Pros:Excellent artifacts, exhaustive exhibits, rich history.
Cons:Exhibits disorganized, additional admission charge to Royal Mummies.
The Bottom Line: The Egyptian Museum contains thousands or excellent artifacts loosely organized in drab displays that give the museum a warehouse feel. Still should not be missed.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo was my first destination after arriving in Egypt last week. I began the day with an agenda of locations I wanted to visit, which I had translated into Arabic by the bellboy. The bellboy spoke pretty good English (and had already been tipped well), so I figured that my directions would be well received. He translated each of the locations for me before I hailed a taxi cab to set out on my adventure for the day. The translations must have been pretty accurate, because I never experienced any problems finding what I was looking for.
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The Egyptian Museum is located at Tahir Square in Cairo, right along the Nile river. The Museum is located North of the Four Seasons Hotel and South of the Hilton on the East Bank of the Nile. Upon arrival at the Museum we were surprised to see an armed policeman located in a booth in front of a checkpoint. The road that runs in front of the Museum is completely closed off. There are magnetometers and security personal at either end of the road, requiring a somewhat cursory inspection to enter the area adjacent to the Museum. As you get closer to the Museum, it obvious that they allow entire tour buses into the quarantined area. As you arrive at the front gates of the museum, there are two checkpoints on either side of the entrance where an X-Ray machine and magnetometer conduct a secondary check of persons entering the immediate courtyard of the museum. This check was a bit more thorough.
After passing through the second security check into the courtyard of the museum, I was accosted by "Guides" asking if I needed a tour guide to take me through the Museum. I prefer to do Museums at my own pace, since most of the history is recorded for you to learn about yourself. I had to turn away several pitchmen before arriving at the window to purchase my tickets. Entrance fees to the Museum are 100 LE, which works out to around eighteen dollars US with the current exchange rate. I purchased the tickets and proceeded to the entrance to the building. There was a sign near the entrance that indicated that cameras needed to be checked at the front of the courtyard and were not permitted inside the building. I took my camera to the storage building and was given a wooden token in exchange. I then headed back to the entrance.
The entrance to the Egyptian Museum entails a tertiary security screening complete with another x-ray machine and magnetometer. After ensuring that I did not have a camera, we were allowed to proceed with our tour. The entrance into the museum is overwhelming, with no clear direction as to what is located where. Maps would be a useful tool to assist visitors in understanding the layout of the place. I decided to start upstairs first. Upon climbing the staircase on the East side of the building, I passed public restrooms and then proceeded to the second floor. (On a side note...when visiting Egypt, ensure you have plenty of one pound coins for the restrooms. They are almost all attended and expect a tip for handing you a paper towel). At the top of the stairs was a cordoned off section containing the Royal Mummy Room which requires another admission. I did not pay the additional fee to the mummy room as there ended up being mummies on the first floor that were part of the general admission. That was enough to satisfy my morbid curiosity on the subject.
The Museum exhibits are somewhat haphazard and contain extensive displays that are often repetitive. The museum is crammed with artifacts which are loosely organized into various dynasties and historical eras. However, the museum sort of feels like layers of history piled one on top of the other making it seem more like an artifact warehouse than a museum. The displays were not overly flashy, interactive or educational. The simple placards on most of the displays provided brief descriptions of the display in Arabic, English and French. The notations were somewhat vague and failed to paint a complete picture of the artifacts or tie the displays together into any type of coherency. Although generally sorted, the displays were sort of erratic.
Having discussed the thrown together feel of the majority of the displays, there were a few exceptions, like the artifacts taken from the Tomb of Tutankhamen, which are located in their own room on the second floor near the back of the building. This display was exceptionally well structured compared to the rest of the museum. The displays were rich and provided greater coherency. The placards were still very simple without the interactive or comprehensive displays you might find at other museums, but awe-inspiring none-the-less. The displays in this room were rich and gave a feel to the grotesque opulence interred with the Kings (who were considered as gods). The other factor that my comments don't take into account is the awe you feel at some of the exhibits just by their very nature. Although the museum has room for improvement...the state of preservation, magnitude, age and quality of some of the exhibits speak for themselves. The museum will be locating to a new home closer to Giza in the next couple of years. I asked my Egyptologist Guide about this the following day and he stated 2012 at the earliest (other sources were saying as early as 2010, but that looks very unlikely).
Among the other impressive exhibits in the museum are over sized statues that dwarf visitors with their size (located centrally on the ground floor), the mummified bodies in the general admission area, some of the Greek influenced sculptures (which seemed oddly out of place...even though they are truly Egyptian history, too), and tombs out the wazoo. There were plenty of tombs located on the first floor, some stacked seemingly to fit everything in. There were many different artistic styles applied to the tombs and masks, which were interesting to see. Some of the tombs are in a much better state of preservation than others. There is plenty to do at the museum, but I was able to navigate the entire museum (minus the second admission area) in just under three hours. For anyone interested in trinkets, a museum gift shop is located to the right as you exit.
The museum opens each day between 9 am and 6 pm. Admission currently runs 100 Egyptian Pounds (LE). No photography (or cameras) are allowed inside the building. You must pass through three levels of security in order to gain entrance into the museum. It is worth the trouble. I would definitely like to see the improvements when the museum moves to its new home near Giza over the next couple of years. I am certain that they will improve the quality of the exhibits and make it feel more like a modern museum than an artifact warehouse. The museum is well worth the twenty dollar admission price in spite of the out-dated boring presentation of the displays. A must see attraction for anyone vacationing in Egypt!
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