Underwater Ruins Give Glimpse of Cleopatra

The royal quarters of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony may become a diving attraction.

June 9, 2010, 10:49 AM

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, June 10, 2010 -- Deep beneath the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt's ancient capital Alexandria lies a wealth of archaeological artifacts. It's a treasure trove of 20,000 objects and counting, thousands of years old providing archaeologists the key to unlocking the mystery of ancient Egypt and its rulers.

One of them is the last Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Legend has it that when the Romans entered Egypt in 30 BC and after losing the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra and her lover Mark Anthony took their own lives in order to avoid being captured by their enemies. The Romans scattered their belongings and their tomb has never been found. Archaeologists however have isolated three sites in Alexandria where they believe the tomb is located.

But the royal quarters which include a palace and temple complex where Cleopatra is thought to have reigned from have been discovered. Previously, these sites were thought to have been swallowed up and lost more than 1,600 years ago. According to Ibrahim Darwish, General Director of museums in Alexandria, the quarters are from the era of "Ptolemy when the area was controlled and ruled by Cleopatra in 25 BC as well as the Roman period in 643 AD,'' he told ABC News.

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A French team lead by Frank Goddio has been leading the excavation along with an Egyptian counterpart since 1992 when the dig first started. Egyptologist and underwater archaeologist Ashraf Abdel Raouf is also part of this project and he explained to ABC News that they found "ceramics, bronze coins, small objects that are now in a laboratory and under restoration….remarkable objects,'' adding that because "it was in the sea, it's been conserved as it was sunken. We found pottery, statues as well and the sea conserved them.''

Many of the items that have been brought to the surface are currently on show at an exhibition called "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt," at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. There are at least 140 artifacts on display from colossal statues to coins with an insurance value of over 50 million dollars. The exhibition will go on the road in other parts of the U.S. beginning with New York City in February next year.

An Underwater Museum

Back in Alexandria, the work continues, Abdel Raouf says that at present most of Alexandria is covered with modern buildings so "our hope as archaeologists and historians is to continue the excavation work in the sunken royal quarters…the next step is to continue the geographic prospection, we'll do a survey to follow the topography of this area and continue our underwater excavations.''

Underwater archaeologists have already started looking into and researching an underwater museum. Egypt's top archaeologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass told ABC News that this museum will provide "a lot about the temple of isis, and Cleopatra and Mark Anthony…the museum will contain all the artifacts taken out of the water and this will be very important for the history of Alexandria.''

Abdel Raouf described to ABC News that there are "many exciting remains such as columns, capital of columns, granite blocks, many objects. We're bringing the smaller objects out. The construction remains, we'll leave it as part of the underwater museum for people to dive in that area and look at it,'' Abdel Raouf told ABC News. The idea is that part of it will be underwater for tourists who want to dive and get closer to the objects. There will also be tunnels constructed within the museum for people who don't want to dive.

Because they are studying the visibility, sediment and pollution underwater, this has been an ongoing project for the past two years, it will need the financial support and a lot of preparation work before it is open to the public.