When you think about ancient antiquities museums, the one that comes to mind first is the Egyptian Museum in Downtown Cairo; after all it has been a major tourist attraction since it opened in 1902. However Egypt has many more museums that are dedicated to the time of the Pharaohs and they also exhibit important artefacts that tell of Egypt’s history. Sadly these are not included on the majority of itineraries and so it is up to the visitor to ensure they make arrangements with their tour company if they wish to visit them, and many should be visited as they have some superb artefacts on show. Below is a list of the main antiquity museums throughout Egypt.
Alexandria National Museum
The Alexandria National Museum, inaugurated in 2003 in a building that was once the United States consulate, has approximately 1,800 exhibits, primarily from the Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras.
Presently closed for renovations, Alexandria’s Greco-Roman Museum has in excess of 40,000 artefacts. It was founded in 1892 and tells the history of how Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian cultures merged after Alexander the Great.
Library of Alexandria Museum
The Library of Alexandria could possibly be the first library, in the whole world, that incorporates a museum within its structure. Inaugurated in 2003, the museums 1,100 artefacts date from the later Pharaonic periods through to the Islamic period. It also includes some of the artefacts that have recently been discovered in the underwater archaeology in Alexandria’s inner harbour.
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (The Egyptian Museum)
The world famous Egyptian Museum stands proudly on the edge of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, boasting over 160,000 artefacts, though most of these are in underground storage areas. The objects on display are spread over 2 floors containing 170 halls, and include Pharaonic memorabilia dating from the early Predynastic Period through to the Greco-Roman Period: everything from funerary objects, like shabtis, to the golden death mask of Tutankhamen and the Royal Mummies.
Grand Egyptian Museum
Initially intended to open in 2015, though delayed due to the ongoing situation in Egypt, the Grand Egyptian Museum (or GEM) is being called the largest archaeological museum in the world, due to the fact that the whole site, 1.5 miles (2km) from the Giza Pyramids, is approximately 120 acres (50 hectares) in area! Eventually it will house many, if not most, of the artefacts that are presently housed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (The Egyptian Museum), one of the unusual features of the new museum is its translucent alabaster wall, which encompasses the front of the building. As well as the main antiquities museum it will also include exhibition areas, a conference centre, an education centre, a children’s museum, a special needs museum, cafes, restaurants, and large parks and gardens.
Founded in 1974 by Dr. Hassan Ragab PhD, who is famed for rediscovering the ancient art of making papyrus, the Pharaonic Village takes you back in history, on a three hour journey, using a myriad of actors and actresses to reproduce important events. Located on Jacob Island, which is about three miles south of downtown Cairo, it is only accessible by one of the village’s many motorised barges, which sail along canals, slowly giving you a view of ancient life in Egypt. There are many cafes and restaurants throughout the site, as well as a children’s playground, a replica of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and nine museums, including three that are dedicated to Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Anwar Sadat; Egypt’s first three Presidents.
Situated in Kharga, one of Egypt’s oasis cities, this two storey building houses artefacts that range from the Predynastic Period through to the Islamic era, all discovered in the Kharga and Dakhla oases vicinities. The exhibits include items such as flint, ancient tools, Roman panels, a 6th Dynasty false door, glass, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, coins, and books.
The Aswan Museum, also known as the Elephantine Museum, dates back to 1912 and houses artefacts that were discovered in the immediate area. Situated on Elephantine Island, the museum houses many sarcophagi, mummies, statues, and funerary items, many of which were rescued before the construction of the Aswan Low Dam (the older of Aswan’s dams).
Opened in 1997, Aswan’s Nubian Museum is set in grounds that were created to give the visitor a glimpse of ancient Nubia. As its name suggests, it houses artefacts from the area previously known as Nubia, many of which being rescued during the construction of the Aswan High Dam, and the consequential creation of Lake Nasser. It boasts approximately 3,000 artefacts, dating from the Prehistoric Period until the building of the High Dam, including basketry, jewellery, metal works, pottery, sculptures and statues, and textiles.
Karanis Site Museum
Situated next to the ancient ruins of the Ptolemaic town of Karanis, just outside modern day Fayoum, the Karanis Site Museum, or Kom Ushim, was opened in 1974. It houses artefacts that were discovered in the Fayoum area including papyrus, ostraca, glassware, jewellery, ornaments, pottery, terracotta figures, and two ‘Fayoum Portraits’.
