ALEXANDRIA, Egypt - Plunging into the waters off Alexandria yesterday, divers explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.
The international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 B.C.
The team is surveying ancient Alexandria's Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers.
Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor's poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt's rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.
The finds will go on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia from June 5 to Jan. 2 in an exhibition titled "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt." The show will tour several other North American cities.
Many archaeological sites have been destroyed by man, with statues smashed to pieces. Alexandria's Royal Quarters simply slid into the sea after cataclysmic earthquakes.
Goddio's team found it in 1996. Many of its treasures are intact, wrapped in sediment protecting them from the saltwater.
Yesterday's dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt's Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Marc Antony before they committed suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus.