Year in review

"This discovery is quite revolutionary. It will allow us to rewrite in detail the last days of the pharaohs."
-- Aziza Sa'id, Alexandria University


The announcement was met with excitement in some quarters; skepticism in others. In November, a team of divers searching the Mediterranean Sea said they had found the ruins of Cleopatra's palace and the Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The head of the team of British and French divers, Franck Goddio said they had been retrieving stones and statues for a year, and now were sure what they were excavating was Timoniom, where Cleopatra and Marc Antony, in Shakespeare's phrase, "kissed away kingdoms."

The popular view of Cleopatra is shaped by Shakespeare's beautiful, luxurious Egyptian queen and her descendants, like Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra in the '60s Hollywood epic. In reality, some historians say, she was not a beautiful woman, and now, it may turn out, not so luxurious.

Divers explore ruins -- 951K QuickTime movie

Goddio said the palace is about 300 feet long and 150 feet wide, modest for ancient Alexandria, which was known as the "city of 1,000 palaces." Artifacts recovered so far indicate that she did not surround herself with gold and other finery. Carvings suggest she killed herself (in 30 B.C.) with a cobra, as many historians now believe, not an asp.

Goddio said his team used the Geography of Strabo, written five years after Cleopatra's death, as a "road map" to pinpoint the palace. It took 3,500 dives to map the remains of the ancient city.

The seventh wonder of the world


Just as intriguing to archaeologists is the possible discovery of the ruins of the Lighthouse of Pharos. When it was built around 280 B.C., it stood 400 feet (122 meters) high-- the tallest building in the world. Of the seven wonders, the lighthouse endured longest, finally toppled by an earthquake about 600 years ago.

Divers also may have found the tomb of Alexander the Great, who founded the city in 331 B.C. When he died eight years later at the age of 32, he was placed in a glass coffin and buried in a special tomb. The ancient city was submerged about 1,000 years ago by earthquakes and a tidal wave.

But the discoveries are by no mean confirmed. Professor Peter Fraser of Oxford University said: "The case for the lighthouse seems reasonable, but there were plenty of Alexanders and Cleopatras around then, and it would not do to get the wrong one."

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