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Exploring The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

travel to Egypt with Jazeera Airways

What attracts you most about Egypt? Is it the stunning pyramids, mummies of the pharaohs, jewel-like Nile River, treasures of Tutankhamun, or the world of hieroglyphics? To know about them all, there is no better place to unlock the secrets of Egypt and uncover the mysteries of history’s most fascinating civilization than the tenacious memory-keeper, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This 121-year-old, prized facade, and neoclassical design, showcases a stunning collection of antiquities.

Egypt’s illustrious history is the protagonist here and the drama that unfolds inside the tough walls of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is one-of-a-kind, not to be forgotten easily. Centrally located on the edge of Maidan Al-Tahrir (Tahrir Square) in Cairo, the first purpose-built museum of the country, and unique in the region has been a tenacious memory keeper for 121 years. Right at the outset, it impresses visitors with its spectacular façade in neo-classical architecture. Spanning two floors, a stunningly intriguing and contemplative space comes alive with illuminated busts of formidable kings, the mystical treasures of the Nile, the burial collectives from the faraway excavation sites, and the mummies lying in ‘made-to-size’ sarcophagi. It is always a good idea to get there early to avoid the serpentine queue and dive into its enormity. . A few hours are just not enough; however, a few days may also seem less to savour every bit of this dusty slice of yesteryears. And for an even better experience, you ought to book a guided tour.  

Explore like a history buff inside the Legendary Egyptian Museum

Centrally located on the edge of Maidan Al-Tahrir (Tahrir Square) in Cairo, also the first purpose-built museum of the country, and the first in the region, the Egyptian Museum has key collectives from its faraway excavation sites and jaw-dropping collectives in the form of artifacts, busts, colossal statues, mummies, coffins, jewellery collections, funerary collections, stoneware, ancient belongings, etc. Also, due to the abundance, not all are displayed all the time but one discovers many names that have been lost to history. Names, notes, and explanations would have been more helpful but most of the pieces lack that.

Once inside, you must buckle up for an adventure ride that will blow your mind. From pint-sized to considerably sizable statues, and from the Early dynastic period to the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom, the museum is home to some of the most groundbreaking archaeological discoveries of all time.

The first pit stop must be in front of the remarkable Narmer Palette, carved of a single piece of smooth greyish-green siltstone on both sides between 3200 BC and 3000 BC. Engraved with the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions, it is often considered a blueprint for Egyptian art. One must admire it on both sides as it tells tales of King Narmer’s (also called Menes) victory in battle and the approval of the Egyptian Gods for the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The first few rooms overflow with collectives and statues of the pharaohs, symbolizing mystery and might at every step. There were 170 pharaohs in total and each one of them had fascinating stories around them. In the first gallery, the oldest known life-sized Egyptian statue of King Djoser, who ruled in the 3rd dynasty (around 2650 BCE) transports you straight to the heart of Ancient Egypt and leaves you asking for more.

The tiny ivory statuette, the only intact masterpiece of King Khufu, (the second king of the 4th dynasty -c. 2575–c. 2465 BCE) is a true charmer. The irony is that the builder of the greatest pyramid has the smallest statue. Right behind, the picture-perfect figurine of the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khafre (Chefren) seated regally on his throne, draws its admirers with ease. He, who ruled between 2558 BC and 2532 BC earned his popularity as the builder of the second-largest pyramid in Giza. The Triad of King Menkaure, who built the third and smallest of the three Pyramids of Giza during the 26th century BC is equally expressive and impressive.

While attempts were made to remove all traces of Hatshepsut’s rule in history, the museum has diligently safeguarded the head of the statue of Queen Hatshepsut. The remnant of the first female pharaoh in ancient history leaves one inspired. In the centre gallery, there is a colossal statue of Amenhotep III, his wife Tiye, and three of their daughters, often leaving the visitors enthralled with its size and magnanimity.

The museum also houses the Monalisa of Egypt, which is not a human figurine but an incredibly detailed painting of an extinct species of goose, called Meidum Geese. While the paintings are fascinating, the gorgeous world of hieroglyphics keeps one guessing throughout the walk inside the museum.

The room dedicated to Tutankhamun, (the most significant pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt) and his glittering treasures leaves every visitor gasping with bewilderment. Also, the gold chest surrounded by the statues of the four tutelary goddesses of the dead is unmissable for the mystical stories associated with it.

The other imminent sections of the museum are the hallways where the coffins with mummies are kept, or the room dedicated to the Amarna Period, which lasted for just 16 years between 1352 and 1336 BC. The animal mummification room is one of a kind and kicks in a mix of emotions of shock and surprise.

Some of the other figurines that are unmissable are the wooden statue of Ka-Aper (the chief lector priest), a memorable and commanding piece of Amenhotep IV (1380-1336 BCE), two colossal statues of Ptah from the temple complex of Ramses II at Memphis, and the two limestone statues of Rahotep and Nofret.

A week may not be enough to touch every nook and cranny of the museum but dedicating at least half a day to it is indispensable. Right at the entrance, the building is divided into two sections and spans two floors. Begin strolling clockwise and all you must do is breathe, stroll, follow your guide, and dive into its enormity.  Get there early to avoid the serpentine queue and have a long date with history.  Also, knowing what to see and what may be skipped is no mean feat. This is a great reason to have a guide accompanying you.

The Upcoming Great Egyptian Museum (GEM)

One of the highlights of the Egyptian Museum is the Tutankhamun collection. But soon, it will have a swanky new home, called the Great Egyptian Museum (GEM). It was due for a late 2023 inauguration but no formal announcements have been made yet. In the future, tourists may be lured by its state-of-the-art building, but the primal one will always be loved for its chaos, charm, and character.

Travelling to Egypt has become pocket-friendly with Jazeera Airways

Egypt is one of the most fascinating places on Earth and with new museums coming up and many newer excavation sites opening for travellers, there are many promising reasons to travel to Egypt in 2024. The newly built Sphinx International Airport is also operational to share the load with Cairo International Airport. In addition to Egypt Air, the realization of the Egyptian dream has become easier for Indian travellers with Jazeera Airways as this budget airline flies into seven cities in Egypt. Visa is on arrival. Vegetarian food in Egypt is not an issue as you will find some vegetarian dishes. To my surprise, a vegetarian bowl Koshary is their national dish. I totally loved it.

P.S.- An edited version of the article was first published in The New Indian Express. and If you are looking for a pocket-friendly airlines to live your Egyptian dream, do check out Jazeera airlines.

You may also read my article on how to plan your dream trip to the Pyramids here.

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