Sunday, December 27, 2009

In the field: More re Cleopatra

The Age (Helena Smith)

THEY were one of the world's most famous couples, who lived lives of power and glory but who spent their last hours in despair and confusion. Now, more than 2000 years since Antony and Cleopatra walked the earth, historians believe they may finally have solved the riddle of their last hours together.

A team of Greek marine archaeologists, who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, have unearthed a giant granite threshold of a door they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.

They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven-metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC.

''As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door,'' said Harry Tzalas, the historian who leads the Greek team. ''There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves, so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good.''

Mr Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple's dying hours which has long eluded historians.

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