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Franklin Institute exhibit explores hunt for Cleopatra

The name Cleopatra conjures an image of beauty and mystery. Modern movies and artists portray the Queen of the Nile as powerful and glamorous, but there is much more to her story.

The name Cleopatra conjures an image of beauty and mystery. Modern movies and artists portray the Queen of the Nile as powerful and glamorous, but there is much more to her story.

After Egypt fell to Roman forces, Cleopatra famously took her own life after her lover Mark Antony killed himself. The Romans then tried to wipe her legacy from the pages of history. To this day, her body and burial crypt, as well as much of the evidence of her reign, have been lost to the sands and waters of Egypt.

Two thousand years later, Cleopatra remains one of history's greatest enigmas and her final resting place is one of Egypt's unsolved mysteries.

A new exhibit at the Franklin Institute, "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt," takes visitors deep into the modern-day search for Cleopatra. At the press preview of the exhibit, which is making its world premiere in Philadelphia, John Norman, president of Arts and Exhibitions International, said that scientists have discovered that Cleopatra's story "is filled with trauma, drama, sex, deception, and war."

"What could be better than that?" asked Norman.

Visitors to the exhibit will see artifacts from the city of Alexandria, where she ruled, and be captivated by the extreme science employed to search for her tomb.

The exhibit is organized around the two separate quests for the queen - one under the sea exploring her life, and one by land exploring her death.

After a five-minute video introduction, an audio tour delivered as if the queen herself were speaking, fills visitors in on the details of her life.

Walking through the exhibit's eight galleries, guests will discover her intelligence, follow her political alliances, and witness her military defeat.

Like all Franklin Institute exhibits, this one caters to the curious of all ages. Instead of traditional informational text, 17 video messages educate visitors, including a short cartoon and a narrative from one of the archaeologists who explored Taposiris Magna, an Egyptian temple unearthed during the search for Cleopatra's tomb.

Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the National Geographic Society, said visiting an exhibit like this one is more engaging than reading a magazine or even watching a television program. The difference, he said, is like attending a concert as compared to listening to a CD.

Technology brings it alive, too. The exhibit includes high definition multimedia, original soundscapes and a mobile-based social media scavenger hunt.

Nearly 150 artifacts from Cleopatra's time are displayed, including jewelry, household items, coins and religious tokens, all of which are in the U.S. for the first time.

Two colossal King and Queen statues standing 16 feet tall and weighing five tons each, were carved from red granite. Also on display is an original papyrus document scientists believe was written by Cleopatra herself.

Underwater lead archaeologist Franck Goddio is delighted to share his discoveries. "The aim of our work is to reveal traces of the past and bring history back to life."

"Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt," tomorrow through Jan. 2, 2011. Tickets are timed and dated and must be purchased in advance. $11-$29.50 Admission is 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (last entry at 3:30 p.m.), 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (last entry 7 p.m.), 1-877-TFI-TIXS or Information on discounted tickets for groups is available at 1-800-285-0684.