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The visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is simply overwhelming!
The Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities consisting of more than 120,000 items (with a representative amount on display and the remainder in storerooms).
To see it all, it would take you days!
To make it manageable, here are 19 MUST-SEE things at the Egyptian Museum.
PLUS, things you need to know before to go to the museum.
The new Egyptian Museum, known as Grand Egyptian Museum, also known as the Giza Museum, is currently under construction. It is located approximately 2 km from the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The opening of the museum is scheduled for 2021.
19 MUST-SEE THINGS AT THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM, CAIRO
MASK OF PHARAOH TUTANKHAMEN
The most famous item in the Egyptian Museum is the gold mask of the 18th-dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
- The mask is 54 cm (21 in) tall, 39.3 cm (15.5 in) wide and 49 cm (19 in) deep.
- It is made from two layers of high-karat gold. It weighs 10.23 kg (22.6 lb).
- The mask depicts Tutankhamen wearing a striped head cloth (nemes) with two large flaps hanging down behind the ears and in front of both shoulders.
- It is topped by the royal insignia of cobra and vulture, that symbolize Tutankhamen’s rule of both Lower and Upper Egypt.
- The mask has inlays of gemstones.
- A protective spell is inscribed on the back of the mask.
Moreover, if you are heading to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, then make sure to check out my post with top tips for visiting the Valley of the Kings and also, read which are the best tombs to visit in the Valley of the Kings.
The Narmer Palette was discovered by British archeologists James E. Quibell and Frederick W. Green, at the Temple of Horus at Nekhen, during the dig season of 1897–98.
It dates from about the 31st century BC. The Egyptologist Bob Brier has referred to the Narmer Palette as “the first historical document in the world”.
The tablet is thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the King Narmer.
WHO WAS NARMER?
Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period. Many scholars consider him the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and in turn the first king of a unified Egypt. A majority of Egyptologists believe that Narmer was the same person as Menes.
The Narmer Palette belongs to the category of cosmetic palettes.
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Ka-aper statue is one of the masterpieces of the Old Kingdom. It dates back to 2540-2505 BC.
It is carved out from sycamore wood. It depicts Ka-aper who was the chief lector priest in charge of reciting prayers for the dead in temples and funerary chapels.
Moreover, the statue is known as Sheikh el-Balad. The Arabic name was given to him by Mariette’s workers.
What makes this statue so realistic are the eyes. They are made out of rock crystal and small copper plates.
STATUE OF DJOSER
Djoser was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 3rd Dynasty during the Old Kingdom and the founder of this epoch.
The painted limestone statue of Djoser is the oldest known life-sized Egyptian statue. It was found in Saqqara during the Antiquities Service Excavation of 1924-1925.
THE STATUE OF TRIAD: MENKAURE, HATHOR, AND GODDESS
Four of these triads were excavated by G.A. Reiner between 1908 and 1910 in Giza at the Valley Temple of Menkaure.
This triad represents the king Menkaure wearing the tall white crown of the Upper Egypt.
On his right is Hathor, the great sky goddess and divine mother of the king. On his left is the patron deity of the Bat nome.
STATUE OF KHAFRE
The statue depicts Pharaoh Khafre, who reigned during the Fourth dynasty of ancient Egypt (c. 2570 BC) and was the builder of the second largest pyramid at Giza.
You can see that Khafre is wearing a names headdress. The god Horus, depicted as falcon, protects the backside of his head with outstretched wings.
This is definitely an idealized depiction of Khafre showing a flawless body. Moreover, if you look at his face, there is no emotion, but only an eternal stillness.
STATUETTE OF KHUFU
The ivory Khufu Statuette was found in 1903 by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie during excavation of Kom el-Sultan in Abydos. It depicts Khufu, a Pharaoh of the Fourth dynasty (Old Kingdom), and the builder of the Great Pyramid.
Interestingly, this small seated figure is the only known three dimensional depiction of Khufu.
STATUES OF PRINCE RAHOTEP AND HIS WIFE NOFRET
The seated statues of Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret were discovered by Albert Auguste Mariette in their brick mastaba at Meidum in 1871.
Rahotep might have been a son of King Senefru and thus, a brother of King Khufu. He held the titles of High Priest of Ra at Heliopolis, General of the Army, and Chief of Constructions.
Nofret is described as “the one acquainted to the king.”
