During a ceremony held in Sharm El-Sheikh this week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated a raft of educational, cultural, and infrastructure projects, among them three museums in different governorates: the Sharm El-Sheikh Museum in South Sinai, the Kafr Al-Sheikh Museum in Kafr Al-Sheikh, and the Royal Carriage Museums in Cairo.
Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany described the openings as an exceptional event in the history of tourism and antiquities in Egypt, particularly as the three museums, with a cumulative budget of almost LE1 billion, were officially inaugurated in one day.
They highlighted the support of the political leadership for Egypt’s tourism and antiquities sectors and its support to protect and preserve the country’s history, monuments, and distinguished past civilisations, he said.
The Sharm El-Sheikh Museum is the first antiquities museum to be built in Sinai. The idea of building a museum in Sharm El-Sheikh started in 1999, and actual construction work began in 2003, though it stopped in 2011 in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution.
Work resumed in early 2018, and it has now been completed to a budget of LE812 million. The museum puts on display around 5,200 artefacts, ranging from the pre-historic period to modern times, as well as showing the rich urban and tribal culture of Sinai inhabitants.
It is a cultural hub for all civilisations and a new tourist attraction in this coastal city that now combines cultural with leisure tourism.
The museum aims to shed light on the role played by Egyptian civilisation across different historical periods, as well as highlighting the relationship between the Egyptian people and their surrounding environment and their cultural interactions with other civilisations.
Mahmoud Mabrouk, the designer of the museum’s displays, said that he had aimed to provide a “light cultural meal” for visitors to the area who had come to enjoy the warm sun and beaches. He said the artefacts on show had been carefully selected according to the highest standards in order to reflect the ways in which the ancient Egyptians had lived thousands of years ago.
“Wildlife and how the ancient Egyptians respected animals are also shown through a collection of animal statues and mummies,” Mabrouk told Al-Ahram Weekly, explaining that the ancient Egyptians had rendered homage to various creatures by capturing their nature, adopting them as symbols of deities, and integrating them within their beliefs and myths.
This had encouraged the ancient Egyptians to care for and venerate animals during life as well as death, something that can be witnessed by the large number of mummified animals produced in order to perpetuate the link with the deities and the afterlife. A collection of mummified cats, hawks, eagles, rams, crocodiles, rats and cobras is on show in the museum, along with statues of baboons and mummified crocodiles.
Mabrouk said that tourists visiting the new museum would have a good idea of how the ancient Egyptians had lived and how life had developed through the different ages. The second hall of the museum displays items from all the civilisations that Egypt has hosted through its long history, for example, and is called the “Hall of Civilisations”.
This presents artefacts from the Graeco-Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, in addition to objects from civilisations that did not settle in Egypt, but passed through on the ancient Silk Roads between Asia and Europe, such as a collection of porcelain vases and plates.
A complete Roman bath is on display. When the Romans came to Egypt in the first century BCE, Mabrouk said, they had set up popular baths, including steam rooms, discussion rooms, and bathing areas, and these had survived into the later Islamic era.
Part of the magnificent bedroom of princess Shewikar, a member for the former royal family of Egypt, is on display, its green colour decorated with golden foliage motifs setting off chandeliers and showcases displaying jewelry and cosmetics once belonging to this member of the former ruling Mohamed Ali family.
Desert life, such as tents from Sinai and the Siwa Oasis equipped with daily life objects, is also illustrated in the gallery.
Ten items from the collection of ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun are also on display before they are moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Pyramids Plateau. A statue of Ka, a consort of Tutankhamun, is among the most important of these.
Moemen Othman, head of the ministry’s Museums Sector, said that the new museum had dedicated a hall to the ancient Egyptian afterlife where a complete example of an ancient tomb with its funerary collection was on show to explain ideas of the afterlife and what it represented to the ancient Egyptians.
As the River Nile crosses the country from south to north, Mabrouk said, it was little wonder that the main means of transportation in ancient Egypt was by boat. Boats played a major role in commercial links and cultural communication between Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, and their importance is also reflected in the religious ceremonies and funerary processions of the ancient Egyptian kings in order to allow the souls of the deceased to accompany the sun god Ra on the voyage into the afterlife.
