Archaeologists 'stunned' at discovery of Roman settlement

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Neapolis was an ancient city, a once thriving and vital port of entry, yet not included in many texts from the Roman period. Archaeologists knew the approximate whereabouts of Neapolis, but their efforts to uncover any trace of it were largely fruitless. The city was founded by Julius Caesar – one of the most famous Roman emperors – and saw its rise precipitated by siding with him in his war against Pompey.

This afforded the fledgling city the status of “Colonia”.

However, as the empire waned, so too did the city.

For nearly two decades, Dr Mounir Fantar has attempted to solve the mystery.

The few records that he and his team have poured over mention that Neapolis had a large commercial port.

Yet, repeated excursions failed to find any evidence of it in the site’s archaeology.

He told the Smithsonian Channel’s 2021 documentary, ‘Secrets: Rome’s Sunken City’, that the question of where the port might be was the biggest “enigma” he had encountered.

It took a massive storm in 2013 to give Dr Fantar a sign of the ancient civilisation.

Heavy winds hit the southern Mediterranean, ravaging the sea bed off the coast of Nabeul, Tunisia.

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Days later, “strange stone shapes” began to emerge from the seafloor.

The documentary noted they were, “shapes that appeared unnaturally straight.”

Further investigations revealed something startling; that they were the remains of a Roman settlement: stone blocks, columns, and foundations.

Dr Fantar used drone imagery to construct a comprehensive aerial view of the sea near the coast.


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His findings showed the remains in the sea to line up with the shore.

The discovery “stunned” him, as the constructions found on the seabed had to be a part of the lost ancient Roman civilisation.

After years of underwater investigations, his team mapped out a complex of buildings, streets and a large industrial site.

The known remains of Neapolis quickly grew from a suburban community to a vast urban layout.

With the discoveries in tow, Neapolis’ importance to the Roman Empire is hoped to be finally and fully revealed.

In 2017, as the team made further progress, Dr Fantar told AFP: “It’s a major discovery.

“It has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major centre for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest centre in the Roman world.

“Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum.”

Researchers believe that it was submerged in the 4th century AD by a tsunami.

The natural disaster was well recorded at the time, as it struck the important city of Alexandria, one of the great places of learning in the ancient world, as well as the Greek Island of Crete.

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