Colossal statue of a Ptolemaic king reassembled underwater after excavation and preliminary cleaning, Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt; red granite; Maritime Museum, Alexandria (SCA 279), IEASM Excavations. Photo by Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

A major exhibition of sunken artifacts never before seen in North America will make its debut in St. Louis in March.

The Saint Louis Art Museum is presenting “Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds,” an exhibit showcasing antiquities from one of the greatest finds in the history of underwater archaeology. The premiere of “Sunken Cities” on March 25 will be the most significant exhibition of ancient Egyptian art undertaken in St. Louis in more than 50 years. 

The bust of the colossal statue of the god Hapy has been strapped with webbings before being cautiously raised out of the water of Aboukir Bay, Egypt. Photo by Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

With colossal, 16-foot-tall sculptures and precious artifacts from the long-lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, “Sunken Cities” focuses on discoveries made during the last seven years of underwater excavation lead by Franck Goddio, president of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology. 

In addition to more than 250 works of art discovered by Goddio’s team, the exhibition also includes complementary artifacts from museums in Cairo and Alexandria, some of which never have been shown outside of Egypt.

Franck Goddio photo by Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Thonis-Heracleion—a modern arrangement of the city’s Egyptian and Greek names—was built in the Nile delta. The city reached its zenith in the Late Period (664–332 BC), when it served as Egypt’s main Mediterranean port. By 800 AD, different natural catastrophes such as earthquake and soil liquefaction had caused both Thonis-Heracleion and the nearby community of Canopus to submerge, and ruins remained underwater for more than 1,000 years.

“Statue of Arsinoe” Canopus, Aboukir Bay, Egypt; Ptolemaic Period; (SCA 208), IEASM Excavations. Photo by Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

In 2000, Goddio discovered Thonis-Heracleion under 30 feet of water more than 4 miles off the Egyptian coast. The French archeologist’s research has revealed that this area was important both as a center of trade and as a site of religious pilgrimage. The excavation also helped scholars understand the Mysteries of Osiris, an annual water procession along the canals between Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus commemorating one of Egypt’s most important myths: the murder and resurrection of the god Osiris.

“The goddess Taweret” 664–525 BC; greywacke; Egyptian Museum, Cairo (CGC 39194) Photo by Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

“We long have sought an exhibition of ancient Egyptian antiquities that combines both rigorous archaeological research with objects of the highest artistic quality, and ‘Sunken Cities’ was a perfect match for us,” said Saint Louis Art Museum director Brent Benjamin. “The museum is pleased to bring this groundbreaking, visually stunning exhibition to St. Louis for its first viewing in America.”

“Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds” is curated by Goddio. The presentation in St. Louis is co-curated by Lisa Cakmak, associate curator of ancient art at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Museum members can obtain tickets at the museum and from Metrotix starting Nov. 24. Tickets for the public will be available Dec. 1.

“Sunken Cities” opens March 25 and will be on view for an extended, six-month run. It recently was shown at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, the British Museum in London, and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.