There is definitely a distinction in the skin coloring of the two statues: reddish brown for the man and cream wash for the woman. This was an artistic convention followed throughout ancient Egyptian history. The colors are well preserved and the faces have realistic expressions.
COLOSSAL STATUE OF AMENHOTEP III AND TIYE
The centerpiece of the main hall of the Egyptian Museum is the colossal statue of Amenhotep III, his wife Tiye and three of their daughters.
It is the largest known dyad ever carved.
During his time as pharaoh, Amenhotep III built many monuments to himself and the gods. Perhaps his most famous construction was the Temple of Luxor. What is left of the temple are two giant statues towering around 60 feet tall that show a giant Amenhotep guarding the entrance to the temple.
FUNERARY MASKS OF YUYA AND THUYA
The mummies of Yuya and Thuya (husband and wife) were discovered in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor (tomb KV46) in 1905 by James Quibell. Both mummies were wearing cartonnage masks covered with gold leaf.
WHAT IS CARTONNAGE?
Cartonnage is a type of material used in ancient Egyptian funerary masks from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era. It was made of layers of linen or papyrus covered with plaster.
Yuya was a powerful ancient Egyptian courtier during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (circa 1390 BC). He was the father of Queen Tiye, wife of king Amenhotep III.
His wife, Thuya held important religious titles, in addition to the title of the Royal Mother of the Great Wife of the King.
STATUE OF SEATED SCRIBE
The statue of Seated Scribe from the 5th Dynasty, 24th Century BC was found in a tomb at Saqqara. It depicts an unknown scribe. The features of the statue have incredible vitality.
First of all, you can he is sitting in a seated in a cross-legged position.
He is wearing a black wig that slightly flares up off his shoulders. His white skirt is stretched out and serves as a platform for the scroll.
His hands show incredible detail. In his left hand he is holding a partly unrolled papyrus roll. His right hand probably held a stylus or reed and is balanced over the open papyrus in the act of writing.
If you look at his face and especially his eyes, you can almost see that he listening intently to the dictation and ready to write down next piece of information.
GOLD CHEST WITH CANOPIC JARS
One of the most amazing items in the Egyptian Museum and part of the King Tut’s Rooms is the gold chest that contained four canopic jars.
Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut’s tomb, explains what he saw when he first saw the gold chest:
Facing the doorway, on the farther side, stood the most beautiful monument that I have ever seen – so lovely that it made one gasp with wonder and admiration. The central portion of it consisted of a large shrine-shaped chest, completely overlaid with gold, and surmounted by a cornice of sacred cobras. Surrounding this, free-standing, were statues of the four tutelary goddesses of the dead – gracious figures with outstretched protective arms, so natural and lifelike in their pose, so pitiful and compassionate the expression on their faces, that one felt it almost sacrilege to look at them.
Howard Carter, The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen
Inside the gold chest were four canopic jars.
Canopic jars were used by the Ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.
Each jar was reserved for specific organs like stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver, all of which, it was believed, would be needed in the afterlife.
Interestingly, there was no jar for the heart since Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body.
I have to honestly say that I was fascinated by the story of Queen Hatshepsut after visiting her funerary temple in Luxor. Find out more about her and check out my post.
At the Egyptian Museum you can see the head of the statue of Queen Hatshepsut that stood in front of the pillars of the upper colonnade of her funerary temple in Luxor.
The bottom of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt can be still seen.
Also, she had a ceremonial beard in compliance with the iconography expected of a pharaoh.
If you are planning on visiting Luxor, then do not miss the Temple of Hatshepsut.
STATUE OF THE DWARF SENEB AND HIS FAMILY
The statue of the Dwarf Seneb and his Family was found in his mastaba tomb in Giza. The inscriptions on the base and the front of the seat tell us that Seneb was the funerary priest of the deceased kings Khufu and Djedefra, and in charge of the royal wardrobe.
What is interesting here, is that you get a look at the Ancient Egyptian family. You see Seneb’s wife giving Seneb an affectionate embrace.
There are also his two children placed below Seneb’s legs.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JEWELRY
Do not miss the incredible display of Ancient Egyptian jewelry. The craftsmanship is exquisite!
Make sure to take a closer look at Pharaoh Psusennes I elaborate gold encasings of his fingers and toes found in his tomb in Tanis.
KING TUT’S ROOMS
King Tut’s Rooms are the highlight of the Egyptian Museum.
His funerary assemblage is out of this world!
