Cleopatra’s Tomb Underwater: Secrets and Legends

Cleopatra was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, who died by suicide in 30 BCE after her lover Mark Antony was defeated by Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra and Antony were buried together in a splendid mausoleum, but their tomb has never been found. Many scholars and archaeologists have searched for it over the centuries, but without success.

Has Cleopatra's lost tomb been found?

 The tomb of Antony and Cleopatra is the undiscovered burial crypt of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII from 30 BCE. According to historians Suetonius and Plutarch, the Roman leader Octavian permitted their burial together after he had defeated them.

However, there have been many searches for the tomb of Antony and Cleopatra over the years. One of the most promising ones is led by Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist at the University of Santo Domingo, who has been searching for the lost tomb of Cleopatra for nearly 20 years. She believes that the tomb might be located in the Temple of Osiris in the ruined city of Taposiris Magna, on Egypt’s northern coast, where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean.

She and her team have uncovered a 1,305-meter (4,281-foot) tunnel, located 13 meters (43 feet) underground, the Egyptian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities recently announced – an architectural design experts called an “engineering miracle”. She plans to explore these underwater structures as the next stage of her search for the Egyptian queen’s lost tomb.

So far, no conclusive evidence has been found to confirm the location of Cleopatra's tomb, but Martinez is hopeful that she will soon make a pivotal breakthrough. She said: “My perseverance cannot be confused with obsession. I admire Cleopatra as a historical character. She was a victim of propaganda by the Romans, aiming to distort her image.”

Possible Locations

One of the possible locations of Cleopatra's tomb is Alexandria, the ancient capital of Egypt and the city where she ruled and died. However, Alexandria has suffered from coastal erosion, earthquakes, tsunamis and wars that have destroyed or submerged many of its ancient monuments and buildings. Some parts of Alexandria, including a section that holds Cleopatra's palace, are now underwater. Even if the tomb is not underwater, there is a good chance that it was destroyed at some point in antiquity or that it is buried beneath modern-day development in Alexandria.

Another possible location of Cleopatra's tomb is Taposiris Magna, a temple dedicated to Osiris, the god of death, located west of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist from the University of Santo Domingo, has been searching for the tomb at this site since 2005. She believes that Cleopatra chose to bury Antony in this temple because they considered themselves to be the incarnations of Isis and Osiris, the divine couple in Egyptian mythology. Martinez and her team have discovered a 4,300-foot-long tunnel under the temple that leads to the sea and sunken structures. She thinks that these underwater structures may be part of the mausoleum where Cleopatra and Antony were buried.

Challenges and Discoveries

Finding Cleopatra's tomb underwater is not an easy task. It requires advanced technology, such as sonar and underwater robots, to explore the submerged areas and identify any traces of the tomb. It also requires permission from the Egyptian authorities to conduct underwater excavations and protect any cultural heritage that may be found. Moreover, it requires careful analysis of the historical and archaeological evidence to determine if any underwater structure is indeed related to Cleopatra and Antony.

Despite these challenges, searching for Cleopatra's tomb underwater has also yielded many interesting discoveries. For example, Martinez and her team have found more than 1,500 ancient objects at Taposiris Magna, such as coins featuring Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, statues of Isis, busts of Ptolemaic rulers, a mummy with a gold tongue and a cemetery full of Greco-Roman-style mummies. These findings shed light on the culture and history of Egypt during the Ptolemaic period and beyond.

the Cleopatra tomb controversy

In January 2019, controversy arose over the possibility that the discovery of the tombs was imminent, attributed to remarks by Zahi Hawass at a conference at the University of Palermo. The Egyptologist denied the news in an article in the newspaper Al-Ahram, affirming that the thesis that the tombs were in Taposiris Magna was not his but that of Kathleen Martínez, and that he did not believe Martínez' hypothesis because "the Egyptians never buried inside a temple".

However, in early November 2022, the team of archaeologists led by Martínez identified a 1,300 meter long tunnel in the area of the temple of Taposiris Magna, west of Alexandria, that could lead to Cleopatra's tomb. The search seeks to find Antony's mummy as well, despite Plutarch's statement that Antony was cremated.

The discovery of Cleopatra's tomb would rewrite history because it would reveal more about her life, death and legacy. According to The Conversation, from the trinkets of the tomb to the mummy of the queen herself, the discovery of Cleopatra’s mausoleum could rewrite our understanding of the ancient world.

Why was Cleopatra's tomb hidden?

There is no definitive answer to why Cleopatra’s tomb is hidden, but some possible reasons are:

  • Cleopatra and Mark Antony were defeated by Octavian, who became the first emperor of Rome. He may have wanted to erase their memory and legacy from history, and prevent their tomb from becoming a symbol of resistance or martyrdom.

  • Cleopatra may have chosen a secret location for her tomb to protect it from looting or desecration by her enemies. She may have also wanted to be buried with Antony in a place that reflected their divine status as the incarnations of Isis and Osiris.

  • Cleopatra's tomb may have been affected by natural disasters or human interventions over time, such as earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, or urban development. The ancient city of Alexandria, where she ruled, was largely destroyed by a tsunami in 365 AD.

  • Cleopatra's tomb may have been hidden by design or by accident, using complex architectural features such as tunnels, chambers, traps, or false inscriptions. The temple of Taposiris Magna, where some archaeologists believe her tomb is located, has revealed a network of underground structures that could conceal the tomb.

Who is the Dominican looking for Cleopatra?

The Dominican looking for Cleopatra is Kathleen Martínez, a lawyer-turned-archaeologist who has been searching for the lost tomb of Cleopatra for nearly 20 years.

She is the head of the Egyptian-Dominican mission in Alexandria, and the minister counselor in charge of cultural affairs at the Dominican embassy in Egypt.

She believes that Cleopatra's tomb may be located in the temple of Taposiris Magna, west of Alexandria, where she and her team have uncovered a 1,305-meter tunnel that could lead to the tomb.

She is also an admirer of Cleopatra as a historical figure, who she considers to be a victim of Roman propaganda and a woman ahead of her time.