Much like Alexander the Great’s tomb, finding Cleopatra’s tomb is one of the greatest challenges for today’s archaeologists. That dream discovery hasn’t happened yet, though there have been times it’s seemed within reach. In this post, we discuss the main hypotheses about the location of Cleopatra’s tomb and their basis.
Taposiris Magna, a grounded option
One leading theory about Cleopatra’s tomb takes us to Taposiris Magna, about 55 km southwest of Alexandria. This site was a city and its significant religious temple dedicated to Osiris, commissioned by Ptolemy II. Its name means “the great tomb of Osiris” in Greek, and it became a key temple for successors of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which Cleopatra was part of.
Today, little remains of the temple and city, and the area is a large archaeological site where later constructions, like a Byzantine monastery, have also been identified.
A team of archaeologists led by Dominican Kathleen Martínez works here, having found dozens of sarcophagi and many other artifacts, including coins bearing Alexander the Great’s likeness. Recently, they claimed to have found an underground gallery that might lead to Cleopatra’s tomb, hypothesizing she’s buried with her second husband, Mark Antony.
An underwater palace in Alexandria, the other main theory
Another strong hypothesis about Cleopatra’s tomb’s whereabouts takes us to Alexandria, specifically the ruins of the palace that would have been this Egyptian queen-pharaoh’s residence… now submerged in the city bay’s waters.
This theory’s main proponent was the famous archaeologist and former Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, who initially dismissed Kathleen Martínez’s proposal after collaborating with her for several years. However, he agreed Cleopatra was buried with Mark Antony and now doesn’t rule out the Taposiris Magna hypothesis.
However, the palace’s submersion due to earthquakes in the 4th century greatly complicates confirmation or refutation efforts. Still, various companies specializing in diving offer dives for visitors keen to explore this unique archaeological site, where many statues of mythological figures and even remains of what might be the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria can be seen.
A discovery that would be grandly celebrated
Seeing how Egypt turns every new find from its past into a global event (as seen in the famous parade of mummies moving to the Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo), it’s expected that, if found, Cleopatra’s tomb would be hailed as a significant milestone.
In fact, archaeologist Kathleen Martínez ventured to say it would be the 21st century’s greatest archaeological discovery… perhaps as Tutankhamun’s tomb was in the 20th century. We must wait to see if one of these theories is correct about Cleopatra’s tomb’s location.
Regardless, there’s much to learn about Cleopatra’s life, and finding her tomb would shed much light on her, known to the public through numerous films starring this queen-pharaoh.