The world of Cleopatra, which has been lost to the sea and sand for nearly 2,000 years, surfaces in this new exhibition, Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, making its world premiere at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), the exhibition features never before seen artifacts, and takes visitors inside the present-day search for Cleopatra, which extends from the sands of Egypt to the depths of the Bay of Aboukir near Alexandria.
The Exhibition Galleries
A four-minute movie opens the exhibition. Visitors are introduced to the parallel stories of Dr. Zahi Hawass and Franck Goddio, who are leading searches for Cleopatra VII from the sands of Egypt to the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.
As soon as the movie ends, visitors encounter a statue of a Ptolemaic queen, perhaps Cleopatra. Visitors also begin their audio tour, provided to every guest as part of the exhibition experience and narrated by the "voice of Cleopatra," who leads visitors through her life and times.
Ruins of Alexandria after Earthquake and Tsunami
Next, visitors are transported to the site of the ruins of ancient Alexandria, lost beneath the sea centuries ago. Here, Franck Goddio is leading an underwater excavation to recover artifacts from Cleopatra's empire. Beneath the walkway, visitors can see amphora from the 5th Century B.C. along with other artifacts.
Another submerged city discovered near Alexandria, Canopus had a dual personality. It was a religious center as well as a decadent playground for Alexandrians, comparable to modern-day Las Vegas. This gallery focuses on the city's identity as a site of religious pilgrimage. Artifacts include representations of Osiris, god of the Afterlife, and ritual implements used on the boat procession from Canopus to Heracleion that was held annually in his honor. This gallery also contains artifacts that illustrate the indulgent side of Canopus.
The most dominant artifacts in this gallery space are two 16-foot tall colossal figures of a Ptolemaic king and queen from the Temple of Amon at Heracleion. Each new pharaoh, including Cleopatra, was crowned in the ancient city of Heracleion. This gallery highlights the city's role as the place Cleopatra and all of Egypt's rulers were invested with the power to rule the empire and its strategic position on the Mediterranean coast, where various war objects on view illustrate how it provided Egypt's main line of defense against foreign invasion.
Visitors journey into the ancient city of Alexandria, where Cleopatra's palace once stood. Featured objects reflect everyday life in Ptolemaic Egypt. Key pieces in this room include a statue of the High Priest of Isis and a sphinx with a head that represents Cleopatra's father, both from her private temple at her palace. Also on view is the massive stone head of Caesarion, Cleopatra's son.
The Beauty and Power of Cleopatra
Here, visitors gaze upon a larger-than-life headless sculpture of a female body, dressed as the goddess Isis that represents a queen from the Ptolemaic period. They also see the only known example of what scientists believe to be Cleopatra's own handwriting on an original papyrus document.
Search for the Tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony
Entering this gallery, visitors are transported to the temple complex at Taposiris Magna, about 30 miles west of Alexandria. Here, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, is leading a search for the tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. The gallery introduces artifacts recovered from this ongoing search, including an alabaster head believed to represent Cleopatra.
The final gallery is devoted to images of Cleopatra through the years in art and popular culture. Artists have tried to capture the essence of Cleopatra in a multitude of art forms throughout history, from paintings to films. But so far, the real last queen of Egypt has eluded everyone.