Yesterday, 22 ancient Egyptian mummies were paraded through the streets of Cairo, en route to a new home. The oldest remains in transit were of Seqenenre Tao, a pharaoh that ruled in the 16th century BC.
Authorities were moving the items from the world-famous but struggling Egyptian Museum, which was founded just after the turn of the 20th century, to the vast new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation that opened yesterday.
The journey will go down in the country’s history as a moment when objects from arguably the best preserved of the ancient civilisations were moved through the streets of one of the busiest and fastest expanding cities in the modern world, to a new home.
Egyptians have for centuries been the custodians of a remarkable heritage, an important, complex and at times challenging responsibility. Cairo’s new museum is a major achievement of the current government, which has acted on the desperate need to display safely and accessibly Egypt’s ancient history for a 21st century audience.
Artefacts were damaged in the turbulence of the uprising of 2011
On a practical level, the new state-of-the-art institution will provide advanced facilities to educate today’s guests and preserve artefacts for future ones. In too many parts of the Middle East, cultural heritage is under threat, be it from environmental damage, neglect, unrest, smuggling, or even destruction by terrorists. In Cairo, the Egyptian Museum’s collection was damaged and partly looted in the turbulence of the uprising of 2011. A new home will hopefully mean that this never happens again.
The sight is also intended to help revive the tourism industry, which had already been struggling before Covid-19 brought the vital sector to a standstill. While visitors to the older museum still got to see the most comprehensive collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts on the planet, the sheer number of items made it increasingly difficult for curators to present them safely and accessibly. The new institution’s layout will be based on a more structured permanent collection across galleries organised by the themes of Dawn of Civilisation, The Nile, Writing, State and Society, Material Culture, Beliefs and Thinking and the Gallery of Royal Mummies.
The project is as much for citizens as it is for tourists. The last decade has not been easy for Egyptians. The country faces major demographic challenges, with a growing young population that struggles to find employment and opportunity. And while the government is investing heavily in infrastructure, difficulties remain. Last week, a train crash and the separate collapse of a residential building caused the deaths of over 50 citizens combined.
A world-leading museum will help those that are struggling to remember and be proud of the uniquely deep roots of their nation’s culture. Overlooking the Pyramids of Giza, the only Ancient Wonder of the World that remains, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation reminds all that Egypt’s identity has endured like few others.