December 25, 2018
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo is a huge neoclassical building which is home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The collection contains over 100,000 pieces, so it is said that if you spend just one minute on each piece, it would take over nine months to complete the tour!
Because it is so large and overwhelming, the museum is best toured with a guide. Begin in the center of the ground floor below the atrium and rotunda. There are important and beautiful artifacts in this area.
Below is a statue of Khafre, builder of the 2nd Great Pyramid in Giza. He ruled during the Old Kingdom (25511-2528 BCE). When viewed from the side, one can see the god Horus, often depicted as a falcon, with his wings embracing the head of the king, offering his protection. The name of this statue is Khafre Enthroned.
One of the most beautiful – and among my favorites – statues is this depiction of the pharaoh Menkaure (from the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, builder of the third great pyramid at Giza), who is flanked by two goddesses: Hathor, on his right, and Anubis, on his left. These goddesses offer protection to the king and provide the authority for him to rule. Hathor is easily identifiable by her crown combining a sun disk with horns of a cow. She is the goddess of fertility, love and motherhood, and is the wife of Horus.
Anubis, on Menakure’s left, is a god associated with a jackal. Although portrayed here as a woman, Anubis was generally considered to be male. He was the god of the dead, who made sure that the deceased was safely delivered to the afterlife.
Rahotep, son of king Sneferu, was an Egyptian prince, during the 4th Dynasty, who was married to Nofret. They had six children together. Rahotep’s statue has six columns of hieroglyphic text, indicating his titles and duties. Nofret’s has two columns of text. Her name appears at the bottom and means “beautiful woman.”
The limestone statue (photo below) depicting Seneb, a dwarf of prominence in the Old Kingdom (c. 2520) with his wife Senetites and their two children, indicates that he was an important official in the Egyptian royal kingdom. He was wealthy and owned thousands of cattle, twenty palaces and religious titles. His wife, Senetites, was a priestess of high rank. Quoting from the Wikipedia article about Seneb, Seneb is depicted with his wife and children in a painted sculpture from his tomb… It shows him sitting cross-legged on a block of stone with his wife embracing him and his children standing below him where the legs of a full-size person would ordinarily have been.
Seneb’s tomb was found in the Western Cemetery (behind the Great Pyramid of Khufu and north of the second great pyramid of Khafre) at the Giza complex.
There is a small statuette of the king Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The famous Meidan Geese of the Nile is the oldest known painting in the world, painted on papyrus using natural pigments, which never fade or dissolve on papyrus.
Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II was the first king of the Middle Kingdom, beginning the 11th Dynasty (c. 2061-2040 BCE). Between the Old and New Kingdoms, there was an intermediary period in which Egypt was ruled by warring factions. Mentuhotep II ruled for 51 years and in his 39th year he reunified Egypt, thus becoming the first pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom.
This statue, of painted sandstone, shows Mentuhotep II seated with enlarged feet and legs. Mohamed told us this was done intentionally, indicating that he may have had elephantiasis. On his head he wears the red crown, which symbolizes control over Lower
Egypt. His black skin and the position of his arms associate him with Osiris, god of death, fertility and resurrection.
The New Kingdom is the most interesting to me, because there were several intriguing pharaohs; it was also the era of the most famous (to us): Tutankhamun.
One of the most interesting figures during the New Kingdom was Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled for about 20 years.
Another fascinating pharaoh was Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III and his main queen, Tiye. Akhenaten was married to the beautiful Nefertiti, with whom he had six daughters. In their portrayals on temple wall carvings, Akhenaten, Nefertiti and some of their daughters are shown worshipping Aten, depicted as a sun disk with rays descending toward Earth. Each ray had a hand at the end.
Akhenaten’s reign was controversial because he imposed a monotheistic religion in which Aten was the only god. Aten isn’t portrayed in human or animal form, like the other gods had been, but rather as a disk with rays flowing down. It was difficult and unfulfilling for ancient Egyptians to identify with such an impersonal god. After his death, Akhenaten was declared as a “heretic” and Egyptian society reverted back to the old gods. Most of his statues were destroyed and the carvings of him defaced.
Artistic trends during this period tended toward realism. Royal personages were portrayed as they actually looked, rather than the somewhat uniform ideal of previous rulers. Akhenaten himself had a rather unusual appearance – his face was long and thin and his hips and thighs wide, so it’s easy to identify him. Here are two portrayals:
The gold foils on Akhenaten’s coffin were found in the Valley of the Kings and restored on plexiglass.
The Egyptian custom of mummifying the dead is well known.
The mummification process took about 70 days. First the viscera would be extracted from the body (lungs, intestine, stomach and liver) and placed in separate jars, called canopic jars.
These miniature anthropoid coffins may have held Tutankhamun’s viscera:
The brain would also be removed by suction. The heart was left in the body because the ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the center of knowledge.
The mummies were placed in contoured coffins like the one above, then placed further in a series of progressively larger coffins. (It reminded me of Russian nesting dolls.) Here are some of Tutankhamun’s elaborately painted coffins.
The final coffin, lavishly decorated and painted in bright colors, would look like this. (This is Tutankhamun’s.)
Tutankhamun, “the boy-king” as he is known today, was most likely the son of Akhenaten with one of his lesser wives. He was given the name Tutankhaten, in honor of Aten, the god of his father’s religion; after his father’s death, he changed it to Tutankhamun, “Amun” being the sun god in the Egyptian pantheon.
For years, the cause of his death at age 19 or 20 was unknown, but there was a lot of speculation, including murder. However, recent advances in DNA technology have allowed Egyptologists to determine that the probable cause of death was malaria.
The exhibit of Tutankhamun’s mummy cases, sarcophagi and the riches found in his tomb were on display in a special exhibit on the second floor.
Because he was so young when he died, Tutankhamun was not an important king and would have been worth only a brief mention in Egyptian history, but for the fact that his tomb was not found until 1922 by Howard Carter. Tomb raiders had taken the valuables out of almost every king’s tomb, but Tutankhamun’s tomb was largely untouched. This allowed Egyptologists to study the artifacts found in his tomb and determine what the tombs of other pharaohs would normally look like before tomb raiders got to them.
The only thing we were not allowed to photograph is Tutankhamun’s death mask, which is in a special case with a guard making sure no one takes photos! This is a stock photo of the mask.
More artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb:
The coffins were then placed in a series of sarcophagi, each one larger than the previous. These are two sarcophagi from Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Mohamed gave us free time to see more of the museum, but we were pretty “burned out” by then! Here are some things we looked at during our free time.
Next: Visit to the Christian quarter and a Jewish synagogue