The Egyptian Museum is one of the world’s most important museums of ancient history and one of its great spectacles. Here, the treasures of Tutankhamun lie alongside the grave goods, mummies, jewellery, eating bowls and toys of Egyptians whose names are lost to history. To walk around the museum is to embark on an adventure through time.
The museum has its origins in the work of French archaeologist Auguste Mariette. The Egyptian ruler Mohammed Ali had banned the export of antiquities in 1835. In 1858, his successor Said Pasha allowed Mariette to create the Egyptian Antiquities Service and to base its activities around a new museum in Bulaq, which was moved to the current purpose-built museum in 1902.
The number of exhibits long ago outgrew the available space and the place is virtually bursting at the seams. Many stories are told about the museum’s basement store, some of whose sculptures have now sunk into the soft flooring and are currently being excavated. A ‘Grand Museum of Egypt’ has been planned, close to the Pyramids in Giza, it is unlikely to open before 2021. When it does, many of the museum’s highlights will be relocated to a state-of-the-art facility whose advantages will include climate control, something sorely lacking in the current building.
The following are our favourite, must-see exhibits, for which you need at least a half-day, but preferably a little more.
Before entering the museum, wander through the garden; to your left lies the tomb of Mariette (1821–81), with a statue of the man, arms folded, shaded under a spreading tree. Mariette’s tomb is overlooked by an arc of busts of two dozen Egyptological luminaries including Champollion, who cracked the code of hieroglyphs; Maspero, Mariette’s successor as director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service; and Lepsius, the pre-eminent 19thcentury German Egyptologist.
The ground floor of the museum is laid out roughly chronologically in a clockwise fashion starting at the entrance hall.
As you enter the museum, the central atrium is filled with a miscellany of large and small Egyptological finds. In the area before the steps lie some of the collection’s oldest items. In the central cabinet No 8, the double-sided Narmer Palette is of great significance. Dating from around 3100 BC it depicts Pharaoh Narmer (also known as Menes) wearing the crown of Upper Egypt on one side of the palette, and the crown of Lower Egypt on the other, suggesting the first union of Upper and Lower Egypt under one ruler. Egyptologists take this as the birth of ancient Egyptian civilisation and his reign as the first of the 1st dynasty. This, then, is the starting point of more than 3000 years of Pharaonic history in which more than 170 rulers presiding over 30 dynasties and during which time almost everything in this building was fashioned. Seen like this, the Narmer Palette, found at the Temple of Horus in Kom al-Ahmar near Edfu, is the keystone of the Egyptian Museum.
In glass cabinet No 16 is the limestone statue of Zoser (Djoser), the 3rd-dynasty pharaoh, whose chief architect Imhotep designed the revolutionary Step Pyramid at Saqqara. The statue, discovered in 1924 in its serdab (cellar) in the northeastern corner of the pyramid, is the oldest statue of its kind in the museum. The seated, near-life-size figure has lost its original inlaid eyes, but is still impressive in a tight robe and striped headcloth over a huge wig.
Look for the three exquisite black schist triads that depict the pharaoh Menkaure (Mycerinus), builder of the smallest of the three Pyramids of Giza, flanked either side by a female figure. The hardness of the stone makes the sculptor’s skill all the greater and has helped ensure the triads’ survival through the ages. The figure to the pharaoh’s right is the goddess Hathor, while each of the figures on his left represents a nome (district) of Egypt, the name of which is given by the symbol above their head. These triads (plus one other that is not held by this museum) were discovered at the pharaoh’s valley temple, just east of his pyramid a t Giza.
