Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Cleopatra's Palace Found Volume 50 Number 2, March/April 1997
by Angela M.H. Schuster

[image] Diver examines 26th Dynasty column. (Hilti Foundation) [LARGER IMAGE]

Obscured by murky water for more than 1,500 years, remains of the ancient capital of the Ptolemies have been found in Egypt's Port of Alexandria. Paved roads, jetties, columns, sphinxes, and amphorae litter one-half square mile of seabed within the eastern portion of the harbor.

Among the remnants found by French businessman-turned-archaeologist Franck Goddio and a French-Egyptian team is a small paved area they believe to be the island of Antirrhodos. According to the description of Alexandria by the Greek geographer Strabo, who was in Egypt ca. 25-19 B.C., the island was the site of Cleopatra's palace. "The remains of the ancient city closest to shore revealed both Greek and Roman remains," says Goddio. "However, those found on the island appear to be solely Ptolemaic, suggesting that the palace was abandoned shortly after Cleopatra's suicide in 31 B.C." The rest of the city seems to have remained in use until it was leveled by an earthquake in A.D. 365.

Because the water is shallow (12-21 feet) Goddio and his team were able to map the site by suspending a plumb bob over each artifact, its line attached to a buoy rigged with a GPS (global positioning system) receiver encased in waterproof housing. "We were lucky that the water is not only shallow but quite calm, enabling us to pinpoint the locations of each contour and archaeological feature." According to Goddio, "Egypt has embarked on a cleanup of the polluted harbor. We hope one day to open the site as an underwater archaeological park. We have a whole city here." Goddio and his team will return to the site in May.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America