The Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art

The city of Luxor may truly be said to be a cradle of all humanity’s cultural heritage; however, it also remains an urban environment which must cater to the everyday needs of its inhabitants. How to involve the local community in the programme of a site museum which is one of the world’s foremost international tourist destinations was thus the challenge facing the Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art.

The Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art is set in an exceptional location in the ancient and world-famous town of Luxor, which lies nearly 670 kilometres south of Cairo, the capital, and has a population of approximately 70,000. The museum is situated in a superlative position on the Nile Corniche road which connects the Luxor and Karnak temples, parallel to the great River Nile and facing the Ramesseum on the west bank.

The river traverses the town centre, thus dividing it into two sections. The first section is on the east bank, where the larger and principal part of the town lies and where ancient Thebes was a metropolis of Egypt for a period of over three centuries during the 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom (1550–1196 B.C.). The other section of the town is on the west bank of the Nile, where the ancient Egyptians built their mortuary temples to the gods alongside the dead pharoahs lying in their royal tombs. Magnificent temples were consecrated for the worship and homage of Amon, his consort the goddess Mut and their son Khonsu, who together represented the Theban triad.

The Luxor temple is located in the southern part of the town and the Karnak temple in the northern part. The town has had various names since the beginning of history; it was called Weset by the ancient Egyptians and was referred to as Nu Amon, or the town of Amon, during the period of the Old Kingdom. Its Greek name was Thebes. Following their invasion of Egypt, the Romans established a large military garrison around the Luxor temple. When the Arab conquerors saw the remnants of its forts, they thought that they were palaces and so gave them the name of al-uqsur , which is the plural form of the word qasr (meaning ‘palace’ or ‘castle’). The name was then distorted by European languages to form the town’s present name of Luxor.

The wealth of the Egyptian empire, which extended from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Third Cataract in the south during the New Kingdom period, poured into Thebes, making it the richest city in the world. This wealth was reflected in the different forms of art and architecture in the town. As such, Luxor was replete with pharaonic antiquities of an abundance and splendour without compare elsewhere in the world, the effect of which was to turn Luxor into an open-air museum of human history and age-old civilizations. Given the copious wealth of rare and valuable antiquities discovered in Luxor, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture conceived a plan in 1962 to build a museum there and commissioned a leading Egyptian architect, engineer Mahmud Al-Hakim, to produce the necessary engineering and architectural designs. Construction was finished in 1969 and the museum assumed the status of a regional museum for the exhibition of antiquities discovered in the town of Luxor. The exhibits were scrupulously chosen from among the treasures in storage in the region and, with the internal and external displays complete, the museum was officially opened on 12 December 1975. On leaving the museum, visitors witness a unique panoramic view of the west bank. The museum galleries are on two levels, which are connected by two ramps.

The latest museum display methods have been used with a view to highlighting the artistic beauty of the exhibits. These rely entirely on artificial lighting, a background of dark grey walls and ceilings and simple stands for the objects, the result being that the the displays are not cramped or crowded, leaving the eye free to focus on the exhibits. Visitors consequently have a relaxed feeling which is conducive to becoming fully absorbed in the contemplation of each individual work. The Luxor temple cache, was stumbled upon by sheer accident in 1989 while routine soil samples were being taken from the courtyard of King Amenhotep III. The cache consists of unique and unusual statues of various gods, goddesses and kings which are very well preserved and exceptional in their beauty and magnificence. When the discovery was made, it was decided that a special room be allocated for the exhibition of this priceless treasure. Such a room was therefore added and an innovative method of exhibiting this unique collection was also devised. Generally speaking, all the museum exhibits were unearthed during excavations of the area and were brought out of their storage there.