In the centre of Room 42 is one of the museum’s masterpieces, a smooth, black, dioritic, larger-than-life-size statue of Khafre (Chephren). The builder of the second pyramid at Giza sits on a lion throne, and is protected by the wings of the falcon god Horus. The choice of stone, which is harder than marble or granite, suggests the pharaoh’s power and yet this is the only survivor out of 23 identical pieces from the pharaoh’s valley temple on the Giza Plateau. Slightly to the left in front of Khafre, the core of the stunning wooden
Statue of Ka-Aper (No 40) was carved out of a single piece of sycamore (the arms were ancient additions, the legs modern restorations). The sycamore was sacred to the goddess Hathor, while Ka-Aper’s belly suggest his prosperity. His eyes are amazingly lifelike, set in copper lids with whites of opaque quartz and corneas of rock crystal, drilled and filled with black paste to form the pupils. When this statue was excavated at Saqqara in 1860, local workmen named him Sheikh al-Balad (Headman), for his resemblance to their own headman. Nearby sits the Seated Scribe (No 44), a wonderful painted limestone figure, hand poised as if waiting to take dictation, his inlaid eyes set in an asymmetrical face giving him a very vivid appearance.
is dominated by the beautiful statues of Rahotep and Nofret (No 27), a noble couple from the reign of Sneferu, builder of the Bent and the Red Pyramids at Dahshur. Almost life-sized with well-preserved painted surfaces, the limestone sculptures’ simple lines make them seem almost contemporary, despite having been around for a staggering 4600 years.
In a cabinet off to the left, a limestone group shows Seneb, ‘chief of the royal wardrobe’ and his family (No 39). Seneb is notable for being a dwarf: he sits cross-legged, his two children strategically placed where his legs would otherwise have been. His full-size wife Senetites places her arms protectively and affectionately around his shoulders. Rediscovered in their tomb in Giza in 1926, the happy couple and their two kids have more recently been used in Egyptian family- planning campaigns.
Also here is a panel of Meidum Geese (No 138), part of an extraordinarily beautiful wall painting from a mud-brick mastaba at Meidum, near the oasis of Al-Fayoum. Painted around 2600 BC, the pigments remain vivid and the degree of realism (while still retaining a distinct Pharaonic style) is astonishing – ornithologists have had no trouble identifying the species.
Room 37, entered via Room 32, contains furniture from the Giza Plateau tomb of Queen Hetepheres, wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu (Cheops), including a carrying chair, bed, bed canopy and a jewellery box. Her mummy has not been found, but her shrivelled internal organs remain inside her Canopic chest. A glass cabinet holds a miniature ivory statue of her son Khufu, found at Abydos. Ironically, at under 8cm, this tiny figure is the only surviving representation of the builder of Egypt’s Great Pyramid.
The seated statue in the corridor on your right, after leaving Room 32, represents Theban-born Montuhotep II (No 136), first ruler of the Middle Kingdom period. He is shown with black skin (representing fertility and rebirth) and the red crown of Lower Egypt. This statue was discovered by Howard Carter under the forecourt of the pharaoh’s temple at Deir al Bahri in Thebes in 1900, when the ground gave way under his horse – a surprisingly recurrent means of discovery in the annals o f Egyptology.
These grey-granite sphinxes are very different from the great enigmatic Sphinx at Giza – they look more like the Lion Man from The Wizard of Oz, with a fleshy human face surrounded by a great shaggy mane and big ears. Sculpted for Pharaoh Amenemhat III (1855–1808 BC) during the 12th dynasty, they were moved to Avaris by the Hyksos and then to the Delta city of Tanis by Ramses II (see p 215) . Also here is an extraordinary wood figure of the ka (spirit double) of the 13th dynasty ruler H or Auibre.
The centrepiece of this room is a remarkably well-preserved vaulted sandstone chapel, found near the Theban temple of Deir al-Bahri. Its walls are painted with reliefs of Tuthmosis III, his wife Meritre and two princesses, making offerings to Hathor, who suckles the pharaoh. The life-size cow statue suckles Tuthmosis III’s son and successor Amenhotep II, who also stands beneath her chin.
