When you usually hear the word “Egypt” the great ancient Egyptian civilization is probably the first thing that pops in your mind. Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is lucky enough to have a fair share of the ancient Egyptian monuments and remnants. Surprisingly enough, The Great Pyramids of Giza are not the only way to get to know the ancient Egyptian civilization. In fact, Cairo has another important attraction which is as important as The Great Pyramids. If you want an interesting experience of ancient Egypt in Cairo, The Egyptian Museum should definitely be on your list. Established in 1835, The museum is home to more than 120,000 items and antiques of ancient Egypt. A visit to the museum is like a short journey in time having a tour around the great God and Goddesses of ancient Egypt and hearing more about their stories.
History and Design of The Egyptian Museum
For those who are not aware, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is home to the world’s biggest assemblage of Pharaonic monuments, some of these monuments are the most significant antiquities of the ancient Egyptian civilization. This includes Tut Ankh Amon’s golden mask, for instance.
In 1835, the first Museum was established by the Egyptian Government close to Al Azbakeya Garden. Later on, the museum was moved to the Cairo Citadel. In 1858, a new museum was found in Boulaq in an ex-warehouse under the supervision of Auguste Mariette, the founder of the Antiquities Department in Egypt. As the construction was standing on the Nile Riverbank, it faced some struggles after a flood in 1878.
In 1891, the antiquities were moved to a new place (a previous imperial palace) in Giza and stayed there till 1902. In 1902, the museum was moved to its current place in Tahrir Square and is remaining up till now. Furthermore, The construction of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square is designed by the French architect Marcel Dourgnon and is known to be one of the biggest museums in the region.
The museum consists of two floors (ground floor and first floor) and an outside garden. The ground floor has a big assemblage of papyrus pieces that belong to the ancient world. The writings on the papyrus include different languages such as the Greek language, Latin language, and the ancient Egyptian language. Papyrus isn’t the only thing that’s exhibited on the ground floor. You can also find different coins there including Egyptian, Greek, Islamic and Roman coins. The coins were made of various metals including bronze, gold, and silver.
Moreover, different artifacts which belong to the New Kingdom are being displayed, specifically from the time between 150 to 1069 BC. Those items are characterized by being bigger than the other artifacts which belong to previous times. The exhibits on the ground floor also include 42 rooms, coffins which are known as “sarcophagi, tables, and boats.
As for the second floor, it’s mainly housing artifacts from the last two dynasties of ancient Egypt. Those items include tombs of many famous pharaohs including Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III. It also hosts plenty of artifacts that belong to the Valley of the Kings. Tombs and monuments are not the only interesting things you will come across while visiting the Egyptian Museum. Guess what, there are actually two rooms which accommodate a fair number of mummies! Those mummies are of kings and royal family members!
Interestingly, the garden near the building is basically considered as a memorial. It hosts statues dedicated to a number of the world’s most important Egyptologists. The most important monument belongs to Auguste Mariette the significant Egyptologist and the founder of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. Auguste’s monument is enclosed by 23 busts of other different Egyptologists including the great Jean-François Champollion.
King Tutankhamun’s Death Mask
King Tut, Tutankhamun or Tutankhanen, is one of the most famous kings in the history of ancient Egypt (reigned from 1332 to 1323 BC). Interestingly enough, King Tut started his reign when he was nine years old! If you’re lucky enough to visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo you’ll get to see Tutankhamon’s funerary mask, also known as King Tut’s death mask. According to Nicholas Reeves, an English Egyptologist, the mask is “perhaps the best-known object from ancient Egypt.
The Discovery of King Tut’s Mask
The burial chamber of King Tutankhamun was uncovered from the time between 1922 to 1925 by the Howard Carter – a British Archaeologist and Egyptologist – in the Valley of the king in Luxor (Thebes). The death mask of King Tut was one of many items found in his chamber. Howard Carter described the discovery of the mask in his diary saying “The mask has fallen slightly back, thus its gaze is straight up to the heavens.” The mask was then moved to the Egyptian Museum where it’s being exhibited.
It’s said that the mask is one of the most famous artworks in the world, and it is made of 11kg of pure solid gold. The mask represents the king’s known image. The Pharoah is wearing a stripped nemes headcloth (commonly worn between Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt). On the top of the nemes a cobra and a vulture, known as Wadjet and Nekhbet in the ancient language, were placed. The Cobra (Wadjet) represents Lower Egypt and the Vulture (Nekhbet) represents Upper Egypt.
This is the only piece in the whole museum that is not original as the original piece is placed in the British Museum. So, the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a Replica of the original one. Rosetta stone is a historic stone of which helped the world know a lot about three thousand years of the ancient Egyptian heritage.
The stone has writings in both Egyptian and Greek languages with three different writing types: Hieroglyphic, Demotic, and Greek. The Rosetta was discovered during a Napoleonic war in Egypt by a French Captain called Pierre Bouchard.
The Hieroglyphic language was known as the language of religious writings and other important documents. The demotic language was known as the commonly used language in daily life. The Greek language was the language of the elites and the leaders of Egypt.
Moreover, the last part of the Greek writing says “written in sacred and native and Greek characters.” This helped the experts who were working on decoding the stone to understand that the same text was written in three different writing types, the hieroglyphic, the Demotic, and the Greek one. The “sacred” language is referred to the hieroglyphic, the “native” is referred to the day to day Demotic language, and the “Greek” is the language used by the Egyptian leaders.
For how important the stone is in helping the world know a lot about thousand of the Egyptian civilization, there has to be a piece in the Egyptian Museum even if it is a replica. That’s the only unoriginal piece among more 12,000 pieces in the museum.
Mummification was a very common process in the ancient Egyptian culture and beliefs. It participated a lot in building the great civilization that’s still impressing the world till now. Ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife, the soul and immortality. The human’s body is united with their soul in the afterlife so mummification was a part of the whole process as, of course, preserving their bodies was important for the other life.
Thus, working on developing funerary equipment and tools was important. Canopic jars were part of the funerary equipment and were used to hold the important body organs as the body will need them in the reunion in the afterlife: liver, intestines, stomach, and lungs. As for the heart, ancient Egyptians believed the heart is where the soul stays so they did not remove it from the body.
Canopic jars were usually made of limestone or pottery, and were used in ancient Egypt starting from the Old Kingdom moving to the Ptolemaic Period. The style of canopic jars varied over time. Interestingly, at the time of the nineteenth dynasty, canopic jars were designed with lids portraying one of God Horus’s sons to protect the organs. You can find canopic jars as a part of the ancient Egyptian civilization in many museums around the world including, of course, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
This is the “first historical document in the world”! Narmer Palette, Palette of Narmer, or the Great Hierakonpolis Palette is a very important Egyptian monument that dates back to 31st century BC. The palette has some significant carvings and the earliest to be ever found. The palette tells a story about an important time in the ancient Egyptian history. The carvings on the piece are portraying King Narmer’s famous unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The palette has a political and martial message, and it’s a bit explicit. Different carvings on the palette show the king’s continuous victory over his enemies. Some of the carvings on Narmer’s Palette is portraying holding a kneeling enemy and is striking him. Other carvings show him stepping on other enemies bodies and other one showing him destroying a city’s fortress.
Due to it’s significance, the Palette of Narmer is featured is different movies and literary works: For instance, it was featured in the movie “Watchmen” in 2009, in a historical novel under the name “Pharaoh” in 2007, in a short story named “The Temple of El Alamein”, and in 2017’s Assassins Creed!
Made of painted limestone, the head of Hatshepsut is one of the most famous pieces in the Egyptian Museum. The head was a part of Hatshepsut’s statue which was found at Al Deir Al-Bahari in Qena. Queen Hatshepsut is the fifth Pharaoh from the Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom. According to many Egyptologists, Queen Hatshepsut is one of the most successful and significant rulers in the history of ancient Egypt. Most noteworthy, Queen Hatshepsut has the longest reigns between all the native women who ruled Egypt. Historians confirm that the Queen is the second female pharaoh in the history of ancient Egypt, considering her the “Foremost of Noble ladies.” Describing Queen Hatshepsut, Egyptologist James Henry Breasted said she is “the first great woman in the history of whom we are informed.
Let’s take a closer look at the head of Queen Hatshepsut standing in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The statue has thin eyebrows and beautifully drawn eyes giving it a noticeable feminine look. The nose is hooked and the mouth is very elegant showing how beautifully the queen was portrayed. Another impressive thing about the statue is its well-preserved colors catching the eyes of whoever sees it.
Bust of Akhenaten
Akhenaten, Akhenaton, Khauenaten, Ikhnaton, or Echnaton, all are names of the same great king who ruled Egypt for 17 years. Akhenaten was a king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. the king is one of the most important Pharaohs in the history of Egypt. The history knows Ikhnaton as the king who deserted the common Egyptian polytheism (worshiping more than one God) and was the first to introduce monotheism (worshiping one God), worshiping the one God Aten. Iknaton’s wife is the famous queen Nefertiti. Nefertiti was known for supporting her husband in his religious revolution against polytheistic religions.
Located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the remarkable Bust of Akhenaten is built on the Amarna style which was known in the eighteenth century. The Amarna art is characterized by its lively spirit is characterized as it has a touch of movement in it. Along with his wife Nefertiti, Pharaoh Ikhnaton’s time was one of the most privileged time in the history of Ancient Egypt.
Anubis, the God of Mummification
One of the greatest figures in the Ancient Egyptian mythology, Anubis was the God of mummification in Ancient Egypt known as “Lord of the Sacred Land” or “Lord of the Pure Land”. If you’re a fan of Ancient Egyptian mythology, then you definitely know the story of Isis and Osiris. Anubis God’s role was to prepare the dead for God Osiris (the God of the afterlife and the underworld) to receive them. Interestingly, according to the myth, Anubis was the one to preserve Osiris after he got killed by Seth.
How does God Anubis look like?! Anubis was usually drawn as a man with the head of a jackal. As jackals were always seen in burial areas, Ancient Egyptians believed the God of mummification, Anubis, is looking for the dead and preserving them.
