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Egypt Archaeology

Museum in Cairo

The idea of establishing a museum to exhibit the monuments of Ancient Egypt first arose at the time the Antiquities Service was founded in 1835. Auguste Mariette, a French archaeologist appointed Director General of Egyptian Monuments and the Museum in 1859, urged the government to build a museum to house the treasures of its great civilisation. This resulted in the founding of the Bulak Museum, which opened in October 1863, and was the first national museum of antiquities in the Middle East. At that time many of the great archaeological discoveries which would enrich this exhibition of pharaonic art were yet to be made. The museum's present building, now housing over 120,000 pieces, was opened in November 1902.


Of all the museum's treasures, those from the tomb of Tutankhamun (discovered in 1922) are the most celebrated. They consist of about 3000 pieces, including the gold funerary mask and coffin, the shrines, furniture, throne and jewels. The museum is also famous for its collection of royal" and private statuary, reliefs and paintings, thematic units such as the various types of scripts and writing materials, the royal mummies, coffins and sarcophagi, objects for daily or funerary use and decorative art from all periods of Ancient Egyptian history.

Other significant finds exhibited include the complete contents of the First Dynasty tomb of Hemaka, an intact bedroom set from the Giza tomb of queen Hetepheres (Khufu's mother), jewelry from the Middle Kingdom tombs at Dahshur and Lahun, wooden models from the tombs of Meket-ra and Mesehti, objects from the tombs of queen Ah-hotep, Yuya and Thuya , prince Maiherperi and Sen-nedjem, and jewels found in the 21st-22nd Dynasry royal tombs at Tanis in the Delta; (the latter four groups were found in intact tombs). These, together with other treasures, create an exhibition of Egyptian monuments which is unparalleled throughout the world.

One visit to the museum at the beginning of one's stay and a second visit later is recommended, in order to benefit from knowledge gained while visiting Egypt's ancient sites. The museum is situated in Tahrir Square, central Cairo. More details: Museums in Egypt

The Pyramids

Although the pyramids of Egypt epitomize for millions of people the very essence of that country, few visitors realise there are at least 97 of the structures spread across 70 kilometres of desert, from the outskirts of Cairo to the edge of the Fayoum.

The great pyramids of Giza and part of the sprawling necropolis of Saqqara are both easily accessible from Cairo (tours to Saqqara often include a visit to the ruins of the ancient city of Memphis). A ride across the sands to Abu Sir, a visit to the Dahshur Pyramid field and still further south to the dramatic "Collapsed Pyramid" of Maidum and the lesser Middle Kingdom Pyramids of Hawara could be exciting experiences.

EI-Lisht and Lahun are easier to reach from the Fayoum while the inaccessible pyramid at Abu Ruash, to the west of Cairo could also be of interest.

Place of Pyramids in History

Archeologists agree that the pyramids' function was to preserve the pharaoh's ka, or double: a vital force, which emanated from the sun god to his son, the king, who distributed it amongst his subjects and the land of Egypt itself. The construction of just one structure required a massive workforce working for many months.

The Sanctuaries

The finest bas-reliefs at Abydos are inside the sanctuaries dedicated to Seti and six deities. Though retaining much of their original colouring, their graceful lines and subtle moulding are best appreciated on the unpainted reliefs.

Ancient cities in Egyptian bay

Archaeologists discovered two sunken cities in Egypt's Bay of Aboukir, just west of the city of Alexandria
An entire submerged city with ruins of houses, temples, a port infrastructure and colossal statues, six kilometres off the coast was part of the discovery. The location of this city, thought to be the ancient port of Herakleion or thonis, was until now forgotten by history. Archaeologists also discovered the sunken ruins of Menouthis, two kilometres from the shore, and uncovered the foundations of many monuments and buildings as well as statues linked to the Egyptian goddess Isis. Artifacts recovered include a head of Hellenistic god Serapis, ceramics, jewellery and gold coins from Byzantinian and Islamic periods..

Ancient Temple Architecture

From earliest times, two distinct types of temple evolved in Egypt: cult temples, dedicated to the principal god of the region, and mortuary temples, devoted to the worship of the dead king. Cult temples were regarded as the "house of the god", whose effigy was cosseted with daily rituals and periodically taken to visit its divine spouse in another temple.

Most of the great temples of the Nile Valley embody centuries of work by successive kings and dynasties, some of whom added major sections while others merely decorated a wall or carved their name on another pharaoh's statue. Built from stone, to last forever, their general form and layout hardly changed over millennia, and were still being imitated during Ptolemaic and Roman times.

