Sunken Cities: Ancient Egyptian Ruins in St. Louis
Bust of the black stone queen set up underwater on site, Heracleion, Egypt; Ptolemaic Period; granodiorite; height: 86 5/8 inches; Na onal Museum, Alexandria (SCA 283), IEASM Excavations
Photo: Christoph Gerigk
© Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation
Written By Johnny Fugitt
The grandeur and exotic allure of Ancient Egypt has long captured imaginations around the world. Combine the dream of unearthing carefully prepared mummies in secret tombs with the lore of Plato’s Atlantis and you have the non-mythical underwater Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. Rediscovered and excavated in the last two decades by archeologist Franck Goddio, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds has made its American debut in St. Louis.
The French Goddio might be described as a 21st century blend of Jacques Cousteau and Benjamin Franklin. With adventure and the sea always beckoning, Goddio’s first career as an international economic advisor to the United Nations, French Foreign Ministry and various governments around the world didn’t fulfill his deepest passion. That lay in the darkened depths of sandy sea beds.
The Sunken Cities exhibition made its international debut in Paris before moving to The British Museum, home of, perhaps, the world’s most esteemed Egyptian collection. For its inaugural American appearance, Goddio brought his imposing artifacts from the Nile delta to the Saint Louis Art Museum (March 25 – September 9). Goddio was at the museum for two lectures during opening weekend.
“I’m excited that the public will be able to see a wide range of excavated material – that is material that has been systematically and scientifically excavated, recorded, and documented,” says Lisa Çakmak, SLAM’s associate curator of ancient art. “People will see that something came out of the sea in nearly pristine conditions. Others haven’t survived quite as well. And the range – some are exceptional objects of beauty and others are modest objects of personal devotion.”
The ancient Egyptian artifacts are popular permanent pieces at the Art Museum and Sunken Cities adds a new layer of understanding to the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman Periods in Egyptian history.
With pieces weighing more than 10,000 pounds, the logistics of the exhibition were a monumental undertaking. Pieces were moved via air freight from Europe with the Museum requiring cranes for installation.
This special exhibit was made possible by the collaboration of a number of supporters, including the Hilti Foundation and Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. “The donor community in St. Louis really has stepped up, too,” says Jeanette Fausz, director of exhibitions and collections. “We are especially grateful to the William T. Kemper Foundation–Commerce Bank, Trustee, which provided funding to offset loan fees and installation costs, and Edward Jones, which has provided lead corporate support for our presentation of Sunken Cities. I also should mention that we have received considerable assistance from Explore St. Louis, which believes the exhibition can be a strong tourism draw for the region.”
For families, students of history and those appreciative of modern-day adventurers, Sunken Cities is an exhibit not to be missed.