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Egypt has recently augmented its immense roster of ancient sites with three new major attractions. Last year, Cairo unveiled a fascinating new museum, and Luxor reopened an ancient ceremonial avenue to visitors. And hopefully in November 2022, Giza will finally complete what promises to be one of the most impressive museums in the world.
Overshadowed by the as-yet-unfinished Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, the wonderful National Museum of Egyptian Civilization opened in 2021 in the Fustat neighborhood, Cairo’s oldest quarter. (Alas, little of old Fustat remains.) As the name implies, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization’s exhibits cover the entire sweep of human habitation in Egypt, from prehistoric times to the present. One might imagine that such a museum would include an overwhelmingly huge number of artifacts. But the main gallery tells the story of Egypt with a relatively small selection of carefully chosen pieces.
To the right of the gallery’s entrance is the 35,000-year-old Nazlet Khater skeleton. Other notable pieces include a well-preserved wooden chair from the Old Kingdom-era tomb of Queen Hetepheres, loaves of bread found in the tombs of New Kingdom workmen, the stunning 3,000-year-old red-and-green leather baldachin of Princess Isetemkheb II, the elaborately decorated chariot of Pharaoh Thutmose IV, a delicate gold wreath from the Roman-era Dush Treasure, intricate geometric Coptic Christian woodwork, richly embellished Torah cases and a striking Mamluk-era mosque pulpit.
In the museum’s basement is Mummies Hall, a series of dimly lit rooms that are now home to 20 ancient Egyptian kings and queens. As befits their status, they were transported to the hall in a grand procession in April 2021. It’s quite something to stand right next to pharaohs Ramses II, Seti I and Hatshepsut. Their faces are mostly unwrapped. I marveled at the state of preservation of Nefertari’s hair, styled in an array of thin braids.
The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization was one of the most crowded attractions we visited in Egypt — it’s popular with Egyptians themselves — but the quality of the pieces and the utterly remarkable mummies make it well worth a visit in any case.