Heracleion. ©Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Christoph Gerigk

Imagine diving into the darks of the sea and suddenly witnessing a colossal face emerge from the watery shadows, or a curious monolith with ancient text. That was the experience of archaeologists in 2001 in the Bay of Aboukir, who found a long lost Egyptian city incredibly preserved in its 1,200-year hiding place.

French archaeologist Franck Goddio had been looking for 18th century French warships, but what he and his team ended up finding near the mouth of the Nile River was much more extraordinary. The city of Heracleion, or Thonis, had been mentioned sporadically in ancient texts, but no one was sure whether the legends of the incredibly wealthy port city were true. Now a black diorite stone stele, which was found standing still upright beneath the water, states clearly that this was Heracleion, although no one is quite sure how it ended up entirely underwater.

Back in March at the University of Oxford, researchers revealed the findings of the nearly 13-year excavation of the city that’s estimated to have been built in the 8th century, and lost sometime in the 6th or 7th. Last month, a documentary, “Egypt’s Sunken City/A Legend Is Revealed,” also explored what the city may have been like through 3D modeling. While it thrived, it’s believed to have served as the entryway for all trade from Greece. As the Telegraph reports, the artifacts uncovered include 64 ships, 700 anchors, a treasure trove of gold coins, statues standing at 16 feet, the remains of a massive temple to the god Amun-Gereb, and the tiny sarcophogi for the animals that were brought there as offerings.

Due to the sculpture and artifacts being made from granite and diorite, they’re remarkably preserved. Even after all their centuries in the Mediterranean, they offer a startling portal into a world where colossal statues greeted ships to Egypt, and then waited for years to greet the modern world.