Lecture Hellenic Foundation for Culture 2016

Hellenic Research Institute of Alexandrian Civilization

The Shallalat Excavation Project

 

Calliope Limneos – Papakosta

 

The Hellenic Research Institute of Alexandrian Civilization (HRIAC) obtained the permission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities to start an archaeological survey in Shalalat Gardens of Alexandria in March of 2007.

The reason for choosing this site for research was its position in the topography of Ptolemaic Alexandria; it was a part of the royal quarter according to the ancient sources and especially Strabo (Book 17.8)

In Antiquity, this area was between the Royal Palaces at the seaside and the Canopic street.

Nowadays, this area seems to be easy to excavate compared to all other parts of Alexandria.

However, we have realized and faced a lot of difficulties due to the tremendous quantities of modern debris and most importantly, the water horizon that exists at a level of 7.5m.

This has created a serious impediment for the continuation of the project.

Shallalat Gardens (early 20th century) cover a vast area, replacing the northern bastions created during the years of Mohamed Ali, who «modernized» the medieval city walls of Alexandria. The complex follows the curve NE of the Rosetta Gate.

 

The project started in 2007 by conducting a geophysical survey in cooperation with the National Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics of Cairo (NIAG). The results showed the existence of anomalies in the underground in 3 different locations of the park. Moreover, a test drilling was made at the points suggested by the previous survey,  that resulted in the discovery of pieces of limestone at about 10 m.

 

From 2007 to 2009, we started excavating at two sites in the S-E corner of the gardens, butalthough there was evidence of constructions, the appearance of the water table prevented us from continuing the project.

 

In April 2009, the 3rd phase of the excavation began in the N-W side of the Gardens next to the Borg El Nahassin  Fortress in an area of 5x3m.

 

We had already conducted a drilling with significant results. The samples were concrete pieces of white limestone. Since this specific area did not have any limestone layers, according to the geological surveys performed so far, this was an evidence of the existence of a human construction.

 

Due to the presence of tones of debris, loose soil and most importantly, the water table that appeared again at a depth of 7.5m, our work was progressing with many difficulties.

 

It was the 4th of May 2009, while we were about to complete our excavation project for that season,  when the soil suddenly collapsed on the west side of the trench and a small white piece of marble appeared at a depth of 8m.

That very moment cannot be described by words, but only by feelings.

Slowly, we manage to unearth a unique work of art that appeared to be a marble statue of about 0.80m.

 

 

The statue represents a standing naked young man in a form of classical contraposto, with one foot raised, and possibly bent to a support. The body is slightly turned to the

right, while the neck is turned to the left and the eyes look upward with an aspiring glance.

 

The type of the statue, its features and attributes of the head, the “Anastole”, the “Dionysus” type of diadem, the proportions, the movement and the pose of the neck are elements which suggest the connection of the statue to the portraiture of Alexander the Great.

 

The construction of the statue is of fine quality. There is a restrained realism, combined with a post Praxitelean sensuousness. This piece of art amalgamates the beauty of the sculptures of classical times and the passion of the Hellenistic statues.

 

The standing naked figures were the most common type for royal statues during Hellenistic times. Although we don’t have any evidence to think that this type reminds one particular famous statue, some literary sources give us the information that it was used for Alexander the Great during his lifetime and after him (Plut.De Iside et Osiride 24, O.1481) Plutarch recounts an apocryphal story that Lysippos upbraided the painter Apelles for presenting Alexander with a thunderbolt, while he gave him only a spear.

The statue of Lysippos “Alexander with the Spear”, if it was existed, it is an

Archaeological chimera!

Comparing the statue with two of the most important statuettes, which reproduce possibly  this lost statue of Lysippos’ “Alexander with the Spear”, specifically a marble statuette in the Getty Museum at Malibu and a bronze one in Louvre, we notice that there are a lot of similarities.

Recently, in Macedonia, in North Greece, a significant bronze statue of Alexander, made by Lysippos, was intercepted during illegal excavations and is stored at Thessaloniki’s Museum. The type and the basic features are quite similar with the statue of Alexandria.

Last but not least, the statue was found and possibly was standing inside the royal quarter and for sure it could have not been sculptured by a simple sculptor. This fact, in combination with its stylistic features that recalls the characteristics of the Lysippan School, drives us to the possibility   of having a work of this school, which was operating also in Alexandria. Our estimation for its dating is the early Hellenistic period (last quarter of 4th cent).

 

 

During 2010, the excavation was carried out at the same area. We enlarged the trench,in order to detect the edges of the lime mortar construction that had been detected. We were also hoping to find more parts of the statue and more evidence regarding its identity.

 

 

 

 

Due to political circumstances, for the next five years the excavation at Shallalat stopped till Autumn 2015 ,when SCA gave us the green light to start again.

The excavation was carried out at the same area of the gardens, at the North-West corner.

 

 

Once again the problem of water table appeared and made our work extremely difficult. Our last chance was a test drilling, inside the water and mad, in order to realize if there was a possibility to arrive to any construction. The drill hit our target at a point, 90 cm deeper than the level that we were working!

It was again the last day of work and after incredible difficulties, we succeeded to see a white beautiful lime stone! We had achieved our goal…

 

Although we were extremely excited by this result, we decided to stop the excavation, in order to make the future planning and organizing the dewatering of the site.

Thus, during spring 2016 (April-May) we started the project by making 8 wells around and inside the trench, using 16 pumps that were pumping the water 24 hours per day!

The result was to manage to decrease the water table, lower than the level of our excavation. Finally we were able to excavate properly.

 

Subsequently, the excavation was carried out at an area 14,00m E-W x 12,00 m N-S.

We excavated ancient debris, a thick strata full of fragmental pottery from Hellenistic to roman period, known from the previous seasons.

 

In many places of the trench, we found a big strata of breccia that is the small pieces of lime stone that remain after cutting the blocks into smaller stones. Here the quantity is huge and we believe that this is the result of the destruction of a big building. On the contrary, in Greece, especially in Macedonia, we find this material where there are Macedonian tombs.

At the middle of the trench, under the strata of the ancient debris and the strata of breccia, we revealed part of the foundation of a large building that extends further to the south, to the east and west. Towards the north it is not clear as at many parts the blocks have been removed.

 

The excavated dimensions of the foundation are 10, 00 x12, 00m,N-S and E-W respectively. The size of the limestone blocks used for the construction  of it, is approximately 1,00 x 0,60 x 0,50 m.At the SE corner of the trench a part of a wall has been found ,made also by big limestone blocks, measuring 1,20 x0,60 x0,60m put together without joining material. Blocks of the foundation continue to extend under the wall to the east and south. The construction strata of the building has been dated to the early Ptolemaic period, according to the pottery and the craftsmanship of the blocks. A sample of the pottery collected is an early Hellenistic lamp that has been found under the blocks of the wall.

 

It is important to mention that under the foundation, at a depth of 10, 70 m, we reached a strata of pure sand and sandstone, which we consider as the bedrock. That means that we have reached the first strata of the foundation of the ancient city.

 

The size of the foundation blocks as well as the size of the wall blocks, which is extremely big and the dimensions of the whole construction show that we have uncovered part of a public building of Ptolemaic period. This fact in combination with the site, which belonged to the royal quarter of the ancient Alexandria, makes the finding important for the knowledge of topography of the Ptolemaic city.

Among the finds of this excavation period, there were some architectural parts, obviously in second use, inside a post-dated debris that we found upon the foundation of the building. These objects are: one fragment of a Doric semi-column, a part of a floral finial (akrotirion), a fragment of an architrave with an incised rosette, a Corinthian order sofa capital, all made of limestone. Last but not least, a stone object, the use of which we cannot identify till now. It could be either utilitarian (mortar) or object for protection of an urn.

These objects are very important for the interpretation of the building.

 

During the last 2 months, we continued the excavation of the construction, having as a goal to find the continuation of the lime stones of the foundation, mainly to the south.

Unfortunately, due to the existence of huge quantities of soil and modern debris, we

faced a lot of technical difficulties in our work. The removal of this debris was time consuming and also dangerous for the safety of our team and workers. Besides, we had to start pumping once again the water that is always there, guard of the site…

So, the time of excavation was very limited!

In spite of the difficulties that arose during this period, we found at a higher level an early byzantine construction, possibly a workshop.

The most important is that we unearthed the continuation of the foundation to the south, which is extended in length about 11 m but also goes on to the east and west.

The stones of the huge wall that we found last spring are standing next to this line of blocks. We intend to follow this construction next spring, after solving the problems of the debris and stability of the soil upon the trench.

 

All this huge foundation ,made by excellent quality of lime stones, inside the Royal Quarter of Ptolemaic Alexandria, gives us the right to think  that we have discovered an important ,destructed of course, public building that could be one of the

famous edifices, described by ancient authors and especially Strabo. Our opinion is that, the area of Shallalat Gardens, in antiquity, belonged also to the Gardens of Ptolemaic Palaces in .In the topography of ancient Alexandria it was the back side of the royal premises ,before the Canopic street and near “της πόλεως το πεδίον».

 

Dear Guests, today, I would also like to make an important announcement to you:  the statue,described before that we found 7 years ago and it is exhibited in the National Museum of Alexandria, is not Alexander!    It is ALEXANDER WITH THE SPEAR.

 

During the last days of the excavation, “Τύχη αγαθή “brought out to light the missing right hand of the statue with a fragment of the spear in it! This element is supporting our opinion that Alexandria has in its Museum one of the most significant and debated

Statues of the School of Lysippos at Hellenistic Alexandria.

The small hand with the spear is already delivered to the National Museum in order to be restored and placed at the statue of Alexander that belongs.

 

Lastly, I would like to wish that all of us will look at tomorrow, with our eyes at the great heritage of this city and thus we will hold the secret in our hands. With a steady pace, we will approach the dream and we will not be afraid of touching it, or living it.We all know that it is only through a dream that hope can be born.