In 7th April 1893, a group of Alexandrian gentlemen gathered in the house of Sir Charles Cookson, the then British Consul General. The gathering topic was to discuss the founding of an archaeological society to keep an eye on the scattered monuments of the city and to raise public awareness on the Alexandria's glorious history and heritage.
The idea had been some time in coming. As far back as 1835 the “Oriental Society” had been established for the study of archaeology, This venture proved short lived and gave way to another grouping, “The Egyptian Society”, whose main success was in providing a library for travellers moving through Alexandria. some twenty years later, in 1857, the “Institut Egyptien” was created and set about, in a more systematic way, to document, research and collect antiquities of the city at a time when much evidence of the past was finding its way into private collections and out of the country. By 1880 the “Institut Egyptien” had moved to Cairo. Alexandria was left to fend for itself.
Nevertheless, the flow of antiquities out of the public domain continued and, in 1891, a small society christened the “Athenaeum” was formed with the express intention of founding a museum to house and protect the treasures of the city and environs. Working in cooperation with the recently established Municipal Council (1890) and with the “Service des Antiquités” in Cairo, the Athenaeum achieved its objective when, in 1892, the Graeco-Roman Museum was opened to the public.
This, however, was only the beginning. It was clear that more was required than a simple repository for artifacts. Some sort of support group or organization was necessary to coordinate research, fund excavations, increase public awareness and, in a general way to integrate the newly created institution into the life of the city. Thus, on 7th April 1893, the Athenaeum died and the Archaeological Society of Alexandria was born.
The early years were of great activity. From 1894 to 1898 the Society supported Giuseppe Botti, director of the Museum, in his explorations at the site of Pompey’s Pillar the Serapeum, work which uncovered among other important objects, the beautiful, black basalt Apis Bull which still stands in the Graeco-Roman Museum. Systematic excavations were also undertaken at Gabbari. Alongside with excavation work, the Society took the responsibility of registering some other archaeological sites and rescuing their artifacts. In May 1904, the executive board of the society assigned Dr. E. Breccia, who had succeeded G. Botti as curator of the Graeco-Roman Museum, to undertake preliminary sondages in the area near the English school between the sea-coast and the tram-way (in Chatby), and to write a report on his findings with the intention of excavating the site. Breccia presented his report accompanied by drawings showing places of visible ruins in the area. The board allotted 200 / 300 L.E for the project. Unfortunately, the project was never fulfilled, but Breccia together with Simond Bey studied the remains and published them.
In 1905 Prince Omar Toussoun, the then elected honorary president of the Society, invited Dr. Breccia to visit his property near Aboukir (in an area that still bears the Prince’s name) to see some antiquities there. Breccia wrote a report about a magnificent mosaic floor, beautiful fragments of sculpture and some architectural elements which he believed belonged to a temple of Sarapis that once stood there. He emphasized the necessity of systematic excavations at the site (BSSA no. 8 (1905) pp. 107 - 117). Prince Omar Toussoun was, as always, generous enough to permit the digging. The Prince, there upon donated all movable objects to the museum.
By 1925 the Society was so well established and with such a solid reputation that King Fouad expressed his willingness to confer a Royal Charter, whereupon the Archaeological Society become The Royal Archaeological Society and some 4 years later certain members were to accompany their royal patron during his visit to the Temple of Ammon at Siwa Oasis.
In 4 December 1943, the Society celebrated its Cinquantenary at the triclinium of the catacombes of Kom El-Shokafa. The celebration was held under the high patronage of H. M. King Farouk and the auspices of Prince Omar Toussoun the honorary president of the Society whose illness prohibited him from being present there. The ceremony was attended by the Governor of Alexandria. The two main activities of the celebration were the official ceremony and an exhibition of a variety of Graeco-Roman pieces from private collections. These collections belonged to: V. Adda, L. Benachi, C. Drossos, Ch. Galanis, J. Lumbroso, P. Modinos, G. Mustaki, and P. H. Tano. The pieces were: marble statues of deities, Ptolemaic Queens and Roman Emperors, a series of gold and silver coins, lamps, terra-cotta figurines, stucco masks, bronze statuettes, funerary stelae, jares of faîence and some golden jewellery.
