Last Saturday, Egypt held the whole world under its spell with the lavish Pharaohs Golden Parade of 22 ancient Egyptian Royal Mummies crossing the streets of Cairo on their last journey from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat.
The parade related a story of creativity, culture, history, strength and beauty that made it a trending hashtag on Twitter worldwide. The world was captivated by the scale and spectacle of this historic event, but its true impact came from the tireless dedication to every tiny detail by some of Egypt’s most talented creatives, designers, musicians, dancers, restorers and archaeologists, all of whom had worked to make sure the parade was a success.
It was not an easy task to make the parade dream come true. Hundreds of anonymous soldiers also worked day and night throughout last year to revive the royal funerary procession and to make all Egyptians proud of their ancient civilisation.
As one of the unknowns who witnessed the parade in the making, the present writer is very much aware of the many stories that remain to be told of the event from its very beginning when the parade was just an idea that those involved hoped would be realised.
There was no blueprint for the event and no script from which to tell its story. The rebirth of this ancient Egyptian funerary procession in Cairo was the first obstacle, as the ancient Egyptians used to transport Royal Mummies on boats crossing the Nile from the east where they lived to the west where they were buried in tombs for all eternity. This was a ritual procession accompanied by prayers from the Book of the Dead, boxes that included the royal personage’s possessions and funeral music.
But this idea was immediately rejected as it would not be the safest means to transport the Royal Mummies in modern Cairo.
Using army vehicles was the alternative, and these were redesigned to be shaped like the pharaonic boats that transported the ancient Egyptian kings and queens to eternity. The 22 vehicles used in the parade were decorated with pharaonic scenes, and each bore the cartouche of the king or the queen it housed written in Arabic, English and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The parade motorcade led 22 ancient Egyptian chariots drawn by 44 horses, and upon their arrival at the NMEC, the mummies were welcomed with full military honours befitting royalty. Hundred and fifty horses and their riders said goodbye to the Royal Mummies upon their departure from Tahrir Square and stood ready to welcome them upon their arrival at the NMEC.
The first mummy to lead the parade was that of king Seqnenre, the warrior who led the liberation war against the Hyksos invaders of Egypt. Then the other kings followed in chronological order.
Tahrir Square was illuminated, and the curtains around its central monument were removed to reveal a soaring obelisk and four ram-headed sphinxes in the centre of the square.
The logo of the event could be seen everywhere – on the sides of the cars, at the back of the stage, and even on the horses’ saddles. Behind every piece of art there is an artist, and behind this logo there is also a story to tell. Meetings were organised with Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and his team and the designer and his team in order to make sure it was historically correct.
The logo is inspired by the ancient Egyptian belief in eternity and resurrection. It consists of a scarab flanked by sun rays and falcon feathers, making this the symbol of this historic event. The colours chosen were blue and gold, representing ancient Egyptian deities. According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, the skin of the gods was made of gold, and their hair was made of lapis lazuli.
The designer tried out more than a dozen variations of the design before settling on the final version. Its integration into the parade made it a perfect fit, and its story is just one of many successes by Egyptian talents that together culminated in the spectacular success of the parade.
THE PARADE: The panels and decorations installed along the route of the procession were unusual briefs for their designers.
Some 50 artists worked hard to create these dazzling designs, all inspired by ancient Egyptian civilisation. The redesign of the vehicles was the most difficult part, and this took some time to complete.
Executive producer of the event Adel Abdallah said that the company responsible worked in collaboration with several agencies and authorities and ministers in the government. “They provided us with everything we needed and facilitated the rehearsals along the path of the parade,” he said, adding that each and every movement had had to be carefully rehearsed to specially composed music.
“This event was very difficult. There were no reference points, and we did not see it before it happened,” said Ahmed Al-Morsi, director of the parade. “We had a long planning stage for the ceremony, and there were big discussions and disagreements that took place before it reached its final form.”
“Accuracy was important on every detail, since the planning and preparation stage is the most important in the whole work. Once this is done, the event is easier to implement,” he added.
Haunting and hypnotic, the songstresses and virtuosos taking part in the parade took the world by storm, transporting the audience millennia back in time. Among the songs performed was the ancient Egyptian “Isis Hemn” from a funerary scene in the Deir Shalweet Temple.
Around 20 famous Egyptian actors and singers were carefully selected to participate in the parade, among them Youssra, Mona Zaki, Ahmed Helmi, Hussein Fahmi, Asser Yassin, Nelly Karim, Amina Khalil, Karim Abdel-Aziz, Ahmed Ezz, Hend Sabri, singer Mohamed Mounir and others. Renowned musician Nader Abbasi led the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and performers from the Cairo Opera House.
Tahrir Square itself was converted into an open-air museum hosting an open-air pharaonic exhibition and historical pathway that is open to the public and functions as an extension of the Egyptian Museum.
The square will now be home to a 17-metre-tall and 90-ton-obelisk from the era of the pharaoh Ramses II and four ram-headed sphinxes that are expected to be prime attractions. It is also dotted with many pharaonic-era florae including palm and olive trees.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly