Just one small part of the immense Midan Tahrir or Tahrir Square:
It is said that if you were to look at every piece for one minute it would take you nine months to see it all - that sounded absolutely overwhelming so we were only going to concentrate on the highlights based on recommendations from a travel guide.
Until 1996, museum security involved locking the door at night. When an enterprising thief stowed away overnight and helped himself to treasures, the museum authorities installed alarms and detectors. During the 2011 revolution, the museum was broken into and a few artifacts went missing. To prevent further looting, activists formed a human chain around the building to guard its contents. By most reports, they were successful.
The ground floor of the museum was roughly laid out in chronological order so we began looking at sculptures and artifacts from the Old Kingdom first, the period from 2532 -2503 BC.
The black schist triads depict the pharaoh Menkaure, the builder of the smallest of the three pyramids. The king was wearing the tall white crown of Upper Egypt. The figure to the pharaoh’s right is the sky goddess Hathor and the divine mother of the king. She was the goddess that I mentioned in the post on Giza we had hoped to see. On Menkaure's left is the Nome goddess who, in the inscription, promised to give the king 'all the good things that come from Upper Egypt.'
Funeral chamber of painted limestone discovered at Sakkara, one of trhe places we visited in our tour around Giza a couple of days ago.
One of the masterpieces of the Old Kingdom was the stunning wooden statue of Ka-Aper, discovered at Sakkara in 1870. It was carved out of a single piece of sycamore though the legs were modern restorations. The sycamore was sacred to the goddess Hathor. Ka-Aper’s large belly suggests his prosperity.
His eyes were amazingly lifelike: set in copper lids with the whites made of opaque quartz and the corneas from rock crystal, drilled and filled with black paste to form the pupils.
One of the museum’s masterpieces is this smooth, black statue of Khafre. The builder of the second pyramid at Giza sat on a lion throne and was protected by the wings of the falcon god Horus. Khafre had 23 identical pieces carved for his valley temple but this is the only one that survived.
It was amazing we could get right up to so many of the displays and sculptures with no cords or barriers in between. This piece that also came from Sakkara was called ‘Man Preparing Beer Jars.’ I don't think it was one of the museum's highlights but I couldn't resist taking the photo and writing down the caption!
'Old Kingdom Heads, probably intended to represent prisoners,' made from gray granite, alabaster and diorite.
One room was dominated by the beautiful statues of Rahotep and Nofret, a noble couple from the 4th dynasty. Almost life-size with well preserved painted surfaces, the limestone sculptures had very simple lines that made them seem almost contemporary, even though they have been around for an astounding 4,600 years!
Wooden Statue of Mitri from the 5th to the 6th Dynasty: one of 11 that were found. Wood was a rare and expensice material in ancient Egypt so this statue reflected his high rank and power. He is shown in the classic scribal position with a papyrus roll in his lap and a writing implement in his hand.
In a nearby cabinet there was a limestone group of Seneb, ‘chief of the royal wardrobe,’ and his family. Seneb is notable for being a little person; he sits cross legged with his two children strategically placed to cover his short legs. His full-size wife, places her arms protectively around his shoulders. Rediscovered in their tomb in Giza in 1926, the happy couple and their two children were more recently used in an Egyptian family-planning campaign!
Many of the smaller items were in the same glass cabinets they were placed in when the museum opened in 1902. The lighting was so poor in some halls that we needed to squint to make out details and read the words on the typed display cards placed on a few key items.
A panel of the Meidum Geese: It was part of an extraordinarily beautiful wall painting from a mud-brick bench above a tomb at Meidum. Though painted around 2500 BC, its pigments still remained vivid and the degree of realism has made it possible for ornithologists to identify the species with no trouble. I overheard a guide say that four types of the geese in the picture are still in existence today.
I was amazed at the filth and the almost total absence of guards. It was mind boggling to me that we didn’t see them walking around telling people to keep their hands off the priceless pieces of art.
A life-size pink granite statue of Hatsheput who was co-regent for part of Tutmosis III’s reign and eventually had herself crowned as pharaoh. Although she wears a pharaoh’s headdress and a false beard, the statue still had feminine characteristics.
The sign said No Touching but it was not enforced and was sadly disregarded.
Akhenaten's coffin lid from the 18th dynasty: Some scholars believe that Tutankhamen succeeded Akhenaten on the throne and that he brought back his father's mummy in a woman's coffin when he returned to the old capital at Luxor.
Three beautifully preserved statues from the 26th-27th dynasties found in Psametik's tomb at Sakkara:
The limestone statue of Zoser aka Djoser (2667-2648 BC), whose chief architect, Imhotep, designed the revolutionary Step Pyramid at Sakkara, was the first one found with a moustache. This was the oldest statue of its kind in the museum. The seated, near life-size figure has lost its original eyes but was still very impressive in a tight robe and striped head cloth over a huge wig.
The Clay Head from the 4th millennium BC, was one of the earliest human representations found in Egypt.
In this fabulous large gray-granite representation of Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), builder of the Ramseseum – something we’ll be seeing in a few days – he was depicted as a child with his finger in his mouth nestled against the breast of a great falcon, the god Horus. (You’ll be seeing lots more of Horus in the Luxor posts.)
Funeral procession from the Middle Kingdom excavated in Sakkara:
Mummies Halls: These rooms housed the remains of some of Egypt’s most illustrious pharaoh’s and queens from the 17th to the 21st centuries, 1650 to 945 BC. They lay in individual glass cases kept in two temperature-controlled rooms on either side of the museum. The mood inside each of the rooms was suitably somber and talking above a whisper was forbidden. It was interesting to read that displaying dead royalty has been controversial. Late President Anwar Sadat took the royal mummies off display in 1979 for political reasons. However, the subsequent reappearance of 11 of the better-looking mummies did wonders for tourism figures in 1994. That inspired the opening of a second mummy room with lesser known figures.
King Amnehotep I died in his late 40s during the 18th dynasty, circa 1525-1505 BC. The body was later rewrapped by 21st dynasty priests and provided with a new mask and a garland of flowers.
Tuthmosis II lay next to his wife Hatsheput, the great queen and female pharaoh died at the age of 45 and was the tallest New Kingdom pharaoh at 1.83 meters tall. He was found in his own sarcophagus. His body was shipped up and down the Nile and stolen from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings so it was good to see him finally at rest!
The body of King Ramses II was strikingly well preserved: his gray hair was tinged with henna and we could even notice his long fingernails still!
King Ramses IV’s body: His eyes were replaced by small onions, his skull was filled with resin and his abdomen was filled with lichen!
Some more canopic jars:
The Ancient Egyptian Jewelry Gallery: Even after Tutankhamen’s treasures, the dazzling collection of royal jewelry took my breath away.
Do you think these gold earring were heavy enough?!
An alabaster chest:
As we left the museum, we saw the tomb of Auguste Mariette, the French archeologist who was responsible for creating the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1858. Interestingly, he was also busy shipping his finds home from Sakkara to the Louvre!
No matter how many pictures we had seen of these treasures, nothing could prepare us for the reality of seeing them. As a travel writer said, walking through the Egyptian Museum was like embarking on an adventure through time.
Posted from Al Wasil, Oman on November 6th, 2016.