In 1946 after 53 years of its establishment, the Society moved into its present premises at No. 6 Mohmoud Mokhtar St. (formerly rue Gerbel). Previously, meetings had been either in the Museum, the president’s office, or wherever space could be found but, now, with a permanent residence, the Society’s library and small collection of artifacts could be displayed to advantage. There was, however, some opposition to the move. It was suggested that the new locale would cost valuable time and money to refurbish and maintain when the Society should be throwing all its resources and energy into archaeological pursuits. When it was pointed out that the total sum required to fit out the new “club house” amounted to only LE 120 the members of the committee promptly opened their wallets and the issue was settled. Furthermore, generous donations of furniture from the likes of Mme. Josa Finney, Lady Peel and the American Export Co. added to the comfort of the new premises.
1947 - 48 the Society’s set in motion a project to rehabilitate the then crumbling Temple of Abusir and the cemetery tower beside it. Through active lobbying of the “Service des Antiquités”, the Municipality and the Ministry of Public Instruction, sufficient funds were raised to allow serious work to be undertaken. The fact this important Ptolemaic temple and tower still dominate the bluff above the Marsa Matrouh Road is in no small way due to the activity of the Society.
The two decades to follow were to see a decline in fortune, obviously attributable to the general upheavals that the country as a whole was experiencing. Already by 1950 there were financial problems and wrangles with Municipality which had formerly given an annual support of LE 300 to cover costs of publishing the Bulletin. Of the revolution itself, the Society minutes are silent though, at the General Assembly of 1953 a decision is passed unanimously to change the name from Société Royale d’Archéologie d’Alexandrie to the plain Société Archéologique d’Alexandrie.
Membership and finances were tumbling. By 1957, from wartime high of 250 members, numbers had fallen to 129, only 94 of whom had paid their subscriptions. The following year the treasurer had to report that the society’s coffers held only LE 38! Somehow or other, the society limped onwards though it was to receive further blows to its already wounded pride.
In 1961, to add insult to injury, members lost the privilege of free entry to museums and archaeological sites on production of their card, a truly bitter set back for a Society.
It was around this time that the secretary, Max Debanne, as energetic as he was outspoken, is reported as saying “Si nous ne pouvons fournir aucune activité de valeur aux members, fermons boutique et finissons en!”. Fortunately, however, the shop stayed open and if the year 1964 saw only 40 members, the Society still managed to arrange 7 lectures involving international figures such as Peter Fraser of Oxford University.
Indeed, by the mid-sixties the pendulum had swung, Numbers began to increase. From the 17th to 21st May the Society was conducting a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, a mere two weeks before the 1967 war broke out. Everyone, however, returned home safe and sound and, the following year, the 75th Anniversary was a time of legitimate celebration.
In fact, the modern history of the Society is dominated by the personality of Dr. Daod Abdou Daod. Those members who know him talk of his dedication and commitment to the Society and his colleagues at Alexandria University praise him as inspirational teacher. It is not unfair to say that it was through the untiring efforts of Dr. Daod that the Society not only continued throughout the 70’s and 80’s but actually grew.
Though there may be no funds for undertaking digs Dr. Daoud’s initiative in pulling in a local and younger interest group has set the Society in position whereby it can still play an active and vocal role in highlighting Alexandria’s unique archaeological heritage. Membership grew gradually until it reached currently 470, the new members are largely in the 20 - 35 age bracket, a fact which bodes well not just for the Society but for Alexandria herself.
On the 7th & 8th of April 1993, the Society celebrated its Centenary. The celebration took place at the Pullman Romance Hotel. It included a two-day seminar ended by a dinner in which the banqueters cut the centenary cake and some honorary certificates were presented by Prof. Abd El-Maguid Sadek, the then president of the Society. In conjunction with the centenary, some activities were held by the international cultural institutes in Alexandria.
