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Cleopatra reigns at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute exhibit

Written By | Nov 11, 2010

PHILADELPHIA, Pa (11/08/10) – The Franklin Institute, a center for science education with hands-on exploration for children and adults presents  “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt” through January 2, 2011.

The Franklin Institute is located in the Parkway Museum District is located in the City Center area were visitors will find Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the world class Rodin Museum, the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, particularly important as Ben Franklin founded the first free library in Philadelphia (1731.)

The last great Pharoh of Egypt, Cleopatra lived from 69-30BC.  Previously lost to the sands and the sea, her city and palace, built by Ptolmey II (300 B.C.) have been found in the Bay of Aboukir.  Many artifacts found on the ocean floor from her royal palace as well as the lost city of Heraclieon and Canopus, the religious center of the region are now on display.

Sixteen foot statues of a King and Queen from outside a temple

Imposing in their size and power are the two 16-foot tall figures of a Ptolemic King and Queen from the Temple of Amon at Heracleion, an ancient city near modern day Alexandria.

Making a search extending back 2,000 years in history even more difficult is that Egypt’s Roman conquerors attempted to rewrite history by destroying all evidence of her existence and her romances with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, assignations that were as much about romance as they were about aligning Egypt with political power.

Your visit starts with a brief movie, which introduces two men, Dr. Zahi Hawass, archaeologist and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Franck Goddio, underwater archaeologist and director of IEASM.  These explorers are looking beneath the sea and into the warm sands of Egypt seeking the final resting place of the elusive queen.

Stepping beyond what is believed to be a statute of Cleopatra’s body (the head is sadly missing) visitors walk into the ruins of ancient Alexandria and are able to see, quite closely, the very artifacts that once populated the Queens castle and court.

Statue of a Queen

Statue of a Queen

The presentation is as interesting and impactful as any I have seen.  It is also reverently quiet as people listen to the personalized audio tour where the “voice” of Cleopatra narrates your journey centuries back in time.

There is much to learn, to be awed by in the exhibits beautiful staging that includes modern day photos and video of Mr. Goddio’s underwater teams retrieving larger than life statues and other items from the sandy ocean floor.  The items were found using 19th-century maps and magnetic resonance machines, sonar and a bit of sleuthing to find over five hundred pieces buried deep beneath the oceans floor offering a glimpse back over 2,000 years.

At the exhibit learn that the very merry lifestyle of Alexandria at this time, often compared to the liveliness of a present day Las Vegas, was cosmopolitan and rich.  That our modern day calendar, with 365 days to the year, divided into 12 months and four seasons shares its creation with the Eqyptian calendar with 360 days reflected in 36 squares grouped into three seasons of four months, each month having 30 days.

On exhibition is the Eqyptian Naos of the Decades.  The Naos , with its inner shrine for Shu, God of the Naos, it is considered to be the first astrological charts in the world.  Look closely on the back wall of the Naso and see the etched lion shape of Shu.

Naos of the Decades

Naos of the Decades

The God Shu is the corner of the Egyptian creation story and the Egyptians believed that “Shu created the world and raised the sky and earth out of the seas and become the atmosphere between them.”

The Naos reflects that the Egyptian year is divided into 36 decades, or groups of ten days each. Each 10-day period followed the appearance of a “decans” star and whose movement was believe to guide all that which happened on Earth.

The presentation of this artifact is quite powerful.  The Naos, which is dated to the 30th Dynasty – 378-361 B.C. is so beautifully preserved you can see how the carvings are grouped to show the “decans,” or 10-day period.

It is also the only known record of Egyptian Creation, which would be contrary to the beliefs of conquering Greeks, Romans and Christians who, signage states smashed the Naos into pieces.  In 1817, the Louvre in Paris acquired the top sections of the structure with   the base and rear wall of the Naos found in the Bay of Alexandria in 1940 with Frank Goddio finding the missing pieces in the Bay of Aboukir.

Additional pieces found include small statuettes as well as incredibly well preserved Sphinx of Auletes, the Flute Player (Ptolemy XII/Granodiorite 1st c. B.C.) This is one of two sphinxes that stood guard outside the temple of Isis at Celopatra’s palace.  The head of this sphinx resembles King Ptomlemy XII, Cleopatra’s father.

Head of a Pharaoh

Head of a Pharaoh

It is fascinating to see the image of the artifacts in photo as the rested on the ocean floor in addition to seeing them on display.  One such piece is the Head of the Pharaoh. To the right of the artifact, the much larger than life photographic image is visable.

Cleopatra: The Last Queen of Egypt is at the Franklin Institute until January 2, 2011.  For information about The Inn at Penn, a Hilton Worldwide property, click here.


The Franklin Institute
222 N. 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Mon–Wed 9:30AM – 5:00PM
Last entry at 3:30PM.
Thu–Sun 9:30AM – 8:30PM
Last entry at 7:00PM.

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.