The Egyptian Museum: a timeline of history

Rachel Adams
7 Min Read


Sayed Hassan considers the Egyptian Museum to have many roles. First and foremost to inform people about ancient Egyptian history. During a visit to the museum people can learn what the ancients knew about the body and how they used surgery. They can find information about how important statues were to the ancients, how these sculptures were made, the use and forms of their coffins, and how much and in which form the ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. Besides the educational aspect of the museum, Hassan also stressed that people come to have a nice time and that providing this to visitors is an integral part of the job of the people that work in there.

When asked about the relationship of the visitors to the museum, Hassan said that it means different things to different people. Some visitors come to see ancient art while others interested in science come to see the mummies. The museum is home to a wealth of artifacts and offers something for everyone, regardless of their specific interest; the 5,000 pieces of pure gold found in Tutankhamun’s tomb are one of the highlights of a visit for example, as is the large collection of items that shows how ordinary people lived.

Curating such a diverse collection is a challenge and Hassan explains that how you present a museum dictates what kind of visitors you will receive. It is important to show the purpose of the museum, and that behind all pieces there is history, science, art and religion.

The museum was built to house three or four curators, with five or six security guards and 8,000 pieces. Currently the museum hosts 70 Egyptologists, a laboratory that can hold 40 restorers, and over 120,000 artifacts. One of the difficulties the current location is that there is no space for lectures as it was not built with that purpose in mind.

The museum is a place that displays how the ancients lived through different ages. The pyramids at Giza relate to 200 years of history, while the temples and tombs in Luxor and Aswan show different period of time, and the pyramids of Saqqara yet another. In the museum all of these eras are brought together and generate a unique timeline of history.

To create a modern environment that offers space for the complete collection, plans were made 15 years ago to move the museum to a new location near the pyramids at Giza. At the new location two new museums are planned, the Grand Museum and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The latter will cover all four periods of Egyptian history; Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic. However the plans for are taking a long time to eventuate; opening dates have been mentioned as far back as 2000 and the current expected date of delivery is 2015.

The current Egyptian Museum is unique as it was the first building to be built specifically as a museum in 1902. It was the first museum to have a collection of Egyptian artifacts and it has the largest collection of these in the world. Hassan discussed other, modern museums around the world and highlighted their merits. At the Louvre the glass pyramid and the way they sell tickets is very innovative, yet he felt the museum itself is laid out in a classical way. He mentioned how the Metropolitan has good ways of exhibiting pieces that are not complete, by showing how the piece as a whole might look, and how museums in Germany use CAT scanning to imagine how someone might have looked. Hassan feels that the new museums will be able to make their mark. He intends that the collection will show that although there are the differences in life between then and now, the people here are still Egyptian and still the same kind of people in the way they have been created. The restoration laboratories in the new museums are already finished and the museum will exhibit pieces without restoration if they can. If, for example, a statue is missing a limb but can still stand up the museum will exhibit the piece as it is. On the other hand, if it is an ugly piece that is still important historically, the museum will choose to make certain compromises. Hassan feels that the designs of the new museums will ensure they will be comparable to other world class museums.

The revolution has had a significant effect on the amount of visitors of the museum. Before the revolution 10,000 visitors entered the large building daily, while now only 2,500 people purchase a daily ticket. The museum is open from nine am to seven pm, with each visit lasting on average one and a half hours. There is ample space to roam around and visit the exhibitions you are interested in. The percentage of Egyptian visitors has increased from 20 to nearly 40 percent since the revolution, but this is most likely because of the decline of foreign tourism in the last period of time.

The museum is funded by the Ministry of Antiquities and some additional projects are run by archaeology institutes of countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom  in conjunction with the Ministry of Antiquities.


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