Temple of Kalabsha

The Temple of Kalabsha and smaller Temple of Beit al-Wali were dismantled at their original sites and reassembled at New Kalabsha near the Aswan high dam. The Temple of Kalabsha was built during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus (27.B.C.-14.A.D) over the ruins of a temple dating from the time of Amenophis II (26th Dynasty, 1453-1419.B.C). Originally it lay about 40 kilometres south of Kalabsha, at the Ancient Greek City of Talmis, and was dedicated to the God Mandulis, a Nubian form of Horus, and the Goddess Isis. The Temple of Kalabsha, 74 metres long, is the largest freestanding Nubian temple. It is preceded by a large quay that bordered the shores of the Nile, which is connected to a causeway.

One enters the temple through the great pylon that gives access to the court, which in turn leads to the hypostyle hall. The temple was originally enclosed by a double wall: the first, which no longer exists, took in large area around the cult buildings, while the second wall surrounds the hypostile hall and sanctuary, with a narrow passageway in between. The hypostyle hall is supported by eight columns and is decorated on the outside with bas-reliefs depicting the emperor Augustus making offerings to various deities. In the northern portion of the façade there is a graffito with a commemorative inscription mentioning Silko, king of the Nobatae, dating from the 5th or 6th century AD, while on the second wall between the columns there are some inscriptions: two Greek texts and one in Meroitic script recording Kharamadeye, king of the Blemmyes, written in the 4th century AD

The hall gives access to the two vestibules and the sanctuary, all of which became a Christian church in the 6th century. The walls of the sanctuary are covered with bas-relief decoration executed in a conventional style; they represent scenes of Augustus making offerings to a great number of gods. Outside to the southwest corner of the temple, are the remains of a chapel dedicated to the Nubian god Dedwen, and farther south there are a number of blocks with prehistoric graffiti and some bas-relief from the Temple of Ramesses II at Gerf Hussein, which is now under water. Lastly, immediately north of the entrance to the Temple of Mandulis, is a large stela of the Pharaoh Psametichus II (26th Dynasty) in a good state of preservation that commemorates and narrates his victorious military campaign in Nubia (593 B.C).

The Temple of Beit al-Wali

Behind the Temple of Mandulis is the small rock-cut Temple of Beit al Wali, which was built by Ramesses II and dedicated to Amun-Re. Its original site was also Kalabsha. The rock-cut portion of the temple is preceded by a long forecourt that one enters through a stone gateway with carvings of royal cartouches. The walls of the forecourt have bas-reliefs illustrating episodes from Ramesses II's military campaigns against the Nubians and Ethiopians, and against the Libyans and Asiastics. The vestibule of the Temple is supported by two columns. In the back wall are two rock-hewn niches with statues of the king together with some deities. The vestibule leads to the small sanctuary, whose bas-reliefs show Ramesses II making offerings to numerous gods.

Kiosk of Qertassi

A few dozen metres from the Temple of Kalabsha, on a slightly higher level, is the Kiosk of Qertassi, which was formerly situated 40 kilometres to the south. This small building consists of a single chamber that once had a sandstone slab roof. The ceiling was supported by four columns whose capitals are decorated with splendidly executed floral motifs, while the portal is flanked by two Hathoric columns. The Kiosk of Qertassi was built during the Ptolemaic or Roman period and dedicated to Hathor, who was the patroness of mining and quarrying activities. Together with the temples of Dendur and Dabon, it was probably one of the stations along the processional route of the sacred boat of Isis.

The Temple of Abu Simbel

It was at Abu Simbel, the most famous site in Nubia, that UNESCO carried out the most spectacular of its rescue campaign operations by salvaging the temples. The Great Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel was discovered in 1813 by the famous Swiss Orientalist and traveler Ludwig Burckhardt, who is also credited with having found the city of Petra in Jordan. However it was not until 4 August 1817 that the temple was entered by the Paduan explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni, due to the huge amounts of sand blocking the entrance.

The Temple of Ramesses II

The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around the year 24 of the reign of Ramesses II (which corresponds to 1265 B.C.). It was dedicated to the gods Amun-Re, Re-Harakhti, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Ramesses himself. Four 20 meter statues of the pharaoh with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the façade of the temple which is 35 meters wide and is ped by a frieze with 22 baboons. The entrance is crowned by a bas-relief representing two images of Ramesses worshiping the god Re-Harakthi, whose statue stands in a large niche. The god is holding the hieroglyph user in his right hand and a feather in his left, this is a gigantic cryptogram for Ramesses II's throne name, User-Maat-Re. Next to the legs of the colossi there are other statues no higher than the pharaoh's knees.