Tutankhamen’s tomb contained four gilded shrines nested one inside the other. All four of these shrines are on display in the museum. They are lined up in order of decreasing size. The innermost of these covered a stone sarcophagus which remains in the tomb.
Moreover, there are many other treasures from his tomb on display.
Take a look at Anubis. It is not an ordinary jackal. It is Anubis – a god of the afterlife who protected the dead, guarding their spirits into the afterlife, and punished mortals who violated a sacred tomb.
The golden throne of King Tut is an amazing piece of furniture. It was done in the Amarna style.
WHAT IS AMARNA STYLE?
Amarna art, or the Amarna style, is a style adopted in the Amarna Period during and just after the reign of Akhenaten (r. 1351–1334 BC) in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, during the New Kingdom. It is characterized by a sense of movement and activity in images, with figures having raised heads, many figures overlapping and many scenes busy and crowded. The human body is portrayed differently; figures, always shown in profile on reliefs, are slender, swaying, with exaggerated extremities.
You can see Tutankhamen and his wife connected with the arms of Aten, the sun god.
There are also two traditional lions places at the front of the arm rests as well as lion like feet for the legs of the chair.
DEATH MASK OF PSUSENNES I
His tomb was discovered by Professor Pierre Montet in Tanis in 1940.
Most of the artifacts were destroyed by water, however Psusennes I’s gold funerary mask was recovered intact.
MUMMY ROOMS AT THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
Death and the afterlife held particular significance and meaning for the ancient Egyptians.
The ancient Egyptians mummified their dead because they believed that the physical body would be important in the next life. Thus, preserving the body in as lifelike a way as possible was the goal of mummification.
Using special processes, the Egyptians removed all moisture from the body, leaving only a dried form that would not easily decay.
Next the wrapping began. Each mummy needed hundreds of yards of linen. The priests carefully wound the long strips of linen around the body, sometimes even wrapping each finger and toe separately before wrapping the entire hand or foot.
Once the mummification process was done, the body was placed in a wooden decorated, human‑shaped coffin, which then was placed inside a larger wooden box or stone coffin called a sarcophagus, which would also be elaborately decorated.
ANIMAL MUMMY ROOMS
Make sure to check out the Animal Mummy Rooms.
Did you know that throughout most of their history the ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as people. It was an enormous part of Egyptian culture.
Animals were typically mummified for three main purposes:
- to allow beloved pets to go on to the afterlife
- to provide food in the afterlife
- to act as offerings to a specific god
My guide told me that the most common Egyptian pets included cats, dogs, mongooses, monkeys, gazelles, and birds.
TOP THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
- The Egyptian Museum is open every day of the week from 9 am till 5 pm.
- The general entrance ticket costs 160 EGP.
- The entrance ticket to the Royal Mummies Hall costs 180 EGP.
- Purchase a combo ticket that costs 300 EGP and covers the museum and the Royal Mummies Hall.
- Bring your International Student Identification Card and you will be eligible for a discounted ticket (half price). If you do not have ISIC, then bring your regular Student ID Card and ask for a discount anyway.
- The museum does get crowded. The best time to visit is from round 12 pm to 2:30 pm. The crowds thin out in the middle of the day.
- If you arrive at the opening time, which is 9 am, then immediately proceed to King Tut’s Room. It is the highlight of the museum and it is the most crowded area in the museum.
- If possible, schedule your visit on a weekday, instead on the weekend.
- The Egyptian Museum has extended hours on Thursdays and Sundays from 5:30 pm till 8:30 pm.
- If you plan on using your camera to take pictures, then you will need to purchase a photography ticket. It costs 50 EGP. If you’re just using your cellphone to take pictures, then there is no need to buy this extra ticket. In addition, in order to take videos, you need to purchase a video ticket and it costs 300 EGP.
- Keep in mind that the photo-policy changes from time to time. When I saw there last time, all cameras had to be left in a camera cloak room outside the main entrance. It gave me an uneasy feeling, but there were no problems getting my equipment back after the tour.
- You do not need a guide to enter and tour a museum. However, having a knowledgeable guide by your side is priceless. There are a lot of guides milling in the front of the museum. If you decide to hire one, then make sure that they are certified. Next, find out how long their tour of the museum is, finally negotiate the price for their services.
- You will need at least 3-4 hours to see the highlights of the museum.
- Food is not allowed. You can bring a small bottle of water with you.
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