Located in the Egyptian Museum, and considered as one of the most important pieces among the 12,000 items in the Egyptian Museum, stands a beautiful statue of God Anubis also known as Anubis Shrine. The shrine was found among the items of Tutankhamun’s grave. Though the statue was made of wood, it was beautifully formed especially with the elegant black paint drawn on in. While finding your way around the stunning exhibits in the Egyptian Museum, you’ll find Anubis Shrine under the find number 261 in the museum.
As it’s found in Tutankhamun’s burial place, Anubis Shrine was obviously used in the funerary and burial process of the king and was specifically located in front of the canopic chest in the Store Room of the cemetery. The statue was placed to be looking at the west as, according to the ancient Egyptian beliefs, the west is the orientation of the afterlife.
“It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber, and who repel that one who would repel him with the desert flame. I have set aflame the desert (?), I have caused the path to be mistaken. I am for the protection of the deceased.” A magic spell? Very interesting, ha?!!
According to Howard Carter, this magic spell is written on a brick (known as ‘magic brick’) at the entrance of the storeroom in the burial chamber of King Tut. The magic spell is meant to protect the dead and preserve them. While planning your visit to the Egyptian Museum, Anubis Shrine should be among the exhibits you shouldn’t miss there!
Known as the Victory Stele, Israel Stele, or Merneptah Stele is an important biblical script engraved by Pharaoh Merneptah and dates back to the 19th dynasty. A part of its significance is that it has the earliest references to Israel mainly saying “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.”, and that’s why it’s called Israel Stele. Merneptah (ruled from 1213 to 1203 B.C.) is the 4th ruler of the 19th dynasty and son of the Great Pharaoh Ramesses II.
In 1896, The Stele was discovered by the British Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, at Thebes (now known as Luxor). Merneptah Stele has engravings showing the martial triumphs of Merneptah in both Africa and the close Eastern regions. Now the Victory Stele is among the famous exhibits in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Mummy mask of Wendjebauendjed
An ancient Egyptian general, a high priest, Hereditary Prince and count, King of Lower Egypt, Seal-bearer, and Priest of Osiris lord of Mendes. Wendjebauendjed was an important general from the age of Psusennes I in the 21 dynasty. Though nothing much was known about Wendjebauendjed he held many significant titles in his time. All the important titles which were given to the general gave him the recognition to be buried in royal cemeteries. however he didn’t belong to royal families. Inside a kingly necropolis in Tanis, French Egyptologist Pierre Montent discovered Wendjebauendjed’s tomb.
Colossal Statue of Amenhotep III and Tiye
is a monolith group statue of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III of the eighteenth dynasty, his Great Royal Wife Tiye, and three of their daughters. It is the largest known dyad ever carved. The statue originally stood in Medinet Habu, Western Thebes; today it is the centerpiece of the main hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The statue is made of limestone, its width is 4,4 m, its height is 7 m. The almond shaped eyes and curved eyebrows of the figures are of typical late 18th dynasty style. Amenhotep III wears the nemes headdress with uraeus, a false beard and a kilt; he is resting his hands on his knees. Queen Tiye is sitting on his left, her right arm is placed around her husband’s waist. Her height is equal to that of the pharaoh, which shows her prominent status. She wears an ankle-length, close-fitting dress and a heavy wig with a vulture headdress, modius and double uraei; the cobras and the vulture are crowned, the proper right cobra wears the white crown of Upper Egypt, while the proper left one wears the red crown of Lower Egypt.
The statue is likely to have been carved around the first sed festival of Amenhotep III. Arielle Kozloff writes that the age of the daughters depicted on the monument, especially that of Henuttaneb, and the style of Queen Tiye’s wig, which was “at its most developed, nearly shrouding her face” suggests that the statue was made during the third decade of the king’s reign. It is possible that it was made from the good quality limestone which was removed to create the open courtyard of TT192 – a huge tomb belonging to Queen Tiye’s steward Kheruef, work on which was started around this time.
The eldest daughter of the royal couple, Sitamun is absent from the statue group, probably because she was elevated to the rank of great royal wife by Year 30 of Amenhotep’s reign.
The statue belonged to the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, which has been mostly destroyed since, but during its time was the largest temple complex in Thebes, surpassing even the Karnak temple. As it was built too close to the floodplain, less than two hundred years later it already stood in ruins and most of its stones were reused by later pharaohs for their own building projects
The Mummy Room
Yes! There is a whole room exhibiting mummies! Though visiting the Mummy Room will cost you an extra charge the experience very much worth it. That’s the best way to get as close as possible to the Ancient Egyptians’ greatness and actually meet them. It’s very recommended to give this room a fair share of your time at the Egyptian Museum. The room has around 27 Mummies which are surprisingly well preserved. At the Mummy Room, you’ll get to see real hair, finger nails, and teeth among the displays.
All the above-listed pieces are nothing compared to what you can experience at the Egyptian Museum with all the artistic exhibitions and the giant statues. Paying the museum a visit is pretty much like a travel around times of one of the most glittering times of the history of Egypt. However you should organize your time there well. Imagine giving every piece of the 12,000 items a minute, that’d take you months!! Organize your time, pick your tour guide, start your day early and be ready to one of the most stunning experiences in your life!