These depict Nefertari, Ramesses II's chief consort, the queen mother Mut-Tuy, princes Amenhirkhopshef and Ramesses, and princesses Bint-Anath, Nebttawi, and Merytamun. The temple is complex in structure and quite unusual because of the many side chambers. The hypostyle hall (sometimes also called pronaas) is 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide and is supported by eight huge Osirid pillars depicting the deified Ramesses. The colossal statues along the left-hand wall bear the white crown of Upper Egypt. while those on the opposite side are wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The bas-reliefs on walls depict battle scenes in the military campaigns the pharaoh waged. Much of the sculpture is given over to the Battle of Kadesh. The most famous relief shows the pharaoh on his war chariot shooting arrows against his fleeing enemies, who are being taken prisoner. From the hypostyle hall, one enters the second pillared hall, which has four pillars decorated with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods. This hall gives access to a transverse vestibule in the middle of which is the entrance to the sanctuary. Here, on the back wall, are rock-cut sculptures of four seated figures: Re-Harakhti, the deified Ramesses, and the gods Amun-Re and Ptah. The axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects so that twice a year-October 20 and February 20 the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculpture on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah (the god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark).

The Temple of Amada

This temple dedicated to Re-Harakhti and Amun-Re, dates from the 18th Dynasty, making it the oldest of the Nubian temples. The edifice was built during the reigns of three different pharaohs (Tuthmosis II, Amenophis II, and Tuthmosis IV-1504-1386 BC) and was transported to New Amada, 2.6 kilometres from its original site, thanks to the intervention of France. Since the method of dismantling and reassembling the temple that had been adopted with the other temples in Nubia would have caused irreparable damage to the wall decoration, the Temple of Amada had to be lifted in one piece by means of a complicated hydraulic pump system and then set onto a specially built flatcar set on railway tracks.

The temple was then transported to its new site at a maximum speed of 25 meters per day. Once it arrived it was situated 40 meters higher than its original position, while maintaining its original orientation. Tuthmosis III began construction of this small sandstone temple on a site that was probably chosen because of a unique geographical feature. At Amada the Nile makes a sharp bend and for a stretch flows southward instead of northward.

The temple was finished by Tuthmosis's son, Amenophis II, and then decorated by Tuthmosis IV with proto-Doric columns in front of the vestibule. This latter has scenes of Tuthmosis III and Amenophis III in the presence of Amun-Re and Re-Harakhti, as well as Menophis II making the 'ritual run’ and is flanked by two chapels. The vestibule gives access to the sanctuary, which has two small side chambers. The walls in the left-hand chamber are decorated with Tuthmosis II and Amenophis II making offerings to various gods, while the right-hand chamber has scenes of ceremonies related to the foundation of the temple.

The Temple of Dakka

A few hundred meters from the Temple of Wadi al-Sebua stands the Ptolemaic Temple of Dakka, originally situated at the ancient Greek city of Pselkis, where the troops of the Roman governor Petronius defeated the Ethiopians of Queen Candace in 23 B.C. lt was dedicated to the god Thoth of Pnubs, his consort, the lioness god Tefnut, and their son Arsenuphis.

This temple originally stood forty kilometers further north, where it was built by the Meriotic king Arkamani in the late 3rd century BC The temple, the only one in Nubia oriented north-south, parallel to the course of the Nile river, was newly decorated by the Ptolemies and then enlarged during the Roman period with the addition of a pylon twelve meters high. This pylon, which has rooms on its three stories, is distinctive in that it is separated from the rest of the temple. The decoration on the outer side of the pronaas, which has a porticoed façade, dates from the time of Ptolemy VII. This hall is followed by a transverse vestibule decorated with scenes of offerings made by Ptolemy VIl to various deities. The vestibule gives access to the chapel of the Meriotic king Arkamani, which was the first sanctuary in the temple. The present sanctuary was built during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, who had the original edifice enlarged.

The Temple of Derr

This temple stands a few hundred meters from the Temple of Amada. lts original site was 11 kilometers further south. One of the many monuments built in Nubia by Ramesses II, this was the only temple in the region situated on the eastern bank of the Nile. The Temple of Derr was dedicated to the god Re and was similar in both structure and decorative program to the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, of which it could be considered a simplified, reduced version. The temple, whose back portion was cut out of the rock, was originally called 'Temple of Ramesses-Meriamun-in-the-House-of-Re.

The edifice was built to celebrate the first jubilee of Ramessess II, a feast that took place after the first thirty years of rule. The outer section of the temple consists of a first hypostyle hall with eight pillars that precede a portico supported by four Osirid pillars decorated with four colossi of Ramesses II; only traces of these statues remain. The rock-cut portion of the temple includes a second hypostyle hall with six pillars that leads directly into the sanctuary, without a vestibule between them. The decoration in the hall includes scenes of the king making offerings to various gods and other scenes connected with the jubilee ceremonies.

The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari

The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari was built about one hundred meters northeast of the Temple of Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses's chief consort, Nefertari. This was the first time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple or cult edifice was dedicated to a queen. The rock-cut façade is decorated with two groups of six colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high are of Ramesses II and Nefertari. On either side of the portal are two statues of the pharaoh, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt and the double crown; these are flanked by statues of the queen and the pharaoh. For the only time in Egyptian art, the statues of the king and his consort are equal in size. Traditionally, the statues of the queens stood next to those of the pharaoh, but were never taller than his knees. This exception to such a long-standing rule bears witness to the special importance attached to Nefertari by Ramesses II, who visited Abu Simbel with his wife in the 24th year of his reign.

