It’s small, cramped and overcrowded! That’s what tourists often say about the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. And it’s not surprising, since the total area of the display space is about fifteen thousand sq. m. In comparison, the area of the Louvre in Paris is more than one hundred and sixty thousand sq. m, and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg − two hundred and thirty thousand sq. m.
However, the same tourists talk enthusiastically about the exhibits that they’ve seen in the repository of antiquities. And it’s also not surprising as the museum houses amazing ancient Egyptian artefacts which many people had seen only in the numerous pictures on the Internet. In the museum such artefacts are right in front of you, so that you can see every little detail. Who will care about cramped conditions then?
The museum is located in Cairo’s main square, Tahrir Square. The construction of its building was completed in 1902, and the opening ceremony was attended by members of the royal family, Egyptian ministers, foreign diplomats, large-scale local entrepreneurs and other distinguished guests.
Despite pomp and circumstance, the museum’s security system consisted only of a door that was locked at night and an ordinary watchman. This state of affairs lasted until 1996, when one of the visitors found a sheltered corner in the display hall, stole several exhibits when everybody left and the watchman got distracted. After the incident an alarm system was finally installed there.
But, unfortunately, it wasn’t the last misadventure of the museum. In 2011, during the political unrest over the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, looters broke into the museum. They smashed several display cases, destroyed some mummies, cleaned out the cash register and stole unique valuables, among which there were gilded statues of Tutankhamun and Nefertiti. Then the residents of Cairo stood up for the museum forming a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside. After that Soldiers surrounded the building and moved inside to protect priceless exhibits.
As for the tightness, at the beginning the collection was rather small but it was gradually built up with new archaeological finds, artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun and the Royal Necropolis of Tanis. So, as a result, now there are so many exhibits in the museum that display halls seem to be tiny and overcrowded. At the moment, some of the valuables have been moved to a new museum located in Giza, not far from the famous pyramids.
The building of the Cairo Museum is architectural heritage which is protected by the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities. The facade is decorated with two sculptures of women who represent Upper and Lower Egypt, and there’s also the head of Hathor, the goddess of heaven, joy, love and fertility above the main entrance. It’s worth seeing.
On the ground floor, you can see fragments of walls with bas-reliefs, stone sarcophagi and statues in detail, and on the second floor there are mummies, household items and papyri with writings about tax collection, marriage and other aspects of life of a bygone era. Jewellery, coins of different periods … The exposition of the museum is fascinating, there history seems to come to life, become tangible.
In total, the museum houses more than one hundred and sixty thousand exhibits, it’s an outstanding collection of Egyptian antiquities. Let’s enumerate at least some of them:
There’s no doubt that the exposition of the Cairo Museum can be talked about for hours but it’s definitely better to go there and see all the treasures of the ancient world with your own eyes.
In the morning, the museum is full of large groups of tourists that constantly replace each other, so visitors who prefer to immerse in history on their own, should better come in the afternoon. If someone wants to use an audio guide, the service is available at the box office in English, French and Arabic.
Photography inside the museum is allowed after paying the corresponding fee. Bags are checked at the entrance, so it will be impossible to bring photo equipment «illegally».
However, you can take photos for free as there’s a really great place for it. There are ancient monuments by the main entrance, and among them you will see a mysterious sphinx, a lion, etc. They will definitely add to favourable impressions which the visit to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo will leave on you.