Housing over 4,000 artefacts from the Pharaonic Period through to the Greco-Roman Period, the Ismailia Museum, opened in 1932, also has information about the first canal built in the area by Darius (the Persian King). Included in its collection are a large, beautifully preserved, Roman mosaic floor, and an assortment of statues, stelae, scarabs, funerary objects, and tools.
Not the largest of museums, but what it loses in size it more than makes up for in its layout, the Luxor Museum, opened in 1975, is one of Egypt’s sites that are too frequently missed by visitors to this city. Situated along the corniche, just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, it is definitely one of the “must see” sites in the city. Comprising of two floors and a newly added annex, it houses many items discovered in the region including a collection of artefacts from King Tutankhamen’s tomb; various statues; an assortment of stelae; personal items of the ancient Egyptians; a wall, recreated from 283 painted sandstone blocks, that was once part of the temple, built in Karnak, of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten); and the mummies of Ahmose and Ramses I. The layout of the various statues gives the visitor the unusual opportunity to actually walk right around them, enabling the hieroglyphs, which were engraved on the backs of these items, to be clearly seen.
Opened in 1997, the Mummification Museum is the first museum in the world that is dedicated to the art of mummification. Situated on the corniche, next to the ferry terminal, this museum is very small, consisting of only one room, but contains mummification artefacts such as mummy cases, a statue of Anubis, model funerary boats, amulets, wooden statuettes, a full set of canopic jars, animal mummies including a crocodile, a cat and a ram of Khnum and his gilded case. There are also storyboards that document the whole process of mummification, as well as telling of the religious customs that were connected with burials.
Open Air Museum at Karnak Temple
Due to the time restrictions that organised tours normally have, the Open Air Museum at Karnak Temple is often another site that many visitors do not get to explore, which is a big shame as the museum houses many very interesting, and important, exhibits. Situated on the extreme left hand side of the 2nd Pylon, (and very badly signposted), with its entrance in-between columns within this Peristyle Hall, it holds artefacts that were discovered in the Karnak Temple complex, including the following: the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut; the White Chapel of Senwosret 1; the Alabaster Chapel of Amenhotep I; a reconstructed summit of a small pylon constructed by Thutmose II, rebuilt by Thutmose IV and called the Festival Court; Sekhmet statues from the Temple of Ptah and the Temple of Mut; and a plethora of statues and smaller artefacts.
Opened in 1963 the Mallawi Museum housed artefacts from Tuna El Gebel and Hermopolis, including statues associated with the god Thoth as well as a variety of mummified animals. It was looted and badly damaged in 2013 and is closed until further notice.
Situated at the entrance to the Sakkara site, the Imhotep Museum is dedicated to artefacts that have been discovered throughout the huge Sakkara site. Opened in 2006, after many, many, years in planning, it is named after Imhotep, the vizier of the Pharaoh Zoser, the oldest known medical practitioner, and the man who created the world’s first stone building: the Step Pyramid! It comprises of 6 halls, each specialising in one aspect of the ancient site, and also houses a restaurant; a bookshop; and a visitor’s centre where you can see a model of the Step Pyramid complex, as well as watching a short video documenting the history of Sakkara.
Containing about 5,000 artefacts, all of which were discovered locally and date from the Middle Kingdom through to the Greco-Roman Period, the Sohag Museum was opened in 2006. It is hoped that the museum will expand as more items are unearthed, especially from the nearby site of Abydos.
Opened in 1990, the Tanta Museum is ideally situated between three of the most important ancient archaeological sites in the delta: Sais, Naucratis, and Buto. The museum consists of five floors, four of which are dedicated to exhibiting the artefacts, whilst the fifth is used for administration, as well as accommodating a storage room and a conference hall. Artefacts include statues, stelae, pottery, and funerary objects.
The Museum of Zagazig University
Opened in 1981, the museum is situated within the grounds of the University in Zagazig and houses locally discovered artefacts, especially finds from the ancient city of Bubastis. It now houses at least 2,000 items, including a plethora of Early Dynastic clay vessels, large and small; finely carved calcite-alabaster ointment jars; cosmetic palettes; a rectangular coffin made of clay; eighteen face lids belonging to New Kingdom pottery, or slipper, coffins; shabti figures, amulets, scarabs, colourful faience necklace beads and other small funerary artefacts; many artefacts dedicated to the goddess Bastet, the cat goddess who was worshipped in the temple at Bubastis, including part of a quartzite temple statue, and a votive offering in the shape of a bronze figure; 139 pieces of gold, silver, a variety of semi-precious stones, glass, steatite and faience jewellery; and much more.