For this reason, two ancient Egyptian boats from Dahshour were on show in the Sharm El-Sheikh collection, he concluded.
THE KAFR AL-SHEIKH MUSEUM: The Kafr Al-Sheikh Museum, also opened this week, displays a collection of distinguished artefacts showing the diversity of Egyptian civilisation through different ages.
The idea to build a museum in Kafr Al-Sheikh started as early as 1992 when the governorate allocated a plot of land to host it. Work started in 2003, but stopped in 2011, and then resumed in 2018 with a budget of LE62 million.
The new museum is located in the Sanaa Gardens next to Kafr Al-Sheikh University and reflects the role that the city played in different periods, focusing on its position as a capital of Egypt during the ancient period.
The governorate once included the ancient towns of Buto and Sakha, the oldest political capitals in human history. Both towns were not only associated with the ancient Egyptian monarchy as capitals of Egypt, but were also associated with the goddess Isis during the conflict between the deities Horus and Seth.
Sakha is one of the stops that the Holy Family made during their flight into Egypt following king Herod’s edict on the birth of Jesus.
The new museum displays antiquities discovered in the Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, especially antiquities from Tel Al-Faraeen and Buto. The Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate is one of the governorates of the Delta, and it includes a number of archaeological sites dating back to the ancient Egyptian, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras.
There are more than 50 archaeological mounds in the governorate, and the most famous remains in the province are from Buto, the capital of Lower Egypt in ancient times before unification, in the shape of statues made of basalt of a sphinx and of the god Horus. There is also a black granite plate from the reign of king Thutmose III.
The city of Sakha includes the Church of the Virgin, and there is also a slab said to bear the footprint of Jesus. The city of Fuwah, located on the Nile, is famous for its handmade carpets and includes a group of mosques and archaeological settlements.
The new museum exhibition tells the story of the ancient gods Isis and Osiris, and the conflict between Horus and Seth, and visitors can learn about the history of the area and see objects that recount the history of science in ancient Egypt, especially regarding medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, engineering, astronomy, agriculture, trade and hunting.
THE ROYAL CARRIAGES MUSEUMS: This museum, located on 26 July Street in Boulaq in Cairo, was inaugurated this week after years of closure for restoration and development with a budget of LE63 million.
Its distinguished early 20th-century architecture and its beautiful entrance now add elegance to this crowded area of Cairo, with the museum reopening its doors to enable visitors to admire the exquisite royal carriages of members of the former ruling Mohamed Ali family.
Restoration work on the museum was started in 2001, but was halted in 2011 and only resumed in 2017. The museum building, in poor condition, has been rehabilitated, the walls and foundations consolidated, and facades and decorative elements restored. New lighting and security systems have been installed.
Othman said the museum put on show a collection of royal carriages along with accessories and horse-guard uniforms. The items are distributed across five halls. The first holds the carriage that the French empress Eugenie gifted to the khedive Ismail on the occasion of the official opening of the Suez Canal in the late 19th century, while the second displays rare carriages whose designs are known as alay and half-alay.
The third hall is the core of the museum and displays ceremonial carriages once used by members of the former royal family for weddings, funerary occasions, and promenades. Portraits depicting members of the royal family are also exhibited. The fourth hall is dedicated to the uniforms of the chevaliers and riders who accompanied the carriages, while the fifth and last hall shows accessories used to decorate the carriages and horses, such as horseshoes, bridles and saddles.
The museum was established during the reign of the khedive Ismail in the late 19th century and was at first called the Department of the Khedival Carriages before being changed to the Management of the Royal Stables. After the 1952 Revolution, the building was named the Royal Carriages Museum.
The museum was originally created not only to display royal carriages, but also the horses of the khedive Ismail and those owned by members of the royal family. Experts and veterinarians were brought from across the world to take care of the horses, and valuable cars from world-class brands were also exhibited.
In 1969, the Cairo governorate took over three-quarters of the museum and transformed it into a garage. This work has now been reversed, allowing visitors to see the museum once again in its former splendour.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly