Sunken artifact reveals Pharaonic influence

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt Fri Dec 18, 2009 10:52am EST

Workers direct the retrieval of an ancient Egyptian granite tower that was found in the Mediterranean Sea, at Alexandria's eastern harbour December 17, 2009. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Workers direct the retrieval of an ancient Egyptian granite tower that was found in the Mediterranean Sea, at Alexandria's eastern harbour December 17, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Egyptian archaeologists pulled a red granite ruin from the seabed near Cleopatra's sunken palace this week that experts said showed the influence of pharaonic design well into Greek and Roman rule.

Dating to 30 BC, near the end of the Hellenistic era, the 9-tonne, 2.25-meter long block was once part of a temple dedicated to Isis, an Egyptian goddess who was later adopted by the Greeks and Romans.

The block's pharaonic style indicated the influence of pharaonic architecture at the end of Cleopatra's rule and on the cusp of Roman supremacy, said Hary Tazlaz, head of the Greek mission that discovered the ruins in 1998.

"The pylon is a typically Egyptian piece of architecture," Tazlaz told Reuters. "The architecture of Alexandria in Hellenistic times was not a totally Greek architecture. It was a Greek dynasty but used pharaonic architecture."

That the ruin was part of a temple used during Cleopatra's reign indicated that pharaonic culture continued through the last moments of Greek rule and even into Roman times, he said.

CLEOPATRA'S LEGACY

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass looked on as divers guided a crane underwater and hoisted the granite ruin onshore on Thursday.

The block was originally discovered 8 meters below the water to the east of Cape Lochias, the royal district of the sunken city. Tazlaz said the temple of Isis itself "was very near touching the mausoleum of Cleopatra."

The queen's actual burial place remains a mystery. Excavators initially focused on a burial site submerged under Alexandria's sea in an 8th century earthquake, but now have evidence that priests carried her body to an inland temple where it could lie with her lover Marc Antony.

Divers dragged the ruin for days across the sea floor to reach Alexandria's eastern harbor, where it was brought onshore.

"This is a very important piece," Hawass said. "It belongs to the history of Alexandria and reminds us of the history of Cleopatra."

The block will be the centerpiece of a newly reconstructed Maritime Museum in Alexandria dedicated to the sunken city.

Ruins of cities, palaces and ships from pharaonic and Greco-Roman times lie preserved beneath Alexandria's shores, one of the richest excavation sites in the Mediterranean.

Hawass said that his team is still searching for the burial place of Cleopatra, which he believes lies inland some 50 kilometers west of the Mediterranean port city.

In May, Hawass and Tazlaz plan to extract a 15-tonne, 7-meter tall door believed to be that of Cleopatra's mausoleum.

Cleopatra, facing possible captivity in Rome, killed herself allegedly by the sting of an asp. Antony is also thought to have taken his own life after his defeat to Octavian at Actium.

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