Throughout Alexandria, archaeologists who want to save the ancient city - or at least record it - are in a race with builders determined to erect a new one.
At stake is the hazy history of a Mediterranean metropolis built on the dreams of Alexander the Great. To win, the scholarly excavators must stay one step ahead of the bulldozers.It is the same story wherever past and present collide: London, Rome, Athens, Beirut, Jerusalem. Even in the youthful United States, road-building crews strike ancient Indian burial mounds or Civil War remains.
In Alexandria, countless treasures sleep beneath the 4 million people of a city that has lived more than 2,000 years.
Under a blinding sun, French archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur hurries from excavation to excavation - five at the moment - where his colleagues are trying to find everything in time.
A Roman bath here, bits of mummy wrapping there. Parts of an ancient house, the torso of a statue, a broken amphora filled with 1,200 Roman coins.
"Perhaps this was once a garden," Empereur said. "Someone buried the coins here for safekeeping and never made it back."
Many centuries later, the garden became the site of a theater, which in its turn has been sacrificed to progress.
Alexandria probably holds tens of thousands of such tales, but Empereur does not have the leisure of daydreaming. Archaeologists estimate they have no more than a decade left to dig.
"Everything is a piece of the puzzle that is Alexandria," said Empereur, on loan from France's National Center of Scientific Research to help the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. "We could lose everything."
For centuries, Alexandria's buildings had no foundations. New buildings rose on top of old, leaving a lot of history intact. Also, Alexander's architects designed the city in grids, like Washington, D.C. Excavators have an idea where buildings should have been.
"Every time you lower a shovel in Alexandria, great things come up," Bob Bianchi, a Greco-Roman historian from Brooklyn, N.Y., told The Associated Press.