|Egyptian Museum, Cairo|
While I was standing in front of the stature of “Colossus of Amenhotep IV” on the ground floor, Zhu Jun Qing from the China News Agency approached me with pen and paper for a short interview. She wanted to know how long I have been in Egypt, why I picked today to visit the museum, if the collection had international status in my view, and if I felt safety was an issue. At first I thought the question referred to my own safety, which I responded that I feel very safe in Cairo, but she meant the safety of the collection. I feel the Egyptian Museum has international status, although the signage and organization could be improved, which I didn't mention to Zhu. As to the safety of the museum, I couldn't tell. I still do not know the true story around the alleged looting and I am not a security expert, so I said I didn't know about the security.
With over 100,000 pieces from almost every period of ancient Egypt history, I decided to focus on the most important rooms in the museum. My favorite, by far, is room #3 on the first floor, part of the Tutankkamun Galleries. He is the son of Amenhotep IV, aka Akhenaten, whose statutes I had just visited on the ground floor, where Zhu interviewed me.
The history of this pair of father and son is fascinating. Amenhotep IV (1352BC-1336BC, also know as the Amarna period) changed his name to Akhanaten (living spirit of Aten) and is known as the heretic pharaoh. He set-up Egypt's first and last monotheistic faith, after his deitification in the 30th year of his reign. In one of his statues, he is wearing a crown also worn by the great creator God of Atun of Heliopolis, one of the Gods with whom he identified with. He worshiped the disk of the sun, maybe because of a genuine belief, but maybe it was a way to lessen the power of priesthood of the state God Amun-Re. His royal wife was the famous Nefertiti.
Akhanaten's son, Tutankhaten (1361BC-1352BC) on the other hand, changed his name to Tutankhamun to show affiliation with Amun-Re, reverting his father's monotheist faith and re-opening temples around Egypt. His riches were found by Howard Carter in 1922 at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and I was in awe at what a mummy can be stuffed with. Here's the list, which may be incomplete:
Five gold sheets of vultures found on his neck
Two daggers encased in gold sheaths lying above his abdomen
Thirteen flexible gold bracelets
Fifteen gold rings
A pair of bracelets carrying the left and the right eye of the falcon Horus
Gold buckles showing the king in his chariot as warrior protected by the goddesses of lower and upper Egypt.
Carnelian and gold amulets on his left neck
His mummy's bandage enveloped 143 objects and amulets placed between the bandages. Trappings with funerary texts were used as belts to keep the bandages and dozens of amulets together. The third and innermost coffin where the mummy was placed is of thick gold. The embossing of his body, on top of the encasement , represented the deities of lower and upper Egypt in the form of a vulture and bird with the head of Uracus. The mummy itself I will visit in Luxor later, insallhah (God willing.)
Room #3 on the first floor also had many artifacts used by Tutankhamun during his life. My favorite was the necklaces with the body of Orus. The other amazing piece in this room is the Mask of Death, a solid gold mask. Tutankhamun is believed to have ascended to the throne at the age 9 and married Ankhesenamun, his sister, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
I have been wondering about pharaonic history in Egypt, so being at the museum gave me a chance to learn a little history.
The Old Kingdom, from 2650BC-2100BC is known as “the age of the pyramids.” The first stone monument in the world was the step pyramid at Saqqara where we plan to visit later. One a century later the Great Pyramid of Giza was built.
The Middle Kingdom, from 2030BC-1650BC. During the late old kingdom period, the authority of the center government began to breakdown and provincial governors gained independence. In 2020BC Mentuhotep II united the country and inaugurated the middle kingdom.
The New Kingdom, from 1650BC-1070BC. Towards the end of the middle kingdom, western Asiatic people, called Hyksos (literally, rulers of foreign lands) began to settle in the Delta. Gradually a strong native dynasty re-emerged at Thebes, giving birth to the new Kingdom. The pharaohs from this period secured Egypt's borders by reconquering Nubia which had gained independence at the end of the middle kingdom, and expanding Egypt's control northward, turning much of Syria and Palestine into vassal states, as riches flowed into the country's treasuries.
There were also intermediate periods, and during the 3rd intermediate period, from 1070BC-332BC, due to internal instability and outside attacks, Egypt was divided into two main territories:
1.The successors of the new kingdom pharaohs ruling the north
2.High Priestess of Amun ruling the south
After an initial period of struggle, these two powers coexisted peacefully until Nubia invaded Egypt again in the 8th century BC establishing a stronghold in Thebes by installing royal women in the priestly role of God's wife of Amun, a position of great political power.
The Greco-Roman Period, from 332BC-395AD, when Alexander the Great defeated Darius III and took over the Great Persian Empire, including Egypt. He founded Alexandria, and after a visit to the oracle of the God Amun in Siwa Oasis, Alexander declared himself the legitimate king of Egypt.
After Alexander's death, his empire was split into three parts. A general named Ptolemy who was the governor of Egypt under Alexander took over the country and proclaimed himself pharaoh. His descendents ruled from 304-30BC. The last Ptolomaic ruler, Cleopatra VII and her roman companion, Marc Anthony, were defeated by Octavious Caesar .
After three hours of strolling around and reading about this great span of history,I was too tired to visit the Royal Tombs. On top of it,I had to pay an additional US$20 to see eleven mummified kings in a darkened,ghoulish gallery. I gave it a miss as I craved being outside and there are still plenty of mummies and historical sites for me to see in Egypt. Instead, I walked to the hotel to find Peter surfing away in the internet. He is not as interested in antiquities as I am, so he took the day off today.