Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in North America, known for its historic architecture, its museums, libraries and universities. But this summer, the city is in the grip of Egyptian fever as one of the most
infamous women of history moves into town. Cleopatra is centre stage at the Franklin Institute this summer and her presence has caused a stir.
The exhibition, Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, made its world debut in Philadelphia this month, and it's obvious the city has fallen hard for the lady.
And who could resist her? Immortalized on film by Elizabeth Taylor and soon to be reinvented by Angelina Jolie, dramatized on stage by Shakespeare and Shaw, the African Queen has bedazzled the world since her reign as the last pharaoh of Egypt came to an end. Her amorous conquests and her dramatic death - a suicidal asp bite to the breast - have made her the stuff of legend. While she may not have been the beauty that history has portrayed, she was intelligent, charismatic and unforgettable.
Fitting then that Philly should roll out the red carpet for the Egyptian goddess. Restaurants have dedicated dishes to her - Meritage for example has devised an iced Egyptian obelisk for the dessert course - while bartenders are inventing liquid tributes like the Viper and the Cleopolitan. Other museums are running parallel exhibitions and area spas are featuring Cleopatra-themed treatments. Get to know Cleopatra, and then spend time with some of Philadelphia's other treasures. Even Renoir is here for the summer.
Femme Fatale visits Philly
Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt at the Franklin Institute is a dramatic showcase of artifacts recovered from the seabed in Alexandria by underwater archeologist Franck Goddio, and from nearby dig sites overseen by Zahi Hawass. Cleopatra beguiled the most powerful men of her time, waged war against the Roman Empire, and was so feared that Emperor Octavius ordered all traces of her to be destroyed after her death. The show is dramatically presented, and Cleo proves far more interesting than old Tut. The exhibition runs until January. 222 North 20th St.; 1-887-TFI-TIXS; www.fi.edu
A Toast to Cleo
Arrive early for the Cleopatra show and hang out at the new pop-up bar/resto, Cleo's Portico, on the raised terrace of the Franklin. Enjoy a Cleopolitan (vodka and Goldwasser, with Goldwasser-soaked watermelon cubes topped with gold dust) or a Nefertini (raspberry vodka, Chambord and pomegranate topped with prosecco and a rosemary sprig) along with some mezze 222 North 20th St.
The Face of a Queen
In honour of Cleo, the Spa at the Four Seasons is featuring a deep cleansing moisturizing facial, The Cleopatra, using Naturopathica skin-care products from Barbara Close (Glenn's sister). One Logan Square; 215-963-1500; www.fourseasons.com/philadelphia
I Want My Mummy
Directly on the other side of the Schuylkill River and just west of Center City is the neighbourhood known as University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. It's worth a jump to this nearby area while the Cleopatra show is on because of the strong tie-in. The Penn Museum, officially titled the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, owns more than 5,000 Egyptian artifacts, including the third largest sphinx in the world. Their popular Egyptian Mummy Exhibit explores the funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians. To complement the Cleopatra show at the Franklin, the Penn has created a self-guided tour, Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Double tickets for this and the Cleopatra show are available through the Franklin Institute. 3260 South St., 215-898-4000; www.museum.upenn.edu
After the Penn, head for Pod and settle in to one of the private booths, "pods" where you can adjust the colour of the light to suit your mood. Created by culinary star chef Stephen Starr, Pod serves Asian-influenced cuisine in a cool stark white interior, punched with colour, inspired by Woody Allen's Sleeper. The sushi arrives on a conveyor belt. 3636 Sansom St.; 215-387-1803; www.podrestaurant.com
Center City has some decidedly unique museums, but the prize goes to the Mutter Museum. It's a medical museum that contains a collection of medicine's oddities, from a tumour removed from president Grover Cleveland's palate to the conjoined livers of the original Siamese twins. In honour of the Cleopatra exhibit, the Mutter will feature ancient Roman surgical tools used during the era of Cleopatra as well as exact reproductions of medical instruments found in the ruins of Pompeii. 19 South 22nd St.; 215-563-3737; www.muttermuseum.org
Museum Without Walls
Philadelphia has more outdoor sculpture than any other city in the U.S., and this audio tour explains all 51 pieces of public art, including works by Rodin, three generations of Calders, Claes Oldenburg, Henry Moore and Jacques Lipchitz. The free tour can be accessed by phone, as a downloaded app or online. 215-399-9000; www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org
Late Renoir at the Philadelphia Museum of Art proves that age does not necessarily mean the end of energy and talent. The works in this show are from the last three decades of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's career and they are a moving tribute to beauty. The show is a true pleasure. This summer there will be more Renoirs here than anywhere else in the world. The exhibition continues until Sept. 6. 26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; 215-763-8100; www.philamuseum.org
This is a chocolate-loving city. Check out the Naked Chocolate Café for its unique chocolate specialties made in-house, or browse through DiBruno's on Chestnut Street to discover some of the great locally made chocolate delights, including John & Kira and Éclat. John & Kira ( www.johnandkiras.com) make chocolate ladybugs, bees and lovebugs. Éclat, in West Chester, makes plantation-specific chocolates and its caramels were voted World's Best by Vogue Magazine ( www.eclatchocolate.com).
Go Straight to Jail
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous prison in the world, praised by Alexis de Tocqueville and condemned by Charles Dickens. Home to infamous criminals such Al (Scarface) Capone, the now-defunct prison is a fascinatingly eerie place to tour, especially as the audio guide is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. 2124 Fairmount Ave.; 215- 236-5111; www.easternstate.org
Brunch at the Swann Lounge in the Four Seasons is a feast for all the senses. The buffet is decadently generous and the views of the Swann fountain, by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder, as well as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway are pure eye candy. It's the perfect place to hang on a Sunday. One Logan Square; 215-963-1500; www.fourseasons.com/philadelphia
Cleopatra at the Calderwood
The Calderwood Gallery specializes in French art deco, art nouveau, modernist and forties furniture, as well as period photography, including a fine collection of publicity stills of early Hollywood stars. In honour of the Cleo show, Janet Calderwood has assembled a collection of photos of the stars who played Cleopatra on the silver screen. 622 Spruce St.; 215-546-5357; www.calderwoodgallery.com
DiBruno's Chestnut Street location is perfect for breakfast or brunch and the lines form early. Locals come for the fresh bread and pastries, great cheeses and good coffee 1730 Chestnut St.; 215-665-9220; www.dibruno.com
Sugarcube, in the most historic part of Philly, is a fashion boutique that features in-demand labels and stylish vintage finds. Savvy shoppers can find great bargains.124 North 3rd St.; 215-238-0825; www.sugarcube.us
WHERE TO STAY
The Independent The Independent is a two-year-old, 24-room boutique hotel in the heart of Center City, within walking distance of Rittenhouse Square, the Avenue of the Arts and the city's Historic District. The hotel is in a fully restored Georgian-Revival building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From $164. 1234 Locust St.; 215-772-1440; www.theindependenthotel.com
La Reserve B&B Sleep in the oldest bed and breakfast in the Philadelphia region. La Reserve has seven rooms, two suites and one room with twin beds. This is a historic 1850s townhouse with an attractive front parlour that offers full breakfast, Internet and free shoeshine service. From $82. 1804 Pine St.; 215-735-1137; www.lareservebandb.com
Special to The Globe and Mail