Hatshepsut, who was coregent for part of Tuthmosis III’s reign, eventually had herself crowned as pharaoh. Her life-sized pink granite statue stands to the left of the chapel. Although she wears a pharaoh’s headdress and a false beard, the statue has definite feminine characteristics. The large reddish-painted limestone head in the corridor outside this room is also of Hatshepsut, originally from one of the huge Osiris-type statues that adorned the pillared façade of her great temple at Deir al-Bahri. Also here are wall decorations from the temple showing the famed expedition to Punt, perhaps Somalia or Eritrea.
Akhenaten (1352–1336 BC), the ‘heretic pharaoh’, did more than build a new capital at Tell al-Amarna, close the temples of the traditional state god Amun and promote the sun god Aten in his place. He also ushered in a period of great artistic freedom, as a glance around this room will show. Compare these great torsos with their strangely bulbous bellies, hips and thighs, their elongated faces and thick lips, with the sleek, hard-edged Middle Kingdom sculpture of previous rooms.
Perhaps most striking of all is the unfinished head of Nefertiti (No 161), wife of Akhenaten. Worked in brown quartzite, it’s an incredibly delicate and sensitive portrait and shows the queen to have been extremely beautiful – unlike some of the relief figures of her elsewhere in the room, in which she appears with exactly the same strange features as her husband. The masterpiece of this period, the finished bust of Nefertiti, remains in the Berlin museum.
A t the foot of the northeast stairs is a fabulous large, grey-granite representation of Ramses II, builder of the Ramesseum and Abu Simbel. But here in this statue he is tenderly depicted as a child with his finger in his mouth nestled against the breast of a great falcon, in this case the Canaanite god Horus.
It is best to visit these last rooms after seeing the upper floor, because this is the end of the ancient Egyptian story. By the 4th century BC, Egypt had been invaded by many nations, mostly recently by the Macedonian Alexander the Great. Egypt’s famously resistant culture had become porous, as will be obvious from the stelae on the back wall, and on the large sandstone panel on the right-hand wall inscribed in three languages: official Egyptian hieroglyphics; the more popularly used demotic; and Greek, the language of the new rulers. This trilingual stone is similar in nature to the more famous Rosetta stone, now housed in London’s British Museum, a cast of which stands near the museum entrance (Room 48). Also, notice the bust situated immediately to the left as you enter this room: a typically Greek face with curly beard and locks, but wearing a Pharaonic-style headdress.
On the official museum plan this area is labelled ‘Alexander the Great’ but currently there’s nothing here that relates directly to the Macedonian conqueror who became pharaoh. However, there is a beautiful small marble statuette of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, carved at the end of the 1st century BC and found in Alexandria. Egyptians identified her with Isis.
Exhibits here are grouped thematically and can be viewed in any order, but assuming that you’ve come up the southeast stairs, we’ll enter the Tutankhamun Galleries at Room 45. This way, you’ll experience the pieces in roughly the same order that they were laid out in the tomb (a poster on the wall outside Room 45 illustrates the tomb and treasures as they were found). But if you are fascinated by mummies, then some of the most amazing ones are on display in the Royal Mummy Room, best visited before entering the Tutankhamun Galleries.
The Royal Mummy Room houses the remains of some of Egypt’s most illustrious pharaohs and queens from the 17th to 21st dynasties, 1650 to 945 BC. They lie in individual glass showcases (kept at a constant 22°C) in a suitably sombre, tomblike environment. Talking above a hushed whisper is forbidden (somewhat counterproductively, a guard will bellow ‘silence’ if you do) and tour guides are forbidden to enter, although some do.
Displaying dead royalty has proved highly controversial in the past. Late President Anwar Sadat took the Royal Mummies off display in 1979 for political reasons, but the subsequent reappearance of 11 of the better looking mummies in 1994 has done wonders for tourism figures and a second mummy room has now been added. The extra admission charge is steep, but well worth it if you have any interest in mummies or in ancient Egypt’s great rulers. Parents should be aware that the mummies can be a frightening sight for young children.