After the celebration of the Society’s centenary in April 1993, the society started its new century without a clear view of its course of action. On 28 November 1996 the general assembly elected a completely new executive council. It was the first time, since the establishment of the society, that the general assembly was required to elect all the twelve members of the council. The result revealed the sound judgment of the members. The council elected Prof. Mostafa El-Abbadi as president, Dr. M. S. El-Sioufi vice president, Dr. Soheir Zaki Bassiouni secretary general and Dr. S. El-Kalza treasurer. The members were: M. El-Farargi, A. Abd El-Fattah, M. Seif El-Din, M. A. Negm, H. Ramses.
The new council was aware of the trust placed on them. They soon discussed the state of their Society’s affairs and set for themselves a clear course of action which included:
The restoration of the Society’s premises.
The issuing of a popular pamphlet describing the principal archaeological sites and monuments of Alexandria and its region.
The issuing of a seasonal newsletter.
To continue all other regular activities at the highest possible level. i.e. excursions, lectures and symposia.
Publication of the “Bulletin” and the “Archaeological and Historical studies”.
The continuity of the usual activities of the specialized committees, as well as forming new ones according to the current needs.
Thus the Society started her second century with an ambitious program that aimed at restoring its international reputation. The executive council and the members, the number of which then reached 430 were active and serious enough to issue the first newsletter of their society in the 4th of February 1997. The cultural program, organized by the new board, became very distinguished. Lectures are held regularly with the contributions of international figures.
One of the main objectives of the new executive council was the much needed restoration of the Society’s building. In proportion to the finances available, the council decided to divide the entire operation into stages, starting necessarily with the basement and the ground floor as stage1. The premises had to be closed for nearly ten months (March 1997 -January 1998). During that period the society continued its programs thanks to the administration of the German cultural institute Göthe that very warmly and generously allowed the Society to use its lecture hall. In January 1998 the completion of construction work was announced thanks to the ceaseless efforts of the late Dr. Shams El-Seyoufi who had patiently and diligently undertaken the responsibility of supervising the entire operation as head of the restoration committee. The accomplishment of the work was also the result of the cordial co-operation and co-ordination of the efforts of many parties:
The restoration committee’s members, Mohamed El-Farargi, Dr. Suzan El-Kalza, Dr. Nabil Swelim as well as Dr. Sohair Bassiouni, the Secretary General who played a dynamic role. The co-operation of many other parties contributed materially to the restoration work: The Egyptian Company for refractory, Arabian Company for Petroleum Pipes, Alexandria Iron and Steel Company, Lecico Company, Alexandria Portland Cement Company and Amreya Cement Company.
The greatest achievement of this project was the opening of a new lecture hall that could accommodate a larger audience than before. Through the generosity of Frank Goddio, this room is now air-conditioned. In November 1999, stage 2 of the restoration project started with the aim of restoring and redecorating the smaller room of the library. One month later the library was opened after the work was accomplished due to the constant and sincere efforts of Dr. Shams El-Seyoufi.
Mention should be made of the Society’s efforts to save the historical and archaeological site of Silsila promontory (the ancient cape Lochias). In 1967 it was decreed that it should be chosen as a military site, which it has remained ever since. In 1997 - 8, the rock forming the main body of the promontory suffered erosion and collapsed at a critical spot. In order to redress the decay and reinforce the western side of the promontory, it was decided to resort to the out-dated method of dropping concrete blocks at the decayed spot, regardless of any underwater archaeological remains. Alarmed at this procedure, the Society in vain launched an appeal (1997) to stop using such a destructive and ineffective method. But then, in 2000, it was reported that a new club and guest house for the military was designed to be set up on part of the Silsila area, reaction among the intellectual circles in the city against such a procedure was immediate and vehement. Once more the Society launched an appeal addressed to all responsible authorities in the country to stop such an unseemly construction right opposite the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Fortunately, the official response was most understanding and the project was withdrawn. Full with a deep sense of relief and enthusiasm, the society then urged the Supreme Council of Antiquities to take immediate steps to start excavations at this most important and vital site.