The plan of the Small Temple is a very simplified version of that of the Great Temple. As in the Temple of Ramesses 11, the hypostyle hall is supported by six pillars; in this case, however, they are not Osirid pillars depicting the king, but are decorated with scenes with the queen playing the sistrum (an instrument sacred to the goddess Hathor), together with the gods Horus, Khnum, Khonsu, and Thoth, and the goddesses Hathor, Isis, Maat, Mut of Asher, Satis and Taweret. The capitals of the pillars bear the face of the goddess Hathor; this type of column is known as Hathoric. The bas-reliefs in the pillared hall illustrate the deification of the king, the destruction of his enemies in the north and south (in these scenes Ramesses is accompanied by Nefertari), and the queen making offerings to the goddesses Hathor and Mut.

The hypostyle hall is followed by a transverse vestibule, access to which is given by three large doors. On the south and north walls of this chamber there are two bas-reliefs of the king and his consort presenting papyrus plants to Hathor, who is depicted as a cow on a boat sailing in a thicket of papyri. On the west wall, Ramesses II and Nefertari are making offerings to Horus and the divinities of the Cataracts-Satis, Anukis and Khnum. The rock-cut sanctuary and the two side chambers are connected to the transverse vestibule and are aligned with the axis of the temple. The bas-reliefs on the sidewalls of the small sanctuary represent scenes of offerings to various gods made either by the pharaoh or the queen. On the back wall. which lies to the west along the axis of the temple, there is a niche in which Hathor as a divine cow seems to be coming out of the mountain: the goddess is depicted as the Mistress of this temple dedicated to her and to Nerfertari, who is intimately linked to the goddess.

The Temple of Maharraqa

Situated a little lower than the Temple of Dakka, toward the banks of Lake Nasser, is the small Temple of Maharraqa, which originally stood about 50 kilometers further north, near the site of the Greco-Roman city of Hierasykaminos, 'the place of the sacred sycamore tree'. Construction of the temple was begun at the behest of Augustus and it was dedicated to the god and the goddess Isis, but it was never finished. The edifice is almost totally lacking in wall decoration and consists of a hypostyle hall surrounded on three sides by a colonnnade with fifteen columns and a spiral staircase (the only example of this element in Egyptian architecture) that gives access to the terrace.

The Temple of Wadi al-Sebua

ln Arabic the name of this temple, which originally lay about four kilometers further east, means 'Valley of the Lions'. About half the temple is rock-cut. It was built during the latter half of Ramesses II's reign under the supervision of the viceroy of Kush, Setau, was dedicated to Amun-Re, Re-Harakhti, and the deified Ramesses II, and was named 'Temple of Ramesses-Meriamun-in-the-House-of-Amun.' The constructed portion of the temple, fronted by an avenue of leonine sphinxes, originally consisted of three pylons, only the third one of which survives, that led to three courtyards.

In the first courtyard are six human-headed sphinxes wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The second court has a group of four falcon-headed sphinxes also wearing the double crown; they represent different forms of the god Horus (Horus of Maha, Miam, Baki, and Edfu). The third (and only remaining) pylon is preceded by a stairway and gives access to a terrace. In its original state this pylon was preceded by four colossi of the pharaoh. Only one remains: Ramesses II is bearing a standard with the image of Amun-Re; next to him is his daughter Bint-Anath.

The pylon is decorated with scenes of Ramesses II massacring his enemies of the north and south before Amun-Re and Re-Harakhti. This entrance pylon leads to a large court flanked to the east and west by two colonnades, each with five Osirid pillars. The walls of these colonnades are decorated with bas-reliefs representing the king, followed by a procession of princes and princesses, in the act of making offerings to various gods and to himself, the deified king. A ramp leads from the court to the rock-cut part of the temple. This consists of a hypostyle hall with twelve pillars that is decorated with scenes of the king making offerings to different gods. The pillared hall is followed by a transverse vestibule flanked by two side chapels that gives access to the central sanctuary. which is also flanked by two chapels.

The Hieroglyphs

There is little doubt that this form of writing has its origin in a picture script such as we can still see on the Narmer Palette. The most ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions date back from the time of the unification of Upper with lower Egypt , about 3000 B.C., and the last known inscription is dated 394 A.D.The time of transition from the picture script to hieroglyphic writing with its enormous number of different signs must have been effected in a relatively very short time of not more than three generations since we find already perfectly precise inscriptions in the 3rd dynasty of King Zoser about 2700 B.C.

Last Updated on Sunday 16th January 2011

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