They also include various pieces returned from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to their original home of Luxor, where they were found among the funereal trappings of King Tutankhamen when his tomb was discovered in 1922. Creating value for the community The word ‘museum’ is no longer restricted in meaning to a place where works of art from bygone civilizations are preserved, exhibited and presented to the public as befits their artistic and historic value. On the contrary, the meaning of the word has now broadened to signify a cultural institution of considerable importance, which plays an influential role in the education of society, the enlightenment of human thought and the growth in awareness of civilization, art and history. Those working in the Luxor Museum were faced with a major problem once it had opened. Being situated in the town of Luxor, which has such a wealth of antiquities and is a focus of world interest visited by tourists from all over the globe,

Museum now represents a fresh tourist attraction to which package and individual tourists flock to be amazed and dazzled. However, despite the status it has acquired, the museum constitutes nothing of value to the townspeople, who are daily witnesses to the sites of antiquity surrounding them on all sides in what resembles an open-air museum whose precincts they inhabit. The museum administration was therefore compelled to plan an educational project with a view to creating a form of interchange between the inhabitants of Luxor and the museum, which houses works of art bequeathed by their forefathers from ancient civilizations.

This educational project was based on a number of key aspects. First and foremost, regular monthly seminars and meetings are held to which the townspeople are invited, the aim being to highlight the most significant of the archaeological discoveries which emerge daily during the course of research and excavation work carried out by Egyptian and foreign archaeologists working on archaeological digs. The result is to create an awareness of civilization among the members of the public and familiarize them with the happenings in their midst, as well as to establish a link between them and their history and civilization. These seminars and meetings are run by a group of top Egyptian and foreign scholars. The museum also devotes attention to issues involving antiquities and matters of heritage which exercise public opinion and arouse controversy. This it does by occasionally holding public seminars to shed light on the specific subject, to clarify any controversy surrounding it and to eliminate any confusion over it. An example of the issues tackled is the iniative to dismantle, restore and reassemble the columns in the hall of Amenhotep III in the Luxor temple, which was variously condoned and condemned by the press, a situation which divided the townspeople into two groups, for and against the project. In their comings and goings, opponents of the work saw these giant columns gradually dwindling in size during the dismantling process and noted the resulting disfigurement of the temple courtyard. When the columns finally vanished altogether before their very eyes, they wrongly believed that they had seen the last of them. With a view to eliminating this mistaken belief, the Luxor Museum seized the initiative and organized a scientific seminar attended by the archaeologists, soil engineers and restorers concerned. Invitations were addressed to the people of Luxor in general and to those working in the fields of tourism, antiquities and the media in particular. The seminar covered the scientific, archaeological and environmental aspects that had made it necessary to implement the project aimed at saving this great hall. It also covered the scientific method used to carry out the work with the help of sophisticated technology. The interchange between the audience and the specialists was extremely positive; the members of the audience learnt what was going on in their midst and ultimately found themselves in favour of the project. The museum has assumed an influential teaching role in society by devising an educational programme entitled ‘Museum Façade of the Luxor Museum overlooking the Nile Corniche.

The prime focus is on aiming this activity at pupils in varying stages of education. A number of museum staff received training in how to deal with different age-groups and respond to their queries. The staff were also supplied with illustrative photographs, colour slides and video films relating the story of the museum exhibits and the history of the town, as well as with the equipment needed to project the slides and films. A timetable was drawn up during the academic year for the museum staff to go into schools and give talks, which they would follow up by providing escorted visits to the museum. All such action was taken in co-ordination with the town’s educational department and school head teachers. The broad awareness of the pupils was in evidence from the questions which they put to their guides. At the end of their tour, they completed a form registering their impressions of the visit and their suggestions for improvements. A major accomplishment of the programme was that it revealed the potential for lively and positive interaction between the museum and its target public.

