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The Egyptian Antiquities Museum
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum Review
On the north end of Maydan Tahrir, this huge neoclassical building is home to the world's largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. With more than 100,000 items in total, it is said that if you were to spend just one minute on each item, it would take over nine months to complete the tour. Needless to say, you need to be selective here, and it's a good idea to buy a museum guidebook or hire a museum guide. You can purchase a map of the museum (£E35), helpful in getting your bearings, but it doesn't include much in the way of historical description. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo: Official Catalogue (£E100, available in the museum) is a far more comprehensive and practical guide. Official museum guides are available at £E50 an hour, but if you want a two- or three-hour tour, you can bargain for a lower rate. Five to six hours allow for a fair introduction to the museum.
Some of the museum's finest pieces are in the center of the ground floor, below the atrium and rotunda. The area makes a good place to start, acting as a preview for the rest of the museum. Among the prized possessions here are three colossi of the legendary New Kingdom pharaoh Ramses II (1290-1224 BC); a limestone statue of Djoser (around 2600 BC), the 2nd Dynasty pharaoh who built the Step Pyramid in Saqqara; several sarcophagi; and a floor from the destroyed palace of Akhenaton (1353-1335 BC), the heretic monotheist king. The Narmer Palette, a piece from about 3000 BC, is thought to document the first unification of northern and southern Egypt.
Rooms around the atrium are arranged chronologically, clockwise from the left (west) of the entrance: the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC) in rooms 31, 32, 36, 37, 41, 42, 46, and 47; the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC) in rooms 11, 12, 16, 17, 21, 22, 26, and 27; the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC) in rooms 1-10, 14, 15, 19, and 20; Greco-Roman Egypt (332 BC-c. AD 395) in rooms 34, 35, 39, and 40; and Nubian Exhibits in rooms 44 and 45.
Among the most important Old Kingdom items are a superbly crafted statue of Khafre (2551-2528 BC), builder of the second Great Pyramid at Giza (Room 42), and the delightful, lifelike dual statues of Rahotep and Nofret (2500 BC, Room 42). The Middle Kingdom display includes several statues of Senwosret I (1971-1926 BC), responsible for the first major temple to Amun at Karnak (Room 22). The rich collection of New Kingdom artifacts includes an exquisite statue of Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC), Egypt's greatest empire builder, suckling at the teat of the cow-goddess (Room 12); artwork from Akhenaton's reign, the realistic style of which is markedly different from anything that came before or after it (Room 3); and several statues and parts of colossi from the time of Ramses II (Room 20). The works in the Greco-Roman exhibit are not as impressive as those on display in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, but they are interesting nonetheless in their attempts to weld Hellenistic and pharaonic cultures. Pieces in the Nubian section include saddles, weapons, and a mummified horse skeleton (Room 42)—again, of lesser quality than the Nubian Museum in Aswan but still of interest.
On the museum's upper floor is the famous Tutankhamun collection. Look for its beautiful gold funerary mask and sarcophagus (Room 3), ancient trumpet (Room 30), thrones (rooms 20 and 25), the four huge gilded boxes that fit one inside the other (exhibits 7 and 8, located in the hallway just outside Room 30), and a royal toilet seat to boot (outside Room 30); it is one of the few air-conditioned rooms in the museum. (The collection is scheduled to be relocated to the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza as early as 2010.) Also upstairs is the royal Mummy Room, which houses 11 pharaonic dignitaries, including the body of Ramses II (Room 52). If you are discouraged by the Mummy Room's steep entrance fee, don't miss the assortment of mummified animals and birds in the adjacent room (Room 53), which has no additional charge. Also on the upper floor is a series of specialized exhibits, including a collection of papyri and Middle Kingdom wooden models of daily life (rooms 24 and 27).
In 2003, the museum unveiled "Hidden Treasures of the Egyptian Museum," more than 150 of the best objects that form part of the museum's vast stock of artifacts kept in storage. Fittingly, the new galleries sit in the museum basement, where the catalogued items used to lie on dark dusty shelves. In 2009, a permanent Children's Museum was opened and aimed specifically at younger visitors. These galleries combine authentic artifacts with Lego models (donated by the Danish State) to explain aspects of life and customs in ancient Egypt. Children are free to use Lego bricks to construct their own models.
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum is due to close for renovations once the Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau—currently slated in late 2012 or early 2013—when the ancient artifacts will be split between this new museum and the Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat in Islamic Cairo.
- Address: al-Mathaf al-Masri, Maydan Tahrir, Downtown, Cairo
- Phone: 02/2578-2452
- Cost: Museum £80, Mummy Room £E100
- Hours: Daily 9--6:30
- Location: Downtown and Bulaq
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