Take time to study the faces of some of the first room’s celebrated inmates, beginning with the brave Theban king Seqenenre II who died violently, possibly during struggles to reunite the country at the end of the Second Intermediate Period (1650–1550 BC). His wounds are still visible beneath his curly hair and his twisted arms reflect the violence of his death. The perfectly wrapped mummies of Amenhotep I and Queen Merit Amun show how all royal mummies would once have looked, bedecked with garlands. Hatshepsut’s brother-husband Tuthmosis II lies close by, as does Tuthmosis IV with his beautifully styled hair – he was the first pharaoh to have his ears pierced. Here too is Seti I , often described as the best-preserved royal mummy, although his son Ramses II , in the middle of the room, might argue with that, his haughty profile revealing the family’s characteristic curved nose, his hair dyed in old age with yellow henna. Ramses II’s 13th son and successor Merenptah has a distinctly white appearance caused by the mummification process
The new mummy room (same ticket) is located across the building, off room 46. The corridor display relates some of the most famous mummy discoveries, including the 1881 Deir al-Bahri cache of royal mummies. Many of the mummies in this section date from the 20th and 21st dynasties, the end of the New Kingdom and the start of the Third Intermediate Period (c 1186–945 BC). In the mummy room, the small raised spots visible on the face of Ramses V may have been caused by smallpox. His predecessors Ramses III and IV lie nearby. Since her cheeks had burst apart due to overpacking during the mummification process, the appearance of Queen Henettawy (c 1025 BC) owes as much to modern restorers as to ancient embalmers, who decorated her linen shroud with an image of Osiris. Queen N esikhonsu’s mummy still conveys the queen’s vivid features. Queen Maatkare lies nearby with her pet baboon. Also here are the mummies of several youths, including Prince Djedptahiufankh.
The treasure of the young New Kingdom pharaoh, Tutankhamun, are among the world’s most famous antiquities. The tomb and treasures of this pharaoh, who ruled for only nine years during the 14th century BC (1336–1327 BC), were discovered in 1922 by English archaeologist Howard Carter. Its well-hidden location in the Valley of the Kings, below the much grander but ransacked tomb of Ramses VI, had long prevented its discovery. Many archaeologists now believe that up to 80% of these extraordinary treasures were made for Tutankhamun’s predecessors, Akhenaten and Smenkhkare – some still carry the names of the original owners. Perhaps with Tutankhamun’s death, everything connected with the Amarna Period was simply chucked in with him to be buried away and forgotten.
About 1700 items are spread throughout a series of rooms on the museum’s 1st floor, and although the gold shines brightest, sometimes the less grand objects give more insight into the pharaoh’s life. The following are some of the highlights.
Flanking the doorway as you enter are two life-size statues of Tutankhamun, found in the tomb antechamber. A large black-and-white photograph shows them in situ. Made of wood coated in bitumen, their black skin suggests an identification with Osiris and the rich, black river silt, symbolised fertility and rebirth.
Note Tutankhamun’s wig box of dark wood, with strips of blue and orange inlay, the wooden mushroom-shaped support inside once holding the pharaoh’s short curly wig.
The pharaoh’s lion throne (No 179) is one of the museum’s highlights. Covered with sheet gold and inlaid with lapis, cornelian and other semiprecious stones, the wooden throne is supported by lion legs. The colourful tableau on the chair-back depicts Ankhesenamun applying perfume to husband Tutankhamun, under the rays of the sun (Aten), the worship of which was a hangover from the Amarna period. Evidence of remodelling of the figures suggests that this was the throne of his father and predecessor, Akhenaten. The robes are modelled in beaten silver, their hair of glass paste.
Many golden statues were placed in the tomb to help the pharaoh on his journey in the afterlife, including a series of 28 gilt-wood protective deities and 413 shabti, attendants who would serve the pharaoh in the afterlife. Only a few of them are displayed here.
This room contains exquisite alabaster jars and vessels carved into the shape of boats and animals.
The northern end of this gallery is filled with the pharaoh’s three elaborate funerary couches, one supported by the cow-goddess Mehetweret, one by two figures of the goddess Ammit, ‘the devourer’ who ate the hearts of the damned, and the third by the lioness god Mehet. The huge bouquet of persea and olive leaves in Room 10, near the top of the stairs, was originally propped up beside the two black and gold guardian statues in Room 45.
The alabaster chest contains four Canopic jars, the stoppers of which are in the form of Tutankhamun’s head. Inside these jars, four miniature gold coffins (now in Room 3) held the pharaoh’s internal organs. The chest was placed inside the golden Canopic shrine with the four gilded goddesses: Isis, Neith, Nephthys and Selket, all portrayed with protective outstretched arms.
Most people walk right past Tutankhamun’s amazing wardrobe. The pharaoh was buried with a range of sumptuous tunics covered in gold discs and beading, ritual robes of ‘fake fur’, a large supply of neatly folded underwear and even socks to be worn with flip-flop-type sandals, 47 pairs of which were buried with him. From these and other objects, the Tutankhamun Textile Project has worked out that pharaoh’s vital statistics were 79cm (31in) chest, 74cm (29in) waist and 109cm (4 3in) hips.
These galleries just barely accommodate four massive gilded wooden shrines. These fitted one inside the other, like a set of Russian dolls, encasing at their center the sarcophagi of the boy pharaoh.
This is the room everybody wants to see as it contains the pharaoh’s golden sarcophagus and jewels; at peak times, prepare to queue. Tutankhamun’s astonishing death mask has become an Egyptian icon. Made of solid gold and weighing 11kg, the mask covered the head of the mummy, where it lay inside a series of three sarcophagi. The mask is an idealised portrait of the young pharaoh; the eyes are fashioned from obsidian and quartz, while the outlines of the eyes and the eyebrows are delineated with lapis lazuli.
No less wondrous are the two golden sarcophagi. These are the inner two sarcophagi – the outermost coffin, along with the pharaoh’s mummy, remains in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The smallest coffin is,
Despite like the mask, cast in solid gold and inlaid in the same fashion. It weighs 110kg. The slightly larger coffin is made of gilded wood.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JEWELLERY Even after Tutankhamun’s treasures, this stunning collection of royal jewellery takes the breath away. The collection covers the period from early dynasties to the Romans and includes belts, inlaid beadwork, necklaces, semiprecious stones and bracelets. Among the most beautiful is a diadem of Queen Sit-Hathor-Yunet, a golden headband with a rearing cobra inset with semiprecious stones. Also of note is Pharaoh Ahmose’s gold dagger and Seti II’s considerable g old earrings.
This glittering collection of gold- and silver-encrusted objects came from six intact 21st- and 22nd-dynasty tombs found at the Delta site of Tanis. Unearthed by the French in 1939, the tombs’ discovery rivalled Carter’s finding of Tutankhamun’s tomb, but news of the discovery was overshadowed by the outbreak of WWII. The gold death mask of Psusennes I (1039–991 BC) is shown alongside his silver inner coffin and another silver coffin with the head of a falcon belonging to the pharaoh Shoshenq II (c 8 90 BC).
This room contains a small sample of the stunning portraits found on Graeco-Roman mummies, popularly known as the Fayoum Portraits (see boxed text, p209 ). These faces were painted onto wooden panels, often during the subject’s life, and placed over the mummies’ embalmed faces. These portraits express the personalities of their subjects more successfully than the stylised elegance of most other ancient Egyptian art and are recognised as the link between ancient art and the Western p ortrait tradition.
For gadget buffs, this room contains a great number of everyday objects that helped support ancient Egypt’s great leap out of prehistory. Some are still in use in Egypt today. Pharaonic boomerangs were apparently used for hunting birds.
