In 2018, the Saint Louis Art Museum will be the first North American art museum to tell the epic story of one of the greatest finds in the history of underwater archaeology, a story that revealed two lost cities of ancient Egypt submerged under the Mediterranean Sea for over a thousand years. World-renowned underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team discovered these submerged worlds uncovering stunning ancient religious, ceremonial, and commercial artifacts, which has led to a greater understanding of life during the age of pharaohs.
More than 200 of these authentic artifacts, including three colossal 16-foot sculptures of a pharaoh, a queen, and a god will be on view. Objects range from the colossal sculptures to precious gold coins and jewelry, bronze vessels, objects inscribed in the ancient Egyptian or Greek languages, and statues from the sunken and forgotten ancient cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. They will be seen alongside ancient Egyptian artifacts from museums in Cairo and Alexandria, many of which have never been on view in the United States.
The exhibition is curated by Franck Goddio. The presentation in St. Louis is co-curated by Lisa Çakmak, the associate curator of ancient art.
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Before the founding of Alexandria in 331 BC, Thonis-Heracleion (the Egyptian and Greek names of the city) was the primary port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world. It was also an important religious center. The nearby city of Canopus, often mentioned by classical authors and religious leaders, was famous for its temples, and was believed to be sites of miraculous healing. However, prior to their discovery in 2000, no trace of either city had been found. Many wondered, were these cities real or merely myth?
Franck Goddio’s discovery revealed that the cities were indeed real, and had lay at the mouth of the Nile, 30 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, for more than 1200 years. Their submersion was completed in the 8th century, possibly by an earthquake, or other upheavals, some associated with tidal waves. This, combined with the unstable sediment on which the cities were built, ultimately led to their demise.
In 1933, a Royal Air Force pilot spotted dark shadows in the water of Aboukir Bay in the Mediterranean Sea, leading to the discovery of several objects from Canopus dating from the Ptolemaic Period. Six decades later, Franck Goddio and the European Institute for Underwater Archeology (IEASM,) in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, began research to determine the location and topography of the currently submerged ancient zones of the eastern harbor of Alexandria and of Aboukir Bay. Utilizing sophisticated technical equipment Goddio and his team were able to locate, map, and excavate parts of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion and confirm that the region had indeed once been an important center of trade and site of religious pilgrimage. The excavation has also helped scholars understand the Mysteries of Osiris, an annual festival that commemorated one of Egypt's most important myths—the murder and resurrection of the god Osiris.
A team of underwater archaeologists, led by Goddio, continues to tirelessly explore the submerged land off the Mediterranean coast. This ambitious 25-year-long project covers a vast area the size of Paris and brings to light findings of antiquities of considerable importance, transforming our understanding of the extensive exchange of goods and ideas between Egypt and its Mediterranean neighbors.
Excavations are carried out under the supervision of both the IEASM and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities. The archaeological work of Franck Goddio has been supported since 1996 by the Hilti Foundation.
Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds is organized by
the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) with the generous support of
and in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
The exhibition is presented in St. Louis by the William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, Trustee
with lead corporate support from Edward Jones.
Major support is provided by the E. Desmond Lee Family Endowment for Exhibitions.
Additional support is provided by Wells Fargo Advisors and Drury Hotels.
Promotional partnership courtesy of Explore St. Louis.
The Saint Louis Art Museum receives annual operating support from the Missouri Arts Council,
a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts.