About the Exhibit

Photo: Divers look down over the sphinxes and priest.

Divers look down over the sphinxes and priest.

Photograph copyright Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, Christoph Gerigk

The young princess Cleopatra VII, known today as simply Cleopatra, became the queen of Egypt in the year 51 B.C. Thrust onto the world stage by her father, Ptolemy XII, she ruled a country in tumult, one on the verge of crumbling under the mighty Roman Empire.

Only 17 years old when she took the throne, Cleopatra quickly became one of the most powerful rulers Egypt had ever known. She bonded personally and politically with two of ancient Rome’s most powerful leaders, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Then, barely two decades after coming to power, this queen took her own life in a climactic act of defiance against the Romans, still hungry for her kingdom.

While we know these facts of Cleopatra’s life and times, much remains to be discovered. Who was Cleopatra? What, and whom, did she hold dear? Was she the exotic beauty depicted by artists and filmmakers, or did she lure her famous lovers with her intellect and her power? From the underwater ruins of the once vibrant city of Alexandria, to the desert remains of a temple where she may have traveled to begin her journey into the afterlife, archaeologists today seek further evidence about the life, death, and world of Egypt’s last queen. For centuries, Cleopatra has remained shrouded in the layers of history, revealing just enough to captivate the world’s imagination.

From political history to religious customs, we have a rough sketch of the Egyptian world around the time of Cleopatra. We know the most important industries of Egypt’s economy, and the sacred triad of deities that Greeks and Egyptians joined together to worship. We know which urban centers were most important, and we know of the terrible murders that caused this queen’s rise to the throne. We also know about the precarious political and economic plight of her country at the time. The more closely we examine this picture, the more we return to the questions that have been left unanswered, the questions that tantalize us with their ambiguity, making Cleopatra the charismatic, yet enigmatic, figure she is today.

We search for answers in the sunken city of Alexandria, in the remains of Canopus and Heracleion, and in the temple ruins of Taposiris Magna, which may hold clues about the location of the tomb of the great queen. Accompany world-renowned archaeologists Zahi Hawass and Franck Goddio as they share the work they are pursuing. Follow along as you learn what sort of instruments accompanied the royal processions Cleopatra attended, what types of statues lined the temple walls through which she strode. Come with them as they unearth the gold jewelry that Cleopatra might have worn and bring to light the calendar with which she may have counted her days. Immerse yourself in this amazing world and share in the excitement of the never ending search for Cleopatra, last queen of Egypt.

From National Geographic Magazine

  • <p>Photo: Workers at dawn</p>

    Egyptian Afterlife

    New evidence shows that, human sacrifice helped populate the royal city of the dead.

  • Photo: Desert ruins

    The Black Pharaohs

    An ignored chapter of history tells of a time when kings from deep in Africa conquered ancient Egypt.

  • Photo: Egyptian tomb at night

    The King Herself

    What motivated Hatshepsut to rule ancient Egypt as a man while her stepson stood in the shadows? Her mummy, and her true story, come to light.


  • Photo: Underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio

    Franck Goddio

    Franck Goddio explains his drive to keep searching for elements of Cleopatra's life.

  • Photo: Zahi Hawass

    Zahi Hawass

    Zahi is looking for that missing piece of Egypt’s story—the tomb of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra in the News