Few countries have the quantity and quality of ancient artifacts that Egypt possesses as whole. Egypt has an unimaginable array of ancient treasures that have fascinated the world for thousands of years. With nowhere near enough space for all of this, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo appears to be the closet of a hoarder of all things ancient and great about Egypt rather than a world class museum. With a short amount of time, the museum can be a bit daunting to cover but have no fear! With our guide of museum highlights, you can successfully be prepared for your visit and not miss anything you will regret later!
What to Bring and When to Go
The Egyptian museum was created in 1902 and hasn’t changed much since. Depending heavily on natural lighting, parts of the museum tend to be pretty dark. Bringing a small flashlight with you will help in these areas and bring out the details on other items of interest. With no A/C and a hot North African climate, a bottle of water is also needed as you will most likely be here all day. Description cards for most items are fairly basic so having a guide book that details some of the main items is good if you are interested in the history of some of the pieces.
The museum is very popular with local Egyptians so even with the lull in foreign tourists, the museum can be quite busy. It is best to avoid weekends and public holidays as these times are guaranteed to be extremely busy. After spending the whole day there, Claire and I found the late afternoon to be the quietest time, so saving the big rooms, such as King Tut’s room, for later in the day is advised.
Must See Items in the Museum
The first room in front of you as you enter the building is filled with massive statues and an array of sarcophagi, but some of the more important items in the room are small and easy to miss. The most significant is the Narmer Palette to your right which depicts Pharaoh Narmer wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, marking the birth of ancient Egyptian civilization. The stone represents the beginning of the thirty dynasties that would rule ancient Egypt. Also of interest is a small clay depiction of a human head, which is the oldest to have been discovered in Egypt, dating back some 6,000 years.
One of the more impressive and intact sculptures from the Old Kingdom period rests in room 47. The Black Schist Triads depict Pharaoh Menkaure (2532-2593 BC) along side the Goddess Hathor on one side, and a Nome on the other, which differs depending on which triad you are looking at. The preservation is stunning.
Room 42 is also not to be missed as it contains some of the museum’s Old Kingdom masterpieces. Front and center in the room is the Statue of Khafre which dates back somewhere between 2558-2532 BC. Also in the room is the incredibly well preserved Wooden Statue of Ka-Aper, a wealthy ancient Egyptian whose appearance is forever preserved in his statue. Near the doorway of the room, you may recognize the attentive Seated Scribe from the two hundred Egyptian Pound bank note. Shine a light into his eyes, and you will see how mesmerizing this statue really is.
Also of interest is the statue of Zoser who ruled Egypt from 2667-2648 BC and is most famous for building the world’s oldest known pyramid at Saqqara. You can find him in room 48.
The first ruler of the Middle Kingdom is depicted in Room 26 as the Statue of Montuhotep II, who ruled between 2055-2004 BC.
Room 21 is home to the Grey Granite Sphinxes which offer a stark contrast to the more famous sphinx found at the Giza complex. Rather than the pharaoh like appearance of the Great Sphinx, these statues resemble more closely to a lion with a human face inserted into its bushy mane. The pieces date back to Amenemhat’s rule between 1855-1808 BC.
On the second floor, the Middle Kingdom Models in rooms 37, 32, and 27 offer a diorama version of life in ancient Egypt. Room 37 contains models of Egyptian armies with the darker skinned figures representing soldiers of Nubian decent. Rooms 32 and 27 show daily Egyptian tasks from nearly 4,000 years ago. Models depict scenes of ancients fishing, collecting harvest, counting cattle, and working at carpentry and weaving shops.
To get a taste of the tombs and temples to come elsewhere in Egypt, do not miss Room 12 which contains the Sandstone Chapel, a Hathor Shrine dedicated to the Goddess which includes a depiction of the Pharaoh Tuthmosis (1427-1400BC) being suckled by Hathor in her cow form.
At the back of the first floor, Room 3 is dedicated to the reign of Akhenaten (1352-1336 BC) which offers items unique to the Pharaoh’s rule. The artistic style of the time period is a striking contrast to other time periods, with its abstract human depictions and emphasis of the new and short lived sun god Aten. Take a look at the reliefs in the room, that depict Aten as a disk with rays in the form of extended hands. Also be sure to inspect the centerpiece of the room, a completely intact glass sarcophagus.
