The “Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds” exhibit recently made its North American debut at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Visitors see ancient Egyptian artifacts from two cities that, until the last decade, had been lost undersea. Their discovery is considered one of the greatest finds in the history of underwater archaeology.

By By Keaton Lane
Sunken Cities excavation

1. Who found these cities?

Franck Goddio, the founder and president of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, started researching and mapping the area between Aboukir Bay and the harbors of Alexandria in 1992 and eventually discovered the remains of two cities, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus.

(Left) The bust of the colossal statue of the god Hapy was strapped with webbing before being raised out of the waters of Aboukir Bay, Egypt. (Right) The Head of Serapis underwater on site in Canopus, Egypt. Photos by Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

2. When and why did the cities disappear?

The two cities disappeared off of Egypt's North Coast over 1,000 years ago. Experts believe that the cities were vacated and eventually sank into the Mediterranean due to soil liquefication, earthquakes and rising sea levels. The cities were found under 30 feet of water and beneath several feet of sand and silt about 4 miles off of the coast of Egypt.

3. Why were they important?

At one time Thonis-Heracleion's harbors were the main Mediterranean port for Egypt and the city also contained a grand temple where pharaohs would go to be legitimized by the gods. The influence of Thonis-Heracleion peaked from 6th to 4th century BC. Only 5 percent of Thonis-Heracleion has been uncovered, so Goddio and his team are continuing their work in the area.

(Left) A ram of Amun engraved on both sides of a limestone plaque. (Right) Statuette of Osiris with golden eyes. Photos by Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

4. What's on display?

The exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum features more than 250 of the works that Goddio and his team have found including statues, jewelry, coins and objects that were used in ritual. Some of the most impressive pieces include three colossal statues that are each between 16 and 18 feet in height and weigh between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds. These statues stand in the museum's Sculpture Hall because they are too large to fit inside the main galleries. Visitors will also see ancient pieces from Cairo and Alexandria, some of which have never been shown outside of Egypt.

Colossal statue of the god Hapy. The red granite statue is more than 17 feet high and weighs 6 tons. Photos by Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

5. When can I see the exhibit?

The exhibit runs until Sept. 9. The museum recommends purchasing tickets in advance at metrotix.com. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and Fridays until 9 p.m.) General admission is free, but exhibit tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, and $8 for children 6 to 12 (children under 6 are free). Admission to the exhibit is free on Fridays, but you still need a ticket to enter.

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