Sunken Cities

Plaque with Amun as a Ram, c.600-500 BC

We used Anne’s gift membership to the Saint Louis Art Museum to gain entry into the new art show that opened late last month, Sunken Cities – Egypt’s Lost Worlds. Saint Louis is the US premier for this show and the art museum has been excited about its debut for months. The core of this show are its ancient underwater archeological artifacts that have been unearthed from beneath the murky waters surrounding present day Alexandria. More than 1,200 years ago the lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus sank beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. For more than twenty years now, modern archeologist and divers from the European Union have been scouring the sea floor and bring up numerous ceremonial art objects and items of everyday use.

Sunken Cities Poster

Leavened among these sunken treasures are more pristine terrestrial versions of these same items that are contemporary with the underwater finds, but without the weathering caused by centuries in a salt water bath. Even the relatively well-preserved plaque fragment, pictured above, shows some pitting on its surface. Accompanying this artifact and many of the others in the show are photos that show the object in situ, on the ocean floor, when it was first discovered. 

Arsinoë II Statue, C.300-200 BC

The photo with the diver is seen guiding the raising of a statue of the god Hapy. This colossal 17′ tall statue is one of two such finds that are located in the main hall of the art museum. They were too tall to fit into the show’s exhibit space. It is the underwater aspect of this archeology that excites my imagination. God help me, but I am reminded of the opening sequence in Matthew McConaughey’s “Sahara”. Adventure is in the air, with sunken gold and treasure reclaimed from the sea. This is not just some dry and dusty dig.

Last week, we were at the Getty in LA and caught the opening of their show, Beyond the Nile – Egypt and the Classical World. Both shows cover roughly the same time period in Egyptian history, the classical period of Alexander, Ptolemy and the Romans. Not to cast too much shade on the Getty, but Sunken Cities is the superior show. It will be on display in Saint Louis until September 8th. 

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