Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds

Venue: The British Museum

Price: £16.50 (members go free)

Closest tube station: Russell Square/Holborn 

If you’ve read my previous post on the British Museum, you’ll know that it is my favourite museum in London, not least for the reason that they hold one of the most fantastic collections of Egyptian artefacts in the country. Today I’m back with a review of a new exhibition, which is about the discovery of two sunken cities.

If you’ve been on the London Underground recently, you will most likely have seen advertisements for this exhibition plastered everywhere. Like most people, I’m susceptible to a bit of marketing mind control but what caught my attention the most (aside from the Ancient Egyptian angle) was the fact that it was getting rave reviews.

The sunken cities in question were called Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus  which, after a series of natural disasters, sank into the sea in approximately the 8th Century AD.  They were first spotted in 1933 after RAF planes flying overhead noticed something strange in the water. The French marine-archaeologist, Franck Goddio, went on to discover the cities in 2000 and this was hailed as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of recent times.

This colossal, 18-foot statue of the fertility god Hapy from Thonis-Heracleion is the tallest object ever loaned to the British Museum.
This 18 foot statue of the God Hapy was pulled from the sea bed. Photo credit: here.

These cities were originally ports which lay on the mouth of the Nile, leading into the Mediterranean sea. They were important in terms of trade, as they were the first stop for ships coming in from Greece. These cities were also significant because they were the religious homes of the God Amun.

Until this discovery, the city was only known about through obscure written records by Greek historians and poets.

The reason why Egypt has such a rich history to offer us now, is because its location (both geographical and political) allowed it to develop and evolve virtually without interference for thousands of years. In the same way, the preservation of these two cities under the water has stopped the interference that would have followed, following the fall of the Egyptian and Greek empires.

The artefacts in the exhibition allow us to examine the relationship between the Egyptians and the invading Greeks, who attempted to rule more favourably than the outgoing Persians. Alexander the Great tried to mix as much Egyptian culture with the Greek culture he introduced, taking the Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses and creating Greek counterparts. For example, Amun was aligned with Zeus and Bastet was aligned with Artemis. The artistic styles of the time also showed how these two cultures had intermingled.

Surf ‘n’ turf – the bull God Apis

Alexander the Great allowed the Egyptians to maintain their religious customs and was eventually made Pharaoh, being imbued with the same divine powers as those that had been Pharaoh before him.

The way this exhibition has been constructed and presented fits really well with the entire focus of the artefacts. The dim lighting and watery walls make it feel like you too are discovering these pieces under the sea.

Exhibitions at the British Museum rarely disappoint and as I overheard peoples’ conversations on the way round, I know that I would not be the only one to highly recommend this one.

‘Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds’ runs until the 27th of November 2016, so catch it while you can!

Thanks for reading,

~ Plane Emoji

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