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Ceiling had to be dismantled to include three giant granite figures in exhibition of relics found in city that crumbled into sea,
Underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio (left) oversees the arrival of the 5.4-metre statue of Hapy.
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Part of the ceiling of the British Museum’s new exhibition space has had to be dismantled to allow the safe installation of three colossal Egyptian granite statues, which were recovered in 2001 from the water where they lay for more than 2,000 years since a wealthy harbour city was destroyed by earthquake and rising sea levels.
The pink granite statue of Hapy, a personification of the Nile flood that was crucial for the country’s fertility and wealth, weighs more than six tonnes and stands 5.4 metres, the tallest object ever to come to the museum on loan, and the tallest ever discovered of an Egyptian god.
The space was measured and remeasured before Hapy arrived by truck and rail from Paris, along with his giant companions, Ptolemy II and his sister and queen Arsinoe – together weighing almost 20 tonnes. Hapy, with his crown of papyrus reeds, fitted with just 40cm to spare.
“It has been an anxious day – but they look magnificent,” said Aurelia Masson-Berghoff, the curator of the exhibition Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds, which opens at the museum in May.
The statue of Hapy will greet visitors to the exhibition as it once greeted sailors and merchants arriving at the port of Thonis-Heracleion. It stood facing the sea, outside the magnificent temple of Amun-Gereb, which was built on the central island of the city at the mouth of the Nile Delta. Its ruins now lie 10 metres beneath the waves more than 2km from the coast.
The two statues of a king and queen, Ptolemy II and Arsinoe. The pair were also brother and sister.
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
The existence of the city, and its importance and wealth, were known from historical sources, but it was only rediscovered in 2001 by the French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, whose images of monumental buildings and superb sculptures, carved in almost indestructible granite still crisp and sharp, went around the world. The broken fragments were first reassembled on the seabed to make sure he had found all the surviving pieces.
The road behind the British Museum was closed to bring in a crane to unload the crates. The installation, which took three days, was carried out by a team of curators, technicians, engineers and health and safety experts from the UK, joined by teams from France and Egypt, supervised by Goddio himself.
Once safely inside the gallery, the statues were reassembled on the ground, then winched upright and moved into their final positions on a cushion of air pumped under the bases.
Masson-Berghoff’s favourite is the delicately carved image of Arsinoe, who was first married at 15 to a man more than 40 years her senior, then to her half brother who was said to have murdered her two sons before her eyes, and finally to her full brother, the pharaoh Ptolemy II. Though both were of Greek ancestry, they were portrayed in traditional Egyptian style.
After her death Ptolemy declared her a goddess, and her image, regarded as a protector of sailors, became popular at ports and harbours across the Mediterranean – though her power could not prevent the destruction of the city where her pink granite statue once stood.
Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds will be at the British Museum from 19 May to 27 November 2016.
nn ms.i sA.w -- No one is born wise.
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