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Egypt in Grand-Palais : Trésors engloutis

Superbe exhibition in Grand-Palais : fifteen centuries of the history of Egypt, through 489 objects that Franck Goddio and his European Institute of underwater archaeology fished out off Alexandria and from Aboukir.  This is the history of another Egypt, less known, which however lasted nearly fifteen centuries: conquest of Alexandre and the installation of Ptolémée on arrival of Islam, while passing by the Roman domination, then Byzantine Christian woman. But this Egypt is not that of the Nile, it is that of the Mediterranean, cosmopolitan by nature and its history, and whose vestiges largely disappeared at sea in consequence of a conjugation from natural phenomena. It is this wasted time and partly found, marrying the civilization of the Pharaons to the influence come from Greece, then of Rome and Byzance, that Franck Goddio, most famous and most media of the underwater archaeologists “private”, presents to us : 489 objects found at sea “and belonging all to Egypt”.  “Absorbed Treasures of Egypt” crowns ten years of work of Franck Goddio and his team, since in 1996 it had the intuition that it was at the edge of the current port of Alexandria that formerly the capital of Ptolémées was spread out, ploughed up at the time of the seism of year 375. This year, its plungers discovered a piece of wood revealing the presence of a ship of Cléopâtre. Since then, its research ceased, neither in Alexandria even, nor in bay close to Aboukir, where it was to discover two disappeared cities, Canope (Pegouti of the Egyptians), with 35 kilometers of Alexandria, half covered by the current town of Aboukir, and Hérakleion (Thônis), attested by the texts, but completely immersed with 7 kilometers with the broad one. The exhibition presents these three sites, in a very evocative scenography - films of archaeologists in diving projected on the walls, continuity studios revealing the various phases of the rescue operations, the whole plunging the rooms in a light and a lapping of sea-beds which contrasts with the black of the ogee mouldings and the gantries.
What strikes, from the start, it is disproportion between the coins presented, between the gigantic statues kings, queens and gods and the tiny mirrors and earrings of gold, between the monumental steles and the currencies, oil lamps, equivocal ritual and other objects of the everyday life found in these Egyptian towns of Ys.
Canope, initially. This city, largely former to the foundation of Alexandria (331 before our era), delivered the most beautiful statuary: splendid heads of Sérapis, this hybrid, semi-Zeus god, semi-Osiris, invented by the pink or gray granite Greeks), with the soft hellenistic curves, a naos (small vault) engraved of an Egyptian calendar, going back to Nectanebo, last Pharaon before the arrival of the Macedonians. And especially marvellous Arsinoë, left foot ahead, arm along the body, but of which the “clothing wet” mould sexy forms as on the Greek “korê”. Christian crosses point out also the presence of a Byzantine monastery, that of Metanoia.
Herakleion then. Thônis of the Egyptians, created into 800 before J. - C., passage obliged of the Greeks who - already - traded with Egypt, was regarded as lost. “Our discoveries, known as Franck Goddio, in particular that of the large temple of Amon and its liturgical furniture, of the monumental statues of a ptolémaïque queen in Isis, a king and a Hâpy god (of believed of the Nile), stele of Nectanebo, made it possible to answer the question of Strabon, into 27 before J. - C., which wondered whether there was a relationship between Herakleion and Thônis. Yes, it is well the same city.”
Remain Alexandria, the prestigious one, the enigmatic one, the Alexandria polemic, where Jean-Yves Empereur, of Ifao (French Institute of oriental archeology) now reconciled with Franck Goddio - always seeks his headlight, while the IEASM works in the port. “Curiously, the plan of the city was not orthonormé, as it was of setting among Greeks, but radiant.” The excavation of the port delivered maritime complexes installations, but the exhibition chose to show moving testimonys especially: enormous blocks of stone, barrels of columns and engraved steles, pointing out the massacres whose Caracalla went guilty to put at the step this critical city.

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