“Egyptians do not have to pay here. Enjoy our museum,” said a young woman at the reception desk forthe Museu Egipci de Barcelona (Egyptian Museum of Barcelona). This is definitely the first time I ever heard this in Europe. It puts a smile on my face as I see other visitors willing to pay eleven Euros to visit the permanent collection and the temporary exhibition.
The Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, founded in 1993, is owned by the Clos Archaeological Foundation, whose other projects and activities include an archaeological campus, an Egyptology school and an agency that organises tours and expeditions to Egypt. It also put on display one of Europe's most important private collections.
Once inside the museum, three exhibition halls welcome the visitor with hundreds of Pharaonic artefacts. From sarcophagi, coffins and mummies to statuettes, jewellery and canopic jars, the museum’s collection offers a full spectrum of Ancient Egyptian Art. Among the many familiar 'characters' at the museum are those of Akhenaten, Ramses III and Nectanebo I, among others. While large coffins and mummies fascinate most visitors, the museum’s collection of coffin lids, pottery, mace heads, flint knives, axe heads, offering platters and stone vases is no less gratifying.
Among the celebrated masterpieces of the collection are the Cartonage belonging to the Lady of the House of Djed-Montu-iues-anj (XXII dynasty); the partially reproduced Tomb of Nakht, the Scribe-Astronomer of Amun (XVIII dynasty) and the painted funerary masks (from the first century BC).
Under the title "Fashion and Beauty in Ancient Egypt" the current temporary exhibition includes pieces from museums in Bologna, Turin, Florence and Lyon. Elvira D’Amicone, the exhibition’s curator, sure has a good sense of gender balance: not only is women’s fashion on show, but also that of men and even infants. The 4500 year-old sandals of a young kid attest to ancient Egyptian artisanship. The sandals, discovered near Luxor, were preserved for his afterlife.
At another corner of the exhibition hall, one comes face-to-face with a very rare example of Pharaonic fashion; absolutely one of a kind - or, to be precise, one of twenty such pieces worldwide). A spectacular dress made of beads in a fishnet pattern. This dress, traditionally worn over a white sheath, is a masterpiece of Ancient Egyptian fashion design. Right next to the dress, a female figure painted on wood further demonstrates just how creative people were, even when dressing their gods: the figure is that of the goddess Nut (third millennium BC) wearing a delicate dress not so different from the beaded dress on display.
One of the exhibition’s visitors stood there gazing at the dress for a long time, long enough for me to approach her and ask her whether it was the age or the beauty of the dress that captured her attention. The lady, who told me her name is Elena Navarro (Toledo, Spain) replied: "Both. It sends shivers down my spine to think that people have always searched for beauty even thousands of years ago." Elena is – not so coincidently - a fashion designer, and Egypt is on her bucket list; a dream voyage.
Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to jewellery and accessories, and it is here where it becomes crowded with visitors. It only takes a quick glance to understand why: precious rings, necklaces, hand-held mirrors, cosmetic vases and accessory boxes are on show. A magnificent beaded necklace (XVIII dynasty) that follows the traditional Pharaonic designs was a big attraction there.
Like many visitors, Claudia Kahl (history student, Germany) likes the exhibition.
She has been to Cairo and visited the Egyptian Museum there, because she is "obsessed with Egyptology," as she puts it.
Her question took me by surprise: "How come the modern Egyptians look nothing like their ancestors when it comes to their fashion? Why didn’t this legacy live on and inspire beauty in the streets of Cairo?"
I replied the only thing that popped into my mind: "Well, it has been thousands of years…many many things have happened ever since!"