The museum administration used the suggestions to develop and simplify the form of labelling so as to give swift yet comprehensive information on the displayed pieces. The success of this key aspect has encouraged us to pursue this same activity and further extend it to the social clubs that serve as meeting places for young people and adults. A constantly expanding collection The Luxor Museum is a place of major archaeological interest in Egypt, located in an area containing two-thirds of the country’s antiquities. It was therefore essential that its collection of exhibits should be rich and varied enough to show all aspects of the history and art of Luxor. The museum administration therefore proposed expansion of the exhibition rooms and extension of the museum so that acquisitions stored in the area and unearthed by excavation in successive seasons could be added to it. The Higher Council of Antiquities responded favourably to this proposal and the process of expansion is now under way. Cow head of the goddess Hathor made of wood covered with gold leaf. The horns are fashioned from copper and the eyes are inlaid with lapis lazuli.

The excavations in the region uncover, sometimes by mere chance, unique artefacts, which should be exhibited in the museum for the world to see. Such artefacts may be in urgent need of rapid intervention in the interests of their restoration and preservation so that they can be suitably exhibited. In that connection, the museum faces a number of difficulties, as there is no workshop where restoration and preservation work can be carried out using the modern tools and equipment essential for treating the condition of such artefacts. A request has been submitted for the establishment of an integral workshop in the new wing. Despite the lack of a specialist workshop, however, there are a number of expert restorers who are well qualified to handle antiquities on the basis of their raw material or condition. If local resources are incapable of caring for an artefact, help is sought from specialists in the central museum administration in Cairo. For it to be successful, the activity of conveying the museum’s educational and cultural message concerning the surrounding site must be conducted inside the museum in a hall specially allocated for the purpose, and not in schools and clubs, as is the case at the moment. A request therefore had to be made for two halls, one in which lectures and seminars can be held and the other in which schoolchildren can pursue museum-related art activities. These halls will form an integral part of the museum’s new wing.

The main antiquities on exhibition in the museum include the statue of King Tuthmosis III of the 18th dynasty (1490–36 B.C.). Made of green slate, this statue was discovered in 1904 in the Karnak temple cache north of the seventh pylon in this famous temple. As the town had no museum, the statue was sent to Cairo for exhibition at the Egyptian Museum with other discoveries from the cache. It was then returned to its place of origin when the Luxor Museum opened. This particular statue is regarded as one of the museum’s main acquisitions and is the one that provokes most comment from visitors, as the King’s noble facial features convey his confidence in himself as a ruler and god, the Egyptian sculptor having masterfully succeeded in bringing out that particular expression, thus making this statue one of the most beautiful pieces of ancient Egyptian art. The statue of the god Sobek and King Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty (1403– 1265 B.C.) is a singular piece made of calcite Diorite statue of King Horemheb and the god Atum. The plinth of the statue was the first item discovered in the Luxor temple cache and was found inside a well made for it, together with a number of paintings and statues depicting the god as a crocodile, during excavation work to clear a canal in the area of Suminu, now Dahamsha, southwest of Luxor. A small temple was undoubtedly consecrated to the god in this spot, which was showered with votive offerings by his slaves and believers in his power. This statue demonstrates the Egyptian sculptor’s success in creating a balance between the physiques of the pharaoh and god, despite their difference in size, by eliminating part of the rear panel above the pharaoh’s head and bringing his head level with the god’s head, crown included. Ramses II claimed this statue for himself, removing the name of its original owner and replacing it with his own name. Fortunately, however, he did not touch the king’s distinctive features, which remained intact, thus affirming the origin of the statue of King Amenhotep III. The harpist and female dancers is a building slab in quartzite from the time of the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom (1475– 68 B.C.). The slab was part of the obelisk built by Queen Hatshepsut in the Karnak temple which was later named the Rose Obelisk because of the colour of its stone. It shows a group of dancers and singers accompanied by a harpist in one of the religious festivals that used to take place in Thebes during its heyday. The depiction of the graceful bodies illustrates features of the art of the 18th dynasty. The Luxor Temple cache: a major discovery The site of the Luxor Museum continues to reveal its secrets. The most recent discovery, and also the most important of the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, was made in the hypostyle hall of Amenhotep III, the builder and founder of the Luxor temple (1403–1365 B.C.), where a collection of rare statues known as the Luxor temple cache was uncovered. The initial cache discovery was made on 22 January 1989 and produced twenty-four statues of gods, goddesses and pharaohs, most of them in an excellent state of preservation. Discoveries continued to be made until 20 April of the same year, when the last piece was unearthed at a depth of 4.5 metres below ground level. This piece was the sacred beard of Amon, whose statue had been discovered previously on 28 March. Sixteen of the statues were selected for exhibition in the Luxor Museum, where a room was set aside for them in the first basement, having been specially designed to give visitors the freedom to view the antiquities from all sides, using focal lighting to draw the eye to the aesthetic elements of the exhibits. Care was taken to ensure that the chosen statues were not placed on stands, but on a raised platform reached by stairs, the effect of which is to imbue the pieces with a divine and awe-inspiring quality befitting statues of goddesses who were held sacred in ancient times and of kings elevated to the status of gods. The most famous and unusual of the statues in this collection are as follows. A composite statue of the god Atum and King Horemheb consisting of two statues in diorite from the 18th dynasty (1338–08 B.C.) The statue is set in a hollow carved in a separate base, which was the first item found in the cache. This unique assembly of the three pieces (the two statues and the base) is an incomparable find.