Another similar problem seems to be arising now on a larger scale at the site of the Ancient City of Marea, 45 Kms west of Alexandria, which was once the capital of the Mareotic Nome. The intention of building a stadium for the military on the site has been declared. The society is now co-operating with the SCA in negotiating with the authorities in the hope of reaching a reasonable solution.
In the eleventh issue of the newsletter (Jan 2002), the Society appealed to both the governor of Alexandria, general Abdel-Salam El-Mahgoub as well as to Prof. Dr. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, then secretary general of the SCA to embark on salvage explorations of the Kota Plot of land which lies within the royal Ptolemaic quarter of the ancient Alexandria (at present used as a fun fair). This appeal came at an opportune time when plans were being set in motion to build a hotel-complex for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The society is still appealing to the ministry of antiquities, to carry out salvage exploration before it is too late as is often, unfortunately the case.
In the year 2000, the Society supported the joint project of the SCA and the American Institute of Nautical Archaeology to transfer the basement storey in the Citadel of Qait Bay into exhibit halls for the display of artifacts that have been salvaged from the sea as well as different artifacts to be changed periodically.
The Society contributes in the activities conducted by the SCA and the ministry of antiquities in Alexandria during the past 30 years:
In October 1998 a committee headed by Prof. Dr. M. El-Abbadi was formed to explore the appropriate means and possibilities for the preservation and future development of the important archaeological zone extending from the Silsila promontory to the Qaitbay area. The committee included representatives from the department of oceanography, the department of underwater archaeology of the SCA, the Unesco Cairo office and the governorate of Alexandria. The task of this committee was mainly to specify the favorable conditions needed for the creation of a fully equipped underwater museum. The committee aimed at finding the means of coping with the complex problems inherent in the natural conditions of the sites. In 20 - 21 November 2000 a workshop took place at the department of oceanography (University of Alexandria), attended by international experts in marine science and archaeology as well as all members of the committee, in addition to representatives from Unesco, Paris and UNDP. Full texts of the various reports were printed and presented to the organizing bodies: SCA, Unesco, Archaeological Society, Alexandria University and the Governorate. As a result of these efforts, the concerned authorities can now move forward with sure steps on carefully studied ground.
In October 1999 another committee headed by Prof. Dr. M. El-Abbadi was set up for establishing an archaeological Museum for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The committee fulfilled its job on the highest possible level. A team of specialists also headed by the Society’s president set out to prepare a catalogue and guide for this museum. The catalogue was published and distributed during the official opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (October 2002).
Soon after he assumed the responsibility of secretary general of the SCA, Dr. Zahi Hawas decided to embark on a thorough development program for the Graeco-Roman Museum. The 110 year old Museum has long been in dire need of such a reform. A committee of experts headed by the Society’s president and including some of the Society’s members was formed to propose a new system for displaying the artifacts. Before its closure in Sept. 2005, the museum was stacked with monuments that cannot fit into the exhibition rooms, a matter that led to the storage of monuments in inappropriate conditions. The area of the museum did not allow for establishing vital service units to serve tourists and visitors. The Museum’s library is a valuable national treasure which possesses some master pieces and rare collections of books. Due to lack of space, these precious books are accumulated in bad environmental conditions. It also lacks neither any suitable reading hall nor a conference hall which other modern museums enjoy. This situation denied the museum of Alexandria its task in spreading archaeological awareness to the public and education.
When sadly the governorate building was fully burnt and leveled to the ground in January 2011, The Society found out that this is an opportunity for the benefit of both the governorate and the Museum, which is directly adjacent to it, to expand their areas. The Society launched a campaign to annex the area of the governorate, which has already been moved to a new large building, to the Museum. Such an action is apt to transfer the Museum into a new scientific, cultural and research establishment that can be a beacon of enlightenment in Egypt and the entire region.
In April 2015, the campaign was met with favourable response and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the ministry of antiquities and the governorate of Alexandria. The memorandum stated that the ministry has to prepare a detailed vision completed with a full scenario for the revival of the Museum in order that the governorate formally adds the plot of land to the project. The Society was asked to take over the vision and scenario, together with national and international experts, the task was achieved and presented to the ministry. Finally, the state has allocated a considerable sum of money for the project. The Society is still working hand in hand with the ministry to follow up this important project, in the hope of restoring Alexandria’s leading role as a cosmopolitan city and a center for the exchange of cultures.
In 2004, active measures of desiccation of a section of the Eastern harbor of Alexandria, exceeding 200m in length and 40m in width were being carried out at the request of the Ministry of Water Supplies and Irrigation with the approval of the Ministry of Culture and the SCA for the purpose of protecting the Cornice sea-side, at that point. Considering the uniqueness of the site (mentioned above) as well as the threat to the monuments which are scientifically recorded to be lying underwater, the Society soon published a declaration against any act of destruction to be committed on our immortal legacy. Appeals for the preservation of the surviving remains of Egypt’s heritage, which is also the concern of all humanity, were addressed to decision makers. Declarations and appeals were accompanied with scientific studies and the necessary charts and maps about the disastrous consequences of such an activity and provided with recommendations made by experts of both the Society and University for the protection of the sea shore and the preservation of the site and its monuments. Luckily, the project had been stopped.
In addition to the lectures and symposia, the Society organizes a series of excursions that cover numerous archaeological sites in Egypt: Archaeological sites in Alexandria, Rosetta, Marina El-Alamein, Marsa Matrouh, Toposiris Magna, St. Menas, Monasteries of Wadi El-Natroun, different sites in Cairo, Fowwa, Queisna, Fayoum, The Oasis of Siwa and Baharia as well as Luxor and Aswan. Some excursions outside Egypt were also organized to Turkey, Syria, Greece and Italy.
One of the most pleasant regular annual events is an Ifrar evening in Ramadan when a gathering of the members feast together and enjoy some entertainment.
The 9th and 10th of April 2003 witnessed a great celebration of the Society's 110th anniversary. The event included an International seminar which was organized under the auspices of H. E. Mohamed Abdel-Salam El-Mahgoub, The then Governor of Alexandria, in collaboration with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina who hosted the event in its Conference Hall. The seminar was under the title of: "Archaeological Activities in Alexandria and Environs in Ten Years". A group of scholars contributed to the seminar including some internationally renowned names such as J.-Y. Empereur, G. Majcherek, H. E. Tzalas, F. Goddio, N. Bonacasa, H. C. Nöske, M. D. Nenna, M. A. Negm, I. Hairy, G. Hamernik. Volume 48 of the BSAA, published in 2009, included the proceedings of this seminar.
In 22nd of November 2007, the Society's members gathered in honour of Mostafa El-Abbadi, president of the Society, who was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Quebec at Montreal in Canada. In the speech of the award it is mentioned that: "For his contribution to world heritage, his indefatigable defense of freedom of thought and for his remarkable contributions as the author of a major work, which far exceeds its singular philological importance, the University of Quebec in Montreal wishes to honour and salute Mostafa El-Abbadi, Doctor Honoris Causa." A special book including contributions of Abbadi's colleagues in his honour was published in Arabic under the title of "What did Abbadi contribute for the Classical Studies?"
In April 2013, the Society celebrated its 120th anniversary by organizing an international conference held in collaboration with the Centre for Alexandria and Mediterranean Studies and the Calligraphy Centre of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the French Centre for Alexandrian Studies. Following the Society’s long tradition, the event succeeded in bringing together national and international members of the archaeological missions working at Alexandria and environs as well as other researchers interested in Alexandrian studies to discuss major challenges in studying, documenting, preserving and managing Alexandria’s tangible heritage and share their experiences in order to develop a vision for future prospects. Bulletin 49 2015, represented the fruits of this 3 day event. It embraced the contributions of more than 30 international figures in the field of Alexandrian studies.