For a unusual depiction of Egypt’s most famous Pharaoh, check out the corridor known as Room 10 for the giant statue of Ramses II depicted as a boy. The child version of the emperor is kneeling in front of a stout falcon depicting the god Horus.
The Royal Tombs of Tanis which spans the treasures of Pharaohs from the 21st and 22nd dynasties contain items as beautiful and as prized as those found in King Tut’s tomb. The room is often empty however as many people miss it in their rush to have a look at King Tut’s funerary mask in the next room over. Of all the treasures in this room, the death mask of Psusennes I is the most impressive.
It is not often you get to come face to face with a human that is over 3,000 years old but in rooms 56 and 46 you can see dozens of them. By the New Kingdom, ancient Egyptians had perfected the art of mummification as is evident by the remains laid out in these rooms. Some of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs are on display in room 56 from Seti I and Ramses II to the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. The preservation is rather spooky, as many retain their wispy gray hair and detailed features, seeming to be resting into eternity.
Room 46 has lesser known royals but is equally as interesting as room 56. Just outside the room, be sure to check out Queen Tiy with most of her long flowing hair intact. Inside, one of the more interesting mummies is that of Nedjmet who is wearing a curly wig and has her eyes replaced with black and white stones.
King Tut Rooms
Today, the most well known Pharaoh is King Tutankhamun despite reigning for a very short period of time and having little significance. His claim to fame came after Howard Carter’s discovery of his nearly 100% intact tomb, full of treasures, in 1922. Most of those treasures litter the upper floor of the Egyptian museum, culminating into the most visited room of the museum, room 3. This room contains King Tut’s most prized treasures, the iconic King Tut funerary mask along with other golden outer sarcophagi and jewellery that accompanied the king in the tomb. You cannot take photos in the room. The mummy itself is not here as it remains on display in his tomb. Peering into the eyes of the late Pharaoh is a time stopping experience that will send chills down your spine. After donning my middle and high school history textbooks for years, I had finally come face to face with one of the world’s most precious objects. Luckily, we were the only ones int he room for a good five minutes. Try to get here when it is quiet later in the day as the room can become very crowded and noisy. Just outside of the room are Tut’s four gigantic wooden shrines, each one smaller than the other in order to fit inside and eventually contain the sarcophagi of the pharaoh.
Animal Mummy Rooms
Mummification wasn’t just reserved for humans as room 53 attests to. Many animals such as baboons, cats, and crocodiles were considered sacred to the Ancient Egyptians so it was important that these were left in tombs to accompany the deceased in the afterlife. In addition to these sacred animals, pets were also preserved and placed in tombs. The deceased needed food in the afterlife as well, so meats were prepared and preserved to be placed in tombs.
In the room, you will find the preserved remains of a number of creatures, the most interesting being that of an entire Nile Crocodile and on the other side a creepily well preserved pet dog.
Greco-Roman Mummy Portraits
Room 14 contains items that look out of place when compared with most of the museum. During the later phases of Ancient Egypt, western influences started to be incorporated into Egyptian culture as can be seen by the funerary masks displayed in this room. The wooden panels are painted with the exact likeness of the deceased and were placed over the faces of mummy before burial.
For more interesting cross cultural artifacts from the Greco Roman period, stop by room 34 for a fascinating blend of Egyptian and Greco Roman heritages.
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
Room 4 contains much of the museum’s precious metals that span from the early dynasties all the way until rule under Rome. The room is near King Tut’s room and as such, is usually empty.
There are several ticket options when you arrive at the museum.
General Entry: 120 EGP ($6.72)
Royal Mummies Exhibition: 120 EGP ($6.72)
Photography Ticket: 50 EGP ($2.80)
Egyptian Museum: A hoarders house full of Ancient Egypt’s finest Treasures
For a museum of such world importance, it is rather easy to miss some of the collections finest pieces and gaining insight on what you are looking at can be tricky without a guidebook. Despite this, the museum lets you get face to face with some of ancient Egypt’s most powerful rulers and takes you on a journey through over 3,000 years of history. The collection is truly impressive and exhausting, making it one of the greatest collections to explore in the entire world. When we revisit Egypt in the future, this museum will definitely be on our list again.