Cairo Museum Tour
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, should be a priority on the list of things to see when visiting Cairo. It would take at least a week to see all of the museum’s contents, but a brief visit can at least give a glimpse into the world’s greatest repository of more than 120,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts. It has actually been calculated that if you spend one minute at each exhibit it will take nine months to see the whole collection!
The collection of Egyptian antiquities began in the 1830s in an attempt to stem the tide of Egypt’s treasures being stolen or otherwise removed from the country. The present collection was begun by Auguste Mariette who had originally been sent to Egypt by the College de France to collect Coptic Papyri. Mariette supervised many important excavations during his thirty years in Egypt, becoming a dominant force in the development of Egyptological progress and as a guardian of the monuments. He was appointed the first Director of Ancient Monuments in Egypt and head of a new national museum at Bulaq in 1863 – the first national antiquities museum in the Middle East. The collection was then briefly transferred to an annex of Ismail Pasha’s palace at Giza when the Bulaq museum was flooded and later stored in a building in the Citadel. The present museum was officially inaugurated on November 15, 1902, in a building designed by French architect Marcel Dourgnon.
The most popular by far of the museum’s treasures are housed in the Tutankamun gallery on the upper floor. These remarkable artefacts from the boy-king’s tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, are now housed in a specially lit, temperature-controlled gallery which has restricted entry. There are 3000 pieces, including the famous gold funerary mask and coffin, the shrines and tomb furniture which are much more impressive than they look in photographs, almost outshining anything else in the museum.
The museum also houses a superb collection of royal and private statuary, reliefs and paintings from all eras as well as many smaller artefacts for daily or funerary use (often the most interesting). There are the complete contents from the Dynasty I tomb of Hemaka, the painstakingly reconstructed bedroom furniture of Queen Hetepheres (Khufu’s mother) from her Giza tomb, beautiful jewellery from the Middle Kingdom as well as contents from many of the Theban New Kingdom tombs and the later Tanite tombs of the Delta. Other famous pieces not to be missed include the Narmer Palette (Dynasty I) the huge diorite statue of Khafre (Dynasty IV), and the exhibits of the Amarna collection which include a colossal statue of the ‘heretic’ king.