It shouldn't be any surprise that the Egyptian Museum is my favorite, I was dreaming about visiting Egypt ever since I was a kid and finally made it there in 2009. After taking my first step in the museum, I knew that this one was going to be different. Several hours of exploring later, I realized that the Egyptian Museum is quite possibly the most unique major museum in the world and the oddities it contains are something you must truly see to believe. (Photo "The Egyptian Museum" by Bs0u10e01)
Mummies Mummies Everywhere
Not a month goes by that you don't hear a news story about a new tomb being discovered in Egypt. With these tombs, likely comes a few mummies. Not just mummies of the pharaohs of the time but also mummies of just about every kind of worker from the entire period of ancient Egypt. Hundreds of mummies.
But think about that for a second. Where do you put hundreds of mummies in a museum that has over 100,000 pieces from the ancient kingdoms? Well, along the walls of course! Many of the rooms in the Egyptian Museum are lined with shelf after shelf of nothing but mummies that have been found over the years. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that there are several rooms where the walls are completely lined with casings containing mummies at every level. (Photo "Egyptian Museum" by Kristoferb)
So in the Egyptian museum, you do not get classical paintings lining the walls. You get mummies.
I like this museum already.
A Complete Lack of Preservation
The mummies of the Egyptian Museum are not very well protected, and you could say they are quite literally resting on a shelf with no additional protection other than an occasional glass case. Why can you say this? Well, its true! As the 110 year old museum has not been renovated in some time, many modern features to protect the relics and mummies are practically non-existent.
The mummies resting on shelves within arms reach is a perfect example of this, as is the lack of temperature controlled casings for the more sensitive pieces of history. In fact, the entire building itself is devoid of cooling capabilities and can be quite hot in the midst of summer when fully loaded with visitors. The only saving grace for those who visit in the heat of summer (August) like us is that the crowds are so minimal that the obscenely hot air is actually cooler than normal due to less people filling up the space.
Hot air, lack of preservation, and thousands of visitors cycling in and out every hour? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. On the plus side, you can get very, very close to some of the most significant relics of ancient Egypt. Who would have thought that was possible?
The Burial Chamber of King Tut
Everyone knows about King Tut, but the ironic thing is that his reign is one of the shortest in the history of Egypt. The only reason he has become so famous is not for the work that he did while being alive - no grand expansions, monuments built, or just about anything that changed the direction of Egypt. No, the only reason we know so much about this particular king is all due to his death.
You see, King Tut is one of the few pharaohs who escaped the grave robbing phenomena after being buried in the Valley of the Kings. After the discovery in 1922, it was clear that the excavators were likely the first humans to enter the tomb after it was sealed during his burial. What does that mean? All of King Tut's treasures and history were untouched. It is hard to put into words the quantity of treasures that this one king had buried with him, but it is much easier to imagine when you think that a whole wing of the museum is dedicated to these pieces. The crown jewel of this collection? The burial mask of King Tut, and it is just as beautiful as you would imagine from photos, if not even more so! (pictured right).
Take a pause for a second and consider the fact that King Tut's reign was relatively short, yet his treasures are some of the largest collection in all of Egypt. What would the other burial chambers of much more elaborate pharaohs have been like if it wasn't for all the grave robbing of the time? The sky is the limits, and we'll never know for sure. One thing is certain, if the treasure was found in the same way King Tut's was, the Egyptian Museum would need to be significantly larger. (Photo "Tuthankhamun Egyptian Museum" by Bjorn Christian Torrissen)
Room of the Pharaohs - Literally
The Pharaohs Room is one you will see only at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and is unique to any museum in the world. Why? Well, the name gives it away. This tiny room contains the mummified bodies of the most powerful and well understood pharaohs of ancient Egypt, sitting next to each other. It is one thing to see Ramses II's temple of Abu Simbel, one I consider to be the most beautiful temple in the world. But it is a completely different level when you then go to the museum and see Ramses II himself. But if you turn around you'll see Ramses III, Seti I, and almost a dozen others within just a few steps.
This room does not suffer from the same disregard that the others do, and it is obvious from the first step in. The cool of the air conditioning hits you before you see your first pharaoh. Each pharaoh is in their own glass casing that is temperature and humidity controlled as the other artifacts should be. Connected to the pharaohs room is a complete working laboratory with a clean room environment in case any more work or research needs to be done. (Photo "RAM Mummy" by ThutmoseIII)
Different indeed. These mummies are most definitely the pharaohs.
Our tour guide informed us that there are talks of building a state-of-the-art museum to replace the older building. Since then the new museum, set to cost nearly $800,000,000, is undergoing construction and is scheduled to be completed in August 2015. Even though we are planning on returning to Egypt in 2013 and visiting this museum again, you can rest assured that our 2015 calendar already has Cairo on the list. Sure, the oddities may go away with the installation of modern technology, but the new Egyptian Museum will be just as awe inspiring as the current one, and that is something we cannot miss.
Note - The Egyptian Museum was not allowing photography inside when I visited. All of these photos were taken by others and given free license to share under Creative Commons.