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‘African Pompeii’: Mysterious Ruins Of Ancient City Adulis

'African Pompeii': Mysterious Ruins Of Ancient City Adulis

Buried under layers of sand and mud for almost 14 centuries, the lost city of Adulis is finally returning to light to become the first national archaeological park of Sub-Saharan Africa, an event that would revitalize the territory from a tourist and economic point of view.

Ancient city of Adulis

Situated just over fifty kilometers from Massawa, Adulis, whose name is still a mystery, was an important city of the Aksum reign. A commerce hub for trade between East and West. Though less famous than the Silk and Amber Road, Adulis was, nevertheless, a route which allowed the travel of precious goods, people and ideas.

The first records of Adulis date back to the First Century AD. In the Seventh Century AD the city disappeared, washed away by floods. In fact, the Uadi Haddas river flows from the plateau to the coast. This river is born at 2,500 meters and goes down through steep valleys and deep ravines. And when it is in flood it carries debris, trunks, and bushes with it.

Perhaps it was the strength of one of its exceptional floods, which made the city disappear. Its name was rediscovered only in the 16th Century on an ancient map.

'African Pompeii': Mysterious Ruins Of Ancient City AdulisAdulis, ancient port by The Red Sea (Image Source)

A city to be rediscovered

First archeologic excavations were started by the British group of researchers in 1868 and proceed later on by Italian archeologist Roberto Paribeni in 1906. The British excavations had brought to light a monumental building, then called the “Palazzo”. A typical structure for the region. A truncated pyramid, which Paribeni called in an exotic manner, the Sun Altar.  Actually, it was a paleochristian church.

'African Pompeii': Mysterious Ruins Of Ancient City AdulisA 5th century Byzantine basilica at Adulis, Eritrea, excavated in 1914 by the Italian archaeologist Roberto Paribeni.

Since 2011, the Italian-Eritrean mission comprising experts of different disciplines and a team of archeologists and architects continue the research.

At the moment the archeologists are slowly working their way through the layers of mud, sand and shrubs excavating a city of 40 hectares, entirely in stone and in practically perfect condition.

'African Pompeii': Mysterious Ruins Of Ancient City AdulisArchaeological excavations are currently underway at Adulis, 65 kilometers south of Massawa, Eritrea.

So far, only one percent of the ancient city, located on the southwestern coast of Eritrea along the Red Sea, has been completed as part of the so-called “African Pompeii” joint Italian-Eritrean project launched about a decade ago by Italian anthropologists and archaeologists Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni.

“Just as Pompeii lies beneath meters of volcano ash, so Adulis lies under meters of mud due to a catastrophic tsunami that destroyed the city at the end of the 7th century A.D.,” archeologist Serena Massa, director of the mission, told Sputnik Italy.

She added that the ancient monuments already excavated by the Italian-Eritrean team with the collaboration of important Italian universities are only a fraction of what the city could offer.

“We still have to discover the private houses, the necropolis, from which we expect a lot of information, because they contain things that are usually intact, in addition to the skeletons, which will allow us to study the city’s population,” Dr. Massa said.

featured image © Marilena Dolce


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