Starting on March 25th, the Saint Louis Art Museum will present “Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds,” an exhibition showcasing antiquities from one of the greatest finds in the history of underwater archaeology. The North American premiere of the Sunken Cities exhibit will be the most significant exhibition of ancient Egyptian art undertaken in St. Louis in more than 50 years.
Featuring colossal, 16-foot-tall sculptures and precious artifacts from the long-lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, “Sunken Cities” focuses on discoveries made during the last seven years of underwater excavation lead by Franck Goddio, president of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology.
The “Sunken Cities” exhibit will be open at the St. Louis Art Museum for six months. It recently visited the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, the British Museum in London and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
“We long have sought an exhibition of ancient Egyptian antiquities that combines both rigorous archaeological research with objects of the highest artistic quality, and ‘Sunken Cities’ was a perfect match for us,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “The museum is pleased to bring this groundbreaking, visually stunning exhibition to St. Louis for its first viewing in America.”
The European Institute for Underwater Archaeology organized the exhibition with the support of the Hilti Foundation and in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The presenting sponsor of the exhibition in St. Louis is the William T. Kemper Foundation–Commerce Bank, Trustee with lead corporate support from Edward Jones.
What’s on display?
In addition to more than 250 works of art discovered by Goddio’s team, the exhibition also includes complementary artifacts from museums in Cairo and Alexandria, some of which never have been shown outside of Egypt.
Thonis-Heracleion — a modern arrangement of the city’s Egyptian and Greek names —was built in the Nile Delta. The city reached its zenith in the Late Period (664–332 BC), when it served as Egypt’s main Mediterranean port. By 800 AD, different natural catastrophes such as earthquake and soil liquefaction had caused both Thonis-Heracleion and the nearby community of Canopus to submerge, and ruins remained underwater for more than 1,000 years.
In 2000, Goddio discovered Thonis-Heracleion under 30 feet of water more than four miles off the Egyptian coast. The French archeologist’s research has revealed that this area was important both as a center of trade and as a religious pilgrimage site. The excavation also helped scholars understand the Mysteries of Osiris, an annual water procession along the canals between Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, commemorating one of Egypt’s most important myths — the murder and resurrection of the god Osiris.
“Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds” is curated by Goddio. The presentation in St. Louis is co-curated by Lisa Çakmak, associate curator of ancient art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Tickets went on sale December 1.