Tanta, the capital city of the Gharbiya governorate, is known for its ancient past as it has played an important role in the history of Egypt throughout the ages due to its strategic location in the middle of the Delta.
It is often considered to be Egypt’s most civilised city after Cairo and Alexandria, and it is the third-largest city in the Nile Delta in size after Mansoura and Mahalla Al-Kobra.
It is little wonder that Tanta built its first museum in 1913 as part of the municipality building where some of the city’s treasures were exhibited in one of the halls.
However, that museum was later shut down and its content put in storage. In 1957, the collection was transported to another location in one of the city’s cinemas, but then it was also closed. Finally, in 1981, the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation, now the Ministry of Antiquities, established the present museum and opened it to the public in 1990.
In 2000, the museum was closed for the third time, however, due to the deterioration of its buildings, which were supported by scaffolding until 2018 when the Ministry of Antiquities started its restoration and consolidation project for the reopening.
Waad Abul-Ela, head of the Projects Sector at the ministry, explained that 99 per cent of the architectural work on the museum had been achieved and included the consolidation of the structure, foundations, and concrete columns. The inner and outer walls of the building had been polished and new security and lighting systems installed, he commented.
Elham Salah, head of the Museums Sector, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the museum’s display aimed to highlight the city’s tangible and intangible heritage through the display of a collection of artefacts enhanced with banners and graphics.
“The icon of the Tanta Museum is a special showcase that illustrates the main themes of the city’s tangible heritage, which are the moulids [carnivals of faith affiliated with Sufism] and the walis [custodians or Muslim saints],” Salah said, explaining that this embodied the idea of cultural interaction throughout history since the ancient Egyptian era until modern times.
The showcase will include a statue of the ancient Egyptian architect Imhotep, the builder of the Djoser Step Pyramid in Saqqara, who was considered a wali. There is also a statue of the god Osiris, a Coptic icon depicting the Virgin Mary, and banners and graphics telling the story of Sidi Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, a relative of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed.
Al-Badawi was buried in Tanta adjacent to a mosque that was built to commemorate him after his death. The mosque has been renovated and enlarged and now has a marvellous design with three domes. A moulid is organised every year at the Sidi Al-Badawi Mosque to celebrate his birthday. People from all over Egypt come to attend this wonderful Islamic festival.
The museum will also put on show a collection of artefacts found at archaeological sites in the Delta, along with objects depicting topics such as death, trade and handicrafts. Death, Salah said, will be showed through an example of a tomb with its false doors, offering table, and funerary collection made up of canopic jars, a coffin with a mummy, and wall paintings highlighting the king and his relations with the gods.
Meanwhile, trade is shown through containers that house products as well as a large number of coins. As Tanta is located on the banks of the Nile, a collection of boats will be shown.
The Graeco-Roman period will be represented through a collection of the busts of philosophers and thinkers, along with Coptic textiles, icons, and a copy of the Bible and the key of a church. The Islamic era will be shown through a collection of decorative ceramic pots, vases and textiles.
“Most of the objects in the museum were previously shown in the old museum, while others were brought from the Tel Al-Faraeen storehouse in Kafr Al-Sheikh and other storage sites,” Salah said.
Tanta had great importance during ancient times but declined in the early Islamic period. However, since the Fatimids it has captured the attention of the rulers of Egypt as it provides a position to maintain security over the country. During the Ayoubid period, the city extended and became a large town.
During the French occupation at the end of the 18th century, Tanta became part of the Menoufiya governorate but returned to Gharbiya during Mohamed Ali’s reign, with his grandson Abbas Touson Pasha being its first governor.
The importance of Tanta was dramatically increased when the first railway to be established in Egypt was built in 1854.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline:Tanta Museum reopens