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Friday, 04 December 2020

Mummies to the NMEC

A collection of 17 royal coffins arrived for permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation this week, reports Nevine El-Aref

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 11 Aug 2020
The new exhibits at the NMEC
The new exhibits at the NMEC
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The scene at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) was expectant this week, as restorers and others carefully unpacked 17 painted royal coffins that had been moved to the museum from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Workers could be seen removing the wooden boxes and foam covers. Egyptologists and restorers cautiously examined the coffins, which will be restored before the royal mummies are transported to the museum in a majestic parade in the coming weeks.

“All the coffins are in a very good state of conservation,” said Manal Ghoneim, director of the NMEC’s Restoration Department, adding that all the coffins will be cleaned and some require minor restoration.

The central hall
The central hall

Among the transported coffins are those belonging to queen Nefertari, wife of king Ahmose I, the painted sycamore coffin of Pediamun used for the mummy of Sitkamos, daughter, sister, and royal wife of king Ahmose I, the cedar coffin of king Ramses II, the painted cedar coffins of kings Amenhotep I and III, and the outer coffins of kings Thutmose I and IV.

After more than two decades, the ancient Egyptian royal mummies and their painted coffins will thus soon leave their current display in the Egyptian Museum for a new and permanent exhibition in the Mummies Hall at the NMEC overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake in the heart of Egypt’s first Islamic capital Fustat. 

The royal procession that will take place on this occasion will take spectators back to the ancient Egyptian period, when kings and queens were transported to their tombs towards eternity. The new procession will see the royal mummies transported on the Nile and then accompanied by chariots and horses.   

The Mummies Hall will not be the only one to be opened soon at the NMEC, since the Core or Central Hall will also be opened to display artefacts relating to the history of Egypt from prehistoric times to the modern period.

The edifice of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir
The edifice of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir

Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square will also be a focus of the development. As the majestic parade passes through the square on its journey to the NMEC, the newly re-erected obelisk in the square and the four ram-headed sphinxes will be revealed to the public.

Tahrir Square has been at the heart of the political transformations that have characterised Egypt’s modern history. Today, the square is home to a 17-metre, 90-ton obelisk dating back to the reign of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II and four ram-headed sphinxes, turning it into an open-air museum commemorating Egyptian history and an extension of the neighbouring Egyptian Museum.

The square’s redesign will feature date, olive, fig, and carob trees, all characteristic of the Pharaonic era, along with the famous ancient Egyptian papyrus. A new lighting system has been installed in the Square and at the Egyptian Museum to highlight their distinguished architecture at night.

At the NMEC, preparation work is at full swing, and workers are everywhere putting the final touches to the display. The showcases and audio-visual screens that will show documentaries relating to the history and discovery of each exhibited object in the Core area have been installed. Showcases have been set up and artefacts put inside them.

Artefacts on display in the  NMEC’s central hall
Artefacts on display in the NMEC’s central hall

The Mummies Hall is designed to look like the royal tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. It has a slope leading down to it, where visitors will find themselves face-to-face with the royal mummies in a dimly lighted hall that is painted black.

“The NMEC’s exhibition committee selected black as the colour of the Mummies Hall in order not to disturb visitors during their tour inside and to make the mummies the protagonists of the exhibition,” Mahmoud Mabrouk, the ministry of antiquities adviser for exhibition scenarios, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said the mummies would not be exhibited like they were in the Egyptian Museum, but that a new display would be created to acquaint visitors with the mummification process and its importance to the ancient Egyptians.

This would include panels about the first and second cachette of mummies, along with photographs of the Pharaoh Amenhotep II’s tomb (KV 35) and the hiding place where the second group of royal mummies was uncovered. Other objects would be shown, such as linen shreds decorated with an image of the ancient Egyptian god of mummification Osiris.

The history of each king and queen would be on show beside his or her mummy, as well as the results of DNA tests, the diseases the mummy had suffered during life, as well as the lineage and members of the family.

Artefacts on display in the  NMEC’s central hall
Artefacts on display in the NMEC’s central hall

Sabah Abdel-Razak, director of the Egyptian Museum, told the Weekly that 22 royal mummies from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties would be transported to the NMEC, among them 18 mummies of kings and four mummies of queens.

The mummies exhibited are among those discovered in 1881 in the first mummy cachette at Deir Al-Bahari on Luxor’s west bank and in 1898 in the second cachette in the Pharaoh Amenhotep II’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Both cachettes included the mummies of famous kings of the New Kingdom, including Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III, and the last warrior Pharaoh Ramses II, as well as mummies of well-known queens and high priests of Amun.

In the Core of the NMEC, Mabrouk said the history of Egypt would be shown through objects from different periods, indicating the links between these eras. Religious faith and its impacts on architecture and the arts would be highlighted, he said.

Among the objects on show are a black granite statue of king Amenemhat III in the shape of a sphinx, a small statue of a sphinx discovered in the Kom Ombo Temple in Upper Egypt, and a statue of king Tuthmosis III unearthed in Luxor. A collection of clothes, pots, jewellery, and other objects will also be on show.

Artefacts on display in the  NMEC’s central hall
Artefacts on display in the NMEC’s central hall

The NMEC covers some 135,000 square metres and is located overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake close to the religious compound where the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque is located neighbouring the Hanging Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo.

The first phase of the development of the museum has been completed, including the reception area, store galleries, restoration labs, and administration areas, as well as the parking areas and the temporary exhibition hall inaugurated in 2017 by former UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.

The hall puts on show objects that relate the history and development of Egyptian crafts through the ages. The museum’s glass pyramid-shaped roof will display a multimedia show on the different Egyptian civilisations.

The second phase of the museum has also been completed, including the electricity, security, and fire-fighting systems, as well as the interior design of the reception area and architectural work on the glass pyramid.

The museum also includes a theatre, cinema, lecture hall, conference hall, and a collection of shops and restaurants overlooking the lake.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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