Before Tutankhamun’s tomb was uncovered, the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu (the parents of Queen Tiy, and Tutankhamun’s great-grandparents) had yielded the most spectacular find in Egyptian archaeology. Discovered virtually intact in the Valley of the Kings in 1905, the tomb contained a vast number of treasures, including five ornate sarcophagi and the remarkably well-preserved mummies of the two commoners who became royal in-laws. Among many other items on display are such essentials for the hereafter as beds and sandals, as well as the fabulous gilded death mask of Thuyu.
This excellent large-scale model of one of the Abu Sir pyramids perfectly illustrates the typical pyramid complex with its valley temple, high-walled causeway, mortuary temple and minisatellite pyramid – well worth studying before a trip to Giza. Case No 82 contains the muchcopied blue faïence hippopotamus from the Middle Kingdom, a symbol of the Nile’s fertility.
Animal cults grew in strength throughout ancient Egypt, as the battered and dust-covered mummified cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, rams and jackals in Room 5 3 suggest.
Discovered in the Asyut tomb of governor Mesheti and dating from about 2000 BC (11th dynasty), these are two sets of 40 wooden warriors marching in phalanxes. The darker soldiers (No 72) are Nubian archers from the south of the kingdom, each wearing brightly coloured kilts of varying design, while the lighter-skinned soldiers (No 73) are Egyptian pikemen.
These sensational lifelike models were mostly found in the tomb of Meketre, an 11th-dynasty chancellor in Thebes, and, like some of the best of Egyptian tomb paintings, they provide a fascinating portrait of daily life in Egypt almost 4000 years ago. They include fishing boats, a slaughterhouse, a carpentry workshop, a loom and a model of Meketre’s house (with fig trees in the garden). Most spectacular is the 1.5m-wide scene of Meketre sitting with his sons, four scribes and various others, counting cattle.
Once a land of dynasties and decadence; now a land where time stands still. Our Egypt Journeys sets you in the shadows of history. At the foot of the legendary Great Pyramids. In the heart of the tomb-strewn Valley of the Kings. Or before the mighty temples of Abu Simbel.
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Q- Is it safe to travel to Egypt 2020? A-Tourists have been visiting Egypt for centuries and Egyptians have well-earned reputation for warmth and kindness toward visitors. Egyptian cities are generally very safe, especially in area where tourists frequenty.
Q-What are Egypt's Visa Requirements? A-If you want to apply for a Visa On Arrival that lasts for 30 days then you should be one of the eligible countries, have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining and pay 25$ USD in cash, as for the E-Visa for 30 day you should have a valid passport for at least 8 months, complete the online application, pay the e-visa fee then print the e-visa to later be presented to the airport border guard. You could also be one of the lucky ones who can obtain a free visa for 90 days. Read More About Egypt Travel Visa.
Q-What is the Top Traditional Egyptian Food?A-Egypt has a variety of delicious cuisines but we recommend “Ful & Ta’meya (Fava Beans and Falafel)”, Mulukhiya, “Koshary”, a traditional Egyptian pasta dish, and Kebab & Kofta, the Egyptian traditional meat dish.
Q-What is the Best Time to Visit Egypt?A- The best time to travel to Egypt is during the winter from September to April as the climate becomes a bit tropical accompanied by a magical atmosphere of warm weather with a winter breeze. You will be notified in the week of your trip if the weather is unsafe and if any changes have been made.
Q-What to Pack for Your Egypt Tour?A-You should pack everything you could ever need and but in a small bag so you could move easily between your destinations.
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Q-What is the Weather is Like? A-The temperature in Egypt ranges from 37c to 14 c. Summer in Egypt is somehow hot and winter is cool and mild but sometimes it becomes cold at night. The average of low temperatures vary from 9.5 °C in the wintertime to 23 °C in the summertime and average high temperatures vary from 17 °C in the wintertime to 32 °C in the summertime. The temperature is moderate all along the coasts..