An ancient Egyptian royal funerary procession will be revived on 3 April, this time with a modern twist.
The ancient Egyptian royal mummies concerned will not be crossing the Nile from east to west to be buried in their tombs for all eternity, as they did in the ancient Egyptian processions when they were accompanied by prayers from the Book of the Dead, their possessions, and funeral music.
Instead, this April the royal mummies will be going through the streets of Cairo in a golden parade along the Cairo Nile Corniche from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to their final destination at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake in Fustat.
They will be transported on 22 vehicles shaped like the Pharaonic boats that always transported the royal deceased to eternity. The vehicles are decorated with Pharaonic scenes and decorations, and the motorcade will be led by ancient Egyptian-shaped horse-drawn chariots. Upon their arrival at the NMEC, the mummies will be welcomed with the full military honours befitting royalty.
Tahrir Square will be illuminated, and a soaring obelisk and four ram-headed Sphinxes will be unveiled as part of the square’s conversion into an open-air museum hosting an open-air Pharaonic exhibition and historical pathway that the public can view and functioning as an extension of the Egyptian Museum.
The square will be a home to a 17-metre-tall 90-ton obelisk from the era of Ramses II and four ram-headed Sphinxes as prime attractions. It is also now dotted with many Pharaonic-era florae like palm and olive trees in addition to the papyrus and lotus, for which the ancient Egyptian civilisation was famous.
Restorers at the Egyptian Museum accompanied by their colleagues at the NMEC are now putting the final touches to prepare the 22 New Kingdom royal mummies for their golden parade on 3 April.
Manal Ghanam, director of the Restoration Department at the NMEC, told the Weekly that the preparation of the mummies for their journey had started three years ago as it was necessary to evaluate the state of conservation of every mummy separately.
The team has determined the strength and weaknesses of each mummy, carried out preliminary restoration, consolidated weak areas, sterilised each mummy, and put them on special holders made of padded beds and cushions beneath the heads, backs and feet.
“The materials used in these holders are made from special materials to prevent any interaction between their components and the mummies,” Ghanam said, adding that each mummy will be put inside a polystyrene capsule filled with inert nitrogen gas to prevent any microbiological infection.
The capsules have a special range of temperature and humidity in accordance with the state-of-the-art-scientific techniques used.
The mummies inside their capsules will then be put inside special boxes for their journey. At the NMEC, the NMEC and Egyptian Museum teams will unpack the mummies and start a new phase of examination and restoration in order to prepare them for their new showcases, which are equipped with special equipment to maintain the correct temperature and nitrogen and humidity levels.
The Mummies Hall at the NMEC is now hosting 17 decorated coffins of the mummies and awaiting the mummies themselves. It is designed to look like the royal tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings and has a slope leading up to it where visitors will find themselves face-to-face with the royal mummies in a dimly lighted hall painted black.
clockwise: Ramses II; Hatshepsut; Queen Tiye; Thutmosis III
EXHIBITION: “The NMEC exhibition committee selected black as the colour of the Mummies Hall in order not to disturb visitors during their tour and to make the mummies the protagonists of the exhibition,” Mahmoud Mabrouk, Ministry of Antiquities adviser for exhibition scenarios, told the Weekly.
He said the mummies would not be exhibited as they were in Tahrir Square, 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), the hiding place where the second group of royal mummies was uncovered. Other objects would be shown, such as linen shreds decorated with images 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 suffered from during life, as well as the lineage and members of the family.
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.
Among them are kings Ramses II, Seti I, Seqnenre, Tuthmoses III, and Ramses III, the founder of the funerary temple of Madinet Habu on Luxor’s west bank, and queens Hatshepsut, Meritamun, wife of king Amenhotep I, and Ahmose Nefertari, wife of king Ahmose I and Ramses II, known as the last of the important Ramesside Pharaohs.
The latter succeeded in repelling the invasions of the “sea people” during his long reign that lasted from 1185 to 1152 BCE. Another mummy belongs to his son, Ramses IV, whose reign was dissimilar to that of his father in every way.
While Egypt under Ramses III was marked by its stability, Ramses IV’s reign witnessed weak government under constant threat from internal rebels, dropping a sorry curtain on the glorious Ramesside period in ancient Egypt and providing an opportunity for the rise of a new royal priesthood.
It was Ramses IX who finally handed over authority when his daughter Nejmet married Hrihor, the high priest of Amun. This opened the way to the 21st Dynasty of priest-kings and the Third Intermediate Period.
One mummy in the collection, that of Nesikhonsu, wears a splendid wig, and some mummies still hold their air of majesty despite the passage of millennia. The mummy of queen Maatkare has stirred the curiosity of experts from the moment of its discovery, as it was accompanied by another small mummy, for example.
Experts believed it was of a baby, but examination revealed that it was the mummy of a small baboon which was apparently the queen’s beloved pet. The most beautiful mummy is that of prince Djedptahiufankh, which is in a state of perfect preservation. It differs from the others in that the prince had no importance in history, but his mummy was found wearing seven gold rings on his hands and another two on his left foot.
The mummies exhibited are among those discovered in 1881 in the first mummy cachette at Deir Al-Bahari on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor and in 1898 in the second cachette in 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 the mummies of well-known queens and high priests of Amun.
THE NMEC: The Mummies Hall will not be the only one to be opened soon at the NMEC, as its Core or Central Hall will also be opened to display a variety of artefacts relating the history of Egypt from prehistoric times to the modern period.
Mabrouk said the history of Egypt would be shown through objects from different periods, also showing 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 will be 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.
The NMEC is set to become one of the largest museums of civilisation in Egypt and the Middle East region. It is a window onto the huge diversity of Egyptian civilisation from prehistoric times to the present day.
The museum covers 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.
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 museum also puts on show objects that relate the history and development of Egyptian crafts through the ages. Its glass pyramid-shaped roof will display a multimedia show on the different Egyptian civilisations. For the moment, the hall beneath the pyramid is home to objects from the Tapestry Museum in Al-Muizz Street in Islamic Cairo which is currently under restoration.
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 25 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly