mediterranean could rise a meter (3.2 feet) within the next thirty years.

The report said, “a third of the highly productive agricultural land in the Nile Delta” as well as “cities of historical importance, such as Alexandria,” would flood.

18 million cubic meters of rain per day

UN experts stated that the Mediterranean will rise the fastest compared to anywhere else in the world.

Ahmed Abdel Qader, the head of the authority protecting Egypt’s coastline said, “Climate change is a reality and no longer an empty threat.”

He added that such a catastrophe will have serious consequences for Egypt’s residents because “Alexandria is also home to the country’s biggest port” and is one of the main hubs of the economy.

The city’s governor, Mohamed al-Sharif, said the drainage system for its roads was built to absorb one million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of rain. With the more violent storms that have come with climate change, however, “today we can get 18 million cubic [meters] falling in a single day.”

Treasures at risk

sunken city of Heracleion, Alexandria Egypt
Undersea explorer Franck Goddio discovering a statue hidden for more than 1,200 years in the sunken city of Heracleion near Alexandria, Egypt. Credit: Facebook/Contemporary Explorations in Mythology LLC

The city’s rich heritage is in jeopardy, particularly the 15th-century Mamluk citadel of Qaitbay. The fortress was built on a neck of land that used to be the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. A breakwater made up of five thousand huge concrete blocks was positioned to protect it from the sea waves.

The idea of reconstruction is nothing new to the city that was once home to the Library of Alexandria, a temple of knowledge accidentally burned by Julius Caesar’s troops.

“The West has a moral responsibility: it must help to counter the negative effects of climate change, which are the [results] of its [civilization]” and industrialized model, said Abdel Qader.

Hellenism in Alexandria

The story of Hellenism in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, goes back more than two millennia and is marked by Alexander the Great’s placement of the first stone as part of the city’s first street in 331 BC.

Hellenistic Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (the Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; its Great Library (the largest in the ancient world); and its Necropolis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.

Alexandria was at one time the second-most powerful city of the ancient Mediterranean region, after Rome. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Greeks began to settle in Alexandria again. Shortly after the Greek revolution, a new wave of immigration flooded Alexandria, marking the initiation of the so-called European era of the city.

By the early twentieth century, there were more than 120,000 Greeks living in Alexandria, forming the largest single foreign community in the city at the time. Its members owned a large number of social clubs, sports clubs, and institutions promoting artistic activities, as well as literary publications.

Greek migration to Alexandria continued until the 1950s, when thousands of Greeks pulled up stakes to escape wars and dire poverty; others moved in the hopes of beginning new, more prosperous lives.

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