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The exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see treasures recovered from two powerful ancient Egyptian cities that sank into the Mediterranean more than a thousand years ago. Destroyed by natural catastrophes in the 8th century AD, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were once mighty centers of trade, where Egyptian and Greek cultures merged in art, worship, and everyday life.
In the centuries since their demise, these two cities were known only by scattered mentions in ancient writings. No physical trace of their splendor and magnificence was found, and even their true names grew obscured. Today, maritime archaeologist Franck Goddio and his European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) have given new life to these sunken cities. Presenting nearly 300 objects from IEASM’s discoveries from the Mediterranean waters of Aboukir Bay and some of Egypt’s most important museums, VMFA invites you to reconnect with these once-lost civilizations.
IEASM’s ongoing underwater excavations have fundamentally changed our understanding of the cultures, faiths, and history of Egypt’s Mediterranean region. This exhibition features a staggering array of objects from these excavations, supplemented by treasures from museums across Egypt. The objects on view piece together the economic and cultural significance of these destroyed city centers and showcase the artistry, religious practices, and traditions of their people. Thonis-Heracleion was once Egypt’s premiere center for trade with the Greek world, while the nearby city of Canopus drew pilgrims from across the Mediterranean, particularly for rites dedicated to the god Osiris. Artifacts from these cities attest to the range of human experience in this ancient land. Visitors will gain insight into Egypt’s powerful Ptolemaic Kingdom, the Graeco-Egyptian blending of cultures, and the god Osiris, who figured prominently in everyday life.
VMFA is the only East Coast venue and the last stop before the objects return to Egypt. The works of art on display include everything from jewelry and coins to utilitarian and ritual objects and from coffins and steles to the colossal statue of the fertility god Hapy, the largest discovered representation of an Egyptian god.