She ruled over men, bedding the likes of Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, and led one of the world's greatest civilizations. Her name has been immortalized in myth and legend. So, how did Cleopatra become the last of the pharaohs? In the shadow of the pyramids, Josh Bernstein joins Zahi Hawass on a hunt for mummies from the time of Cleopatra. He'll come face to face with Cleopatra's killer, the Egyptian cobra, and sail down the Nile River searching for clues to her true history. In Alexandria, Josh will descend into the cisterns below the modern city to look for evidence of Cleopatra's reign. Finally he'll dive into the harbor of Alexandria, where a beautiful palace lies--possibly the last vestige of Cleopatra's legendary wealth--the only testament to a woman who was perhaps the wisest and most cunning of all of Egypt's pharaohs.
The Pharaohs of Egypt: "Just the word 'Pharaoh' conjures up so many images of status, of prominence, of godly power. The Pharaohs of Egypt began around 3100 BC. Archaeologists aren't exactly sure who first unified Upper and Lower Egypt--some texts say it was Menes, others Narmer. But archaeologists all agree that Cleopatra was the LAST Pharaoh. How's that for a legacy? And yet so little it seems is known about her other than her dramatic--and possibly fictitious--death. Let's see what we can learn."
The Egyptian Cobra: "The Egyptian Cobra is also called an asp. I know, it's confusing to me, too. A cobra is an asp? But I looked it up online and sure enough, it seems to be true. Egyptian cobra = asp. Go figure. Anyway, I've handled snakes before, so I'm not squeamish around them, but this is my first cobra. And let me tell you, when that hood is open and the snake is hissing, you can feel your adrenaline pumping, big time. I'm learning that the trick is to distract the cobra with my hand, floating it above in a sort of swan's neck like position. Could this animal have really been the death of Cleopatra? I don't know, but I don't really want to find out, so it's off to other sources of knowledge."
The Library of Alexandria: "The Royal Library of Alexandria was at one time the largest library in the world, a depository for all types of knowledge, a meeting place for great minds. They say it contained over 50,000 scrolls--perhaps over 100,000--and was built by Ptolemy II sometime in the 3rd Century BC. Man, what a place that must have been, huh? And yet it was mysteriously destroyed--perhaps by fire, perhaps by flood. For some reason, no one knows just what happened or exactly when, but we do know it's gone and that it's been gone for many, many centuries. Today, there's a brand new library not far from the original spot. It opened in 2003 and is, honestly, one of the most amazing libraries—no buildings--I've ever seen. The exterior of the building is slanted such that the face slopes towards the shoreline of Alexandria. You can see it briefly in the show. But the inside is a true work of art. I've since learned it was the creation of the Snøhetta Hamza Consortium, Egypt & Norway and they won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004. VERY well deserved. But it's what the library contains which is truly noteworthy. A collection of ancient Arab manuscripts about many people, including Cleopatra."
Romans vs Arabs on Cleopatra: "I have to admit that my primary image of Cleopatra is Elizabeth Taylor. But based on my discussions with Okasha El Daly, it would seem that Hollywood has, once again, brought glamour to history for the benefit of the camera. The real Cleopatra, it seems, wasn't beautiful at all. She was respected for her great charisma and mind, her ability to speak several languages, and her expertise in medicine, alchemy, politics, and science. I've got to admit, I'm impressed, both at how accomplished she was and how inaccurate Hollywood's portrayal seems to be!"
Zahi's Back!: "Yes, it's always fun for me to work with Dr. Zahi Hawass. We have truly developed a great professional relationship and I look forward to whatever adventures and mysteries bring me back to Egypt. I, too, enjoy it every time I hear him say 'Josh...' This time it's off to Saqqara, where Zahi has arranged for me to witness the opening of several newly discovered tombs."
Saqqara's Necropolis: "Saqqara may have been the site of the Egyptian world's first pyramid, as I explored in the "Who Built Egypt's Pyramids?" show. But it was also a necropolis for the Giza Plateau, and there are bodies everywhere below the ground. Some not that far below. Zahi is now showing me what he considers to be 'the most beautiful mummy in the world.' Of course, with Zahi, everything is 'The most beautiful' or some such superlative. The guy is a brilliant salesman and obviously passionate about Egypt's archaeology. To me, though, this Greek sarcophagus is certainly beautiful--the colors and the designs are astounding. Turns out that the Greeks embraced Egypt completely and--as Zahi says--they 'Egyptianized' themselves. But to learn more, he says I need to head South to two temples called Edfu and Dendera. So off I go."
Edfu & Dendera: "There are two temples near Luxor which, I'm learning, are critical to understanding the world of Ptolemaic Pharaohs. The first is Edfu, the second Dendera. Each was built by the Ptolemies and each honored a specific Egyptian god or goddess. Edfu honored Horus, the falcon-headed god of light and sun. Dendera honored Hathor, the goddess of heaven, love, music and beauty. In addition to these two gods, Isis and Osiris were also important to the story of Cleopatra, who associated herself with Isis specifically. This endeared her to the Egyptian people. Sometimes. It seems rebellion was not uncommon to the reign of the Ptolemies and Cleopatra was not immune to an overthrow of her power. So in addition to all her skills promoting herself and her country, she had to constantly watch her back."
Caesar & Cleopatra: "Cleopatra, at the young age of 21, smuggled herself into the presence of Julius Caesar, arguably the most powerful man on the planet and several years her senior. I can't help but think of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but this is not the place for politics. At least, not modern politics. But back in the day, Cleopatra and Caesar were ALL about politics and the alliance between Egypt and Rome was not be taken lightly, least of all by these two lovers."
Alexandria!: "There are several reasons I'm intrigued by Alexandria. First, it was home to the greatest library in the world. Second, it was the site of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Great Wonders of the Ancient World. And third, this was the seat of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It was here in this very city where, almost 2000 years ago, Cleopatra VII held meetings with the world's greatest thinkers. Man, what a place this must have been. Only today, that city is buried under the buildings and rubble of several millennia and several million people. So to see part of Cleopatra's world, I need to get underground."
The Cisterns: "My first thoughts as I descend into the cisterns below Alexandria are of Italy. Naples, specifically, for it was there that I went down a random staircase in a grocery store to explore the labyrinth of tunnels below the modern city. It would seem that here in Egypt there was also a city below the ground, although in this case it's a world of water--the cisterns built by the Ptolemies to collect fresh water from the Nile's overflow. This is an amazing piece of architecture and engineering--over 500,000 people could drink this water for a year! That, I'm learning, was no small feat and Alexandria was no small city--half a million people would make this place a threat to Rome...."
July 21, 365 A.D.: "Over the course of history, certain cataclysmic events stand out above the others. Most recently, we can all think of the earthquake and resulting tsunami of December 26, 2004 which killed over 280,000 people in Asia. Another is the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia on August 26, 1883, when over 36,000 people died. Well, on July 21, 365 A.D., a massive earthquake hit the city of Alexandria and over 50,000 people died. It seems that much of the Cleopatra's world was shaken to the ground, and her palace went with it. According to Dr. Jean Yves Empereur, the palace remains might still be found if we adjust the coastline and imagine what the place looked like when the water level was much lower. It seems that Cleopatra's palace would now be...underwater, in the bay of Alexandria."
The Deep Sea Detectives: "I first met John Chatterton and Richie Kohler--a.k.a. the Deep Sea Detectives--at an A&E/The History Channel event in New York in 2005. We hit it off right away, and I was really hoping to work with them in some sort of Digging for the Truth/Deep Sea Detectives joint effort. If you haven't read the book 'Shadow Divers' yet, go out and get it today. Really. It's an amazing story and it clearly shows what makes John and Richie the perfect diving partners for each other and for me, as I want to get into the waters of Alexandria and see what's down there! And wouldn't you know it, just as I'm getting ready for the dive, these guys show up in town.... TV magic--ya gotta love it!"
Diving Alexandria's Harbor: "I have been very fortunate to dive in some beautiful places around the world, both for DFTT and for personal fun. But let me tell you, this water in Alexandria's harbor does NOT look beautiful. In fact, it looks a bit scary, and John has just made a comment that perhaps we should all have tetanus and hepatitis shots before going in... (Thanks, John!). But really, the water is suspect, as the enclosed harbor has held the refuse of this city for thousands of years. Because it's enclosed, no significant water circulation takes place and pollution is a totally valid concern. But perhaps ignorance is bliss as John, Richie and I don our masks and venture into the murky waters."
"What we see below is pretty much what you see on the show--lots of columns, some amphorae, and possibly a causeway. It's tough to make things out as pollution, algae, and time have eroded things. While I have no doubt that these items are old, it's not possible for us to say if these things came from Cleopatra's palace or from some other Graeco-Roman structure. Or maybe this stuff is more recent--we just don't know. Part of me wonders how well limestone can even withstand the effects of salt and water--wouldn't it all just dissolve in a few decades or centuries? Apparently, the granite items wouldn't and some of the limestone--if it's buried and protected by sand--has a chance at surviving. Or so I'm told. But what we're seeing here is still not clearly from Cleopatra. Could be, but not definite. So back up we go."
Cleopatra's Legacy: "I have learned several things on this journey, but I'm most impressed with the new sense I have of who Cleopatra really was. Far greater than the image portrayed by Hollywood, she was a politically-minded and intellectually-gifted woman. Her power came, it seems, not from her beauty but from her charm, intelligence, and charisma. She was a ruler who fostered a creative energy in her city, whether it was in the sciences, arts, medicine or architecture. Of all the Pharaohs of Egypt, she'd be the one I'd most like to meet, as she was most certainly an engaging person with ambition and skill. I can only dream what a dinner party would be like with her as the hostess... And so, while Egypt's other Pharaohs may have left us pyramids and temples, Cleopatra seems to have left us something less tangible but perhaps more substantial--the image of an ambitious and worldly woman who dared to dream big. In the end, if the legend of snakes is to be believed, she pursued that ambition all the way to the very end."