The Egyptian Museum Cairo
Visit the Artifacts of the Ages at The Egyptian Museum, in Cairo EgyptVia Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
A visit to the Egyptian Museum is a must for anyone visiting Cairo. The ancient treasures, to be found there, are amazing. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo was built by a Frenchman, by the name of Mariette, in 1901. Mariette himself sleeps eternally in a tomb in the museum garden, as he wished.
We sat in front of the Museum beside a small pool, while our guide, Shrief, purchased our tickets. Tall, spindly, green reeds with feathery green tops are growing in the centre of the pool. These plants are the papyrus plant, which was used to make the paper of ancient Egypt. Those people, 5000 years ago, also used it to make sandals, baskets and boats. The plants contain starch and sugar, so it was even used for food.
The museum was built in Roman style, with two Corinthian columns by the front entrance. Statues of the goddess Isis stand on either side, looking down on the entrance. Shrief explained that Isis was the goddess of love and music. She was married to the god Osiris, god of the afterworld. Above the entrance, the second goddess, Hathor, looks down on all those who enter this portal. Hathor is in the shape of a lady, with the horns of a cow. A solid disc sits atop her head, between the horns. We were told that sometimes she is depicted in the form of a cow. She was known as the Mother Goddess. In my eagerness to get a glimpse of the treasures of the ancients, I failed to grasp the significance of these two ancient deities, Isis and Hathor, the two supreme goddesses of ancient Egypt, who protect the gateway to the treasures.
Our first glimpse inside the museum had to wait as the business of security was looked after. As expected Egypt takes the security of their marvellous treasures seriously. The people of Egypt have been looking after their precious heritage carefully for centuries.
Once inside, we were taken to see the treasures of the Old Kingdom, the twenty-eighth century BC to the twenty-fourth century BC. The Middle Kingdom lasted for only one century, the twentieth century BC; the New Kingdom, the fourteenth and thirteenth century BC. The first statue that we see is dated to the twenty-seventh century BC. It is a statue of the Pharaoh Mycerinus, the builder of the third and smallest pyramid at Giza. The King is standing between two goddesses, one, Hathor, easily recognizable, with her cow horns and sphere. The goddesses wear long, transparent dresses and wigs made of animal hair, which were the fashion at that time. Egypt had 42 goddesses, one for each of the 42 provinces of Egypt. The Pharaoh is standing with his left leg forward, signifying that this slate statue was sculpted during the lifetime of the Pharaoh, approximately 4000 years ago. We were told that a statue sculpted posthumously would stand with both feet together. I noted the precise anatomical detail of the fingernails. The skill and talent of the sculptor is obvious.
Our guide continued to decipher this document of antiquity for us. Demystifying the identification of the royal personages, he explained that cartouches were the sign of royalty, with the individual’s name written in hieroglyphics inside the symbol. I was amazed as we were told that this statue, so well preserved, has had no restoration work done on it. The short pleated skirt, worn by the Pharaoh, is also a sign of royalty. A false beard once made of animal hair or sometimes of silver, is worn by the King, who shaved every day. There are three predominant styles of crowns worn by the Pharaohs: one, the white crown of Upper Egypt; two, the red crown of Lower Egypt; and the third, the double crown to emphasize the dual nature of the kingdom.
As we tour through the artistry of the ages, I continued to be impressed. The painted limestone statue of a scribe holding the tools of his trade, had eyes made of crystal, outlined with copper strips, with copper nails for the pupils. He appeared to be looking right back at me through the ages.
The Pharaoh Chephren’s large, black statue shows the builder of the second pyramid at Giza, with the god Horus, as a falcon, protecting the King as it sits spreading his wings around the back of the King’s head.
White was the colour used by the ancient Egyptians to indicate beautiful women. Nefertiti meant most beautiful. Statues of couples, usually depict the wives with white skin. Sometimes she will be considerably smaller than her brown skinned husband.
Our guide explains the symbols which make up the hieroglyphic letters to form the sounds of the language, which is called Coptic. The last inscriptions of this language were from around 250 AD., however, the spoken language continued in use until about the middle of the sixteenth century. It has been preserved by continuous use in the liturgy of the Coptic Church. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, by one of Napoleon’s engineers, led the way to deciphering the long forgotten script. The Rosetta Stone bears the decree of Ptolemy V in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek. By comparison with the Greek text, a breakthrough in decoding hieroglyphics was made. Further research in the early eighteen-hundreds led to the understanding of the basic principles of the script, which in turn has opened up the tremendous wealth of knowledge that the Egyptologists are able to obtain from the many hieroglyphics, preserved until this day. The Egyptians were aware of the lasting quality of the written word, but I wonder could anyone have dreamed that their words would survive until the twenty-first century AD and hopefully beyond it.
The museum contains a small statuette of the Pharaoh Khufu or Cheops. It was found in the desert without a head. The head was discovered separately three weeks later. It is the only known depiction of the Pharaoh Khufu who commissioned the Great Pyramid or Cheops, the largest pyramid, to be built.
A famous statue of Queen Hatshepsut depicts the Queen as a sphinx, with the body of a lion and the head of the Pharaoh. She is wearing a false beard, which is tied underneath the royal headdress. Again, we noted the feminine features appearing on the statue. The strong muscles of the lion were evident as we examined the lion body.
The museum contains several busts of Nefertiti, but not the most famous one which is in a German museum. Nefertiti was famous for her beauty.
Leaving the first floor of the museum, on my previous visit to this museum, I remember going up a broad staircase to a landing, halfway up. Here, I stopped to examine a large display of papyrus papers, displayed under glass on the wall. Some of those papers date as far back as 5000 years ago. They were still in very good condition with some of the colours still very bright. They were found rolled up in jars, placed in wooden boxes. It is truly remarkable that not only have these fragile historical works survived to this day, but that the scholars of today can decipher the ancient messages contained therein.
Akhenaton or Amenhotep, as he was later known, was one of the most famous kings of ancient Egypt. He may have allowed his chief wife, Nefertiti to reign as co-regent. He was believed to have been the father of Tutankhamen. Nefertiti would have been Tutankamen’s step-mother and probably his aunt.
The new Grand Egyptian Museum is expected to open in Giza sometime in the summer of 2021, near the pyramids. It has been a long time in the process of being built and occupied by the treasures. Many of the exhibits in the original museum had already been moved over to the new one at the time of my most recent visit there. I am hoping to get an opportunity to visit the new museum in the near future. I am sure it will be fabulous!
Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Last updated December 22, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster