Cleopatra exhibit premieres in Philadelphia

Cleopatra was the last great pharaoh of Egypt, and its most famous. Her name is synonymous with beauty, mystery, and power, yet not much is known about her. Her enemies erased most details of her life and even her tomb is lost.

Two teams of archaeologists have been searching for clues about the enigmatic woman, and the treasures they’ve found are the subject of a major exhibition opening tomorrow at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia called Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.

Cleopatra VII, who lived from 69-30 BC, was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty, founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in 304 BC. She was also the last pharaoh of an independent Egypt. For a time she was the lover of Julius Caesar, but she changed allegiances (and beds) to join forces with Mark Anthony to carve out an empire of their own. Julius Caesar’s successor Octavian defeated them in battle and they took their own lives, and Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.

The exhibition showcases more than 150 artifacts never seen before in the United States, from giant statues fished from the sea to a government document that may include a note written by Cleopatra herself. The artifacts come from two different excavations. One is run by Dr. Zahi Hawass at the temple of Taposiris Magna, about 30 miles west of Alexandria. Hawass believes this may be the final resting place of the famous lovers.

The other excavation is directed by Dr. Franck Goddio, a French underwater archaeologist who has explored the harbor of Alexandria and the coast of Egypt and discovered Cleopatra’s palace and the two ancient cities of Canopus and Heracleion, which had sank into the sea after a series of earthquakes and tidal waves nearly 2,000 years ago.

The exhibition takes on an ancient subject with modern technology, including multimedia exhibits and a chance to interact with social media such as Twitter and Foursquare while seeing the displays. Following the links gives the visitor more information about Cleopatra and a discount coupon they can send to their friends.

Neither team has found solid evidence for the location of Cleopatra’s burial place, so Egypt’s most alluring woman will retain some of her mystery for the time being. Their finds, however, have thrown new light on the life and times of one of Egypt’s greatest female pharaohs.

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt will remain at the Franklin Institute until January 2, 2011, before heading out on a tour of North America.