King Horemheb kneeling in worship to the god Atum and offering him two sphericalshaped vessels. He is wearing a headdress, the front of which is adorned with the sacred cobra, and the short tunic known as a shandeth. The god before him is seated on his throne, which is decorated on both sides with two Nile gods, with the symbol of the unity of the Two Kingdoms entwined by papyrus plants on the right and lotus plants on the left, these being the symbols of north and south. The statue in red quartzite of King Amenhotep III from the 18th dynasty (1405-1365 B.C.) This giant statue, which is 239 cm. in height, is regarded as the most impressive of the discoveries made in the cache. It shows King Amenhotep III in the prime of youth striding forward and trampling on Egypt’s traditional enemies symbolized by the nine arches on which he treads without flinching. Despite the particularly solid stone from which the statue is made, the Egyptian artist has successfully employed his skill to show the king’s body in remarkable symmetry, as well as the details of the short tunic which he is wearing and which bears the name of King Nb Maet Ra in the bottom centre inside a cylinder called a cartouche, encircled by four sacred cobras with the sun above. When the statue was brought out of the ground, traces of gilding were visible on the crown, the wide collar and the bracelets adorning the king. It is actually difficult to imagine the painstaking work involved in engraving the many fine and splendid details on the king’s tunic, particularly at the back. Visitors have to see these details for themselves in order to appreciate the exceptional skill of the Egyptian sculptor and his mastery of his tools. The statue in diorite of the goddess Hathor from the time of King Amenhotep III The goddess Hathor is regarded as one of the most important Egyptian goddesses.

The sky goddess and protectress of life and love, she was worshipped either as a cow or as a female form wearing a crown of cow’s horns with the sun lodged between them. This statue depicts her as a woman seated on her throne, which is unembellished by engraving, wearing her distinctive crown over a wig and holding the staff of life in her left hand. Both sides of the throne bear the name of King Amenhotep, who is portrayed as Hathor’s lover. The statue of the goddess Ayunet in grey granite Although this goddess had been worshipped in the area of Thebes since the 11th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (approximately 2061–1991 B.C.), only one statue of this size and in such wellpreserved condition was found. She was the consort of the god Montu, who was a warlord and master of Thebes at that time. The statue portrays her as a graceful woman with an appealing smile on her beautiful face, making it one of the most attractive statues in ancient Egyptian art.

It is clear that the museum is indebted to the town, with its rich heritage, for the acquisition of its collection. I am confident that the future will unveil many works which are no less splendid than the pieces already discovered in the area. The soil of Luxor still shelters many of these antiquities and takes greater care of them than would many human beings, Read more.