A huge granite block, believed to be part of a temple belonging to Egyptian queen Cleopatra, has been lifted from the sea at Alexandria. The nine-tonne stone, quarried in Aswan some 700 miles south of the city, is expected to be transported to a new museum celebrating the sunken city.
The block is thought to have been the pillar of a temple to Isis at Cleopatra’s palace. Alexandria became a centre of commerce and education during antiquity, but was razed by a 4th century AD earthquake. The stone is one of a series of underwater discoveries made by the Greek archaeological team which has scoured the area since 1998. Sphinxes and fragments of the city’s fabled Pharos, or lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the world, are among the team’s other coups.
The act of retrieving the relic has been an unenviable mission. First divers spent weeks cleaning it of mud and scum, before dragging it across the seabed for three days. A crane then carried out the lifting process, after which it was put on a lorry for transportation to a huge freshwater tank, where it will stay until all the corrosive salt on it is removed.
“This is one of the most important archaeological finds in Alexandria, among the 400 items recovered by the Greek archaeological team that has been engaged in underwater research since 1998,” says Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass has stressed the find’s importance: “We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra’s palace,” he tells the Associated Press. “This is an important part of Alexandria’s history and it brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city.”
The life of Cleopatra is slowly being brought to light by a number of high-profile digs in and around Alexandria. As well as the Greek project, Dominican explorer Kathleen Martinez hopes to find the last queen’s tomb at Taposiris Magna, a small suburb. And while Cleopatra may not cause the kind of hysterical interest as King Tut across the world, an upcoming US tour of her treasures is sure to give her profile a boom.