The connection between this Bronx park and the celebrated queen Cleopatra of Egypt (69-30BC) may not be self-evident. The site was previously known as Anthony Avenue Park, after the avenue that bounds it on one side. Anthony Avenue itself takes its name from a prominent Bronx family. The avenue’s name, however, also sparked the imagination of Commissioner Stern. On April 8, 1997, he renamed the playground after Anthony’s ancient namesake, Marc Antony, famous for his ill-fated love affair with the beautiful, charming, and highly cultivated Cleopatra.
Cleopatra, or, more precisely, Cleopatra VII, was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, King of Egypt. Upon her father’s death in 51BC, the 17-year-old Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII, a child of only 12 years, succeeded jointly to the throne, with the provision that they marry. In the third year of their reign, Ptolemy assumed sole control of the government and drove Cleopatra into exile. In retaliation, she gathered an army in Seria with the aide of her lover, Julius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. In 47BC, Caesar and Cleopatra triumphed over Ptolemy who was killed. Cleopatra was proclaimed Queen of Egypt and married another brother, Ptolemy XIV.
Cleopatra moved to Rome, living as Caesar’s mistress, and gave birth to a son, Caesarion, later called Ptolemy XV. Her luck in Rome soon turned, however. In 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated and Cleopatra returned to Egypt. In the aftermath, the triumvirate of Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus asserted itself over the republicans Brutus and Cassius. By now Antony had fallen in love with Cleopatra, so he moved to Egypt where they had three children. Fearing a rival empire based in Egypt and questioning Antony’s loyalty to Rome, Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) declared war against Cleopatra. Because he loved Cleopatra, Antony sided with Egypt against his own country. During battle, Antony was deceived by a false report of the death of Cleopatra and committed suicide. Hearing that Octavian intended to exhibit his body in his triumph at Rome, Cleopatra also killed herself by pressing an asp (a poisonous Egyptian snake) to her bosom. Ptolemy, the son of Cleopatra and Caesar, and the last member of the Ptolemy dynasty, was executed by Octavian, and Egypt became a Roman province.
On December 28, 1989, the Department of Real Property surrendered the land bounded by Anthony Avenue, Prospect Place, Clay Avenue, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway to Parks. Two years later, Councilman Israel Ruiz, Jr. felt that because this land was located in the “sorely under-served Community Board No. 5 in the South Bronx,” a park with basketball courts should be constructed. The facility opened in 1994 as Anthony Avenue Park, following a $1.84 million construction project. The earliest records of the Anthony family in America date from 1688, and are of Dutch merchant Allard Anthony. In the 1870s, Allard’s descendant Charles L. Anthony owned many tracts of land in the Bronx, principally above Kingsbridge Road and stretching from Jerome Avenue to Webster Avenue.
Cleopatra Playground offers modular play equipment, safety surfacing, swings, slides, a basketball standard, a yardarm flying the American, City of New York, and Parks flags, benches, greenery, a water fountain, decorative columns, and terraces. The playful surroundings stand in stark contrast to the wildly romantic and dramatic life and death of its namesake.