The Society Mourns the passing away of Dr. Mostafa El-Abbadi, Ex professor emeritus of Classical Studies, Department of Greek and Roman Archaeology, Alexandria University , ex President of the Society and later Honorary President.
The Society's members gathered in honour of Mostafa El-Abbadi, president of the Society, who was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Quebec at Montreal in Canada.
9, 10 April
The celebration of the Society’s 110th anniversary.
7, 8 April
The celebration of the Society’s Centenary.
Death of Dr. Daoud Abdou Daoud secretary general of the Society to whose memory volume 45 of the BSAA was dedicated.
The Society mourned the death of Jasper Yeates Brinton.
3 May ,1973
The Society celebrated its 80th anniversary.
25 May ,1967
The Society mourned the death of M. Debbane. Articles on his memory were written by: P. M. Fraser and Achille Adriani in volume no. 42 of the BSAA, 1967.
24 June ,1953
The Society rendered its original denomination as: La Société Archéologique d’Alexandrie.
13 June ,1950
Nomination of J. Brinton; Shafik Ghorbal; Ev. Breccia and H. I. Bell as honorary members.
9 July ,1949
Death of Pierre Jouguet mourned in articles written by: P. Modinos; R. Demangel; Prince Pierre de Grece; O.Guérand; A. J. B. Wace; H. I. Bell; Z. Ali and E. Combe, published in volume 38 BSAA, 1949.
8 June ,1948
Nomination of both Mostafa Fahmy Pasha and Prof. P. Jouguet as honorary members.
J.Y. Brinton, president of the Society reported the accomplishment of the first stage in the restoration of the temple of Osiris at Taposiris Magna.
Death of Prince Omar Toussoun the honorary president of the Society (mourned in the 36th volume of the BSAA 1946).
Death of Prince Omar Toussoun the honorary president of the Society (mourned in the 36th volume of the BSAA 1946).
The Society celebrated its Cinquantenary at the triclinium of the catacombes of Kom El-Shogafa.
The Society mourned the death of M. Paleologue Giorgiou.
10 July ,1940
The Society mourned the death of Anthony De Cosson who died on 18 May 1940. Prince Omar Toussoun mourned him in vol. no. 34 of the BSAA 1941.
19 May ,1940
Nomination of Ahmed Kamel Pasha as honorary member of the Society.
9 March ,1935
Fare-well celebration for Ev. Breccia who then went back to Italy.
Mourning the death of Dr. A. Osborne, vice-president of the Society who died on 15 December 1933. (author of Lychnios et Lucernae)
11 June ,1931
Mourning the death of Desveronois, president of the Society.
Mourning the death of H. de Herreros, president of the Society.
18 May ,1928
The death of B. P. Grenfell (mourned by A. Hunt in vol. no. 23 of the BSAA 1928).
5 May ,1926
The Society Mourned the death of Giacomo Lumbroso who died on 9 Oct. 1924.
5 May ,1926
The Society became La Société Royal d’Archéologie d’Alexandria.
Nomination of M. Antoniades as honorary member out of gratitude to his father’s donations to the government of Alexandria (A vast garden and a house near Nozha and a big collection of monuments now in the museum).
The Society mourned the death of Simond Bey.
The Society mourned the death of E. D. S. Dutilh curator of the numismatic sector in the Museum and contributor to the BSAA.
Nomination of Prince Omar Toussoun as honorary president of the Society.
9 April ,1904
The Society mourned the death of G. Botti.
6 April ,1904
Ev. Breccia was entrusted to edit the Bulletin starting from volume no. 6.
19 July ,1898
The issue of the first volume of the BSAA edited by: G. Botti.
7 April ,1893
The Founding of the Archaeological Society of Alexandria.