Our journey again began with the Metro. It was rush hour and packed. For the three of us adults and Emma who was being held, this only meant the discomfort of human claustrophobia and stale air. For Sam and Sarah Jane it meant standing nose to tail with countless Egyptian men. Not a pleasant perspective to travel by. Amidst the excitement and chaos of our time on the Metro we overshot our stop and exited one station too far.
Human Frogger: Remember the 1980’s video game Frogger, where your task was to help frogs hop across a screen full of moving traffic in order to reach the other side safely? (Why did the frog want to cross the street anyway?) Crossing streets in Cairo is exactly like that. The trick, I read and put into application this day, is to place a local between you and the oncoming traffic. Kind of like a human shield. Actually, your task is to then shadow their movements as they make their way across the street. Once you step off the curb you must never hesitate, just act like you own the road and follow the local. I carried Emma, held Sarah Jane’s hand, and led our team to victory at least a dozen times in order to weave our way back to the museum with Megan, Leah and Sam squealing behind me.
By the time we made it to the museum everyone was tired and hungry so we sat in the outer courtyard in front of the museum to eat PB&J sandwiches. The courtyard is filled with obelisk tops, statues, sphinxes, sarcophagi of pharaohs, and slabs of hieroglyphics. And of course tourists that are mostly found climbing onto said objects of antiquity snapping pictures left and right. We felt right at home and joined in.
Egypt’s ancient history is broken into three major chronological periods: the Old Kingdom (2686-2125BC), the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BC), and the New Kingdom (1550-1153 BC). The museum is roughly organized in this same chronological order. Stepping in the front doors, you are greeted by the giant statues (15 feet tall) that I believe were of Ramses II. I say, “I believe,” because everything is so poorly identified within the museum. There is scant signage. Wouldn’t it be cool to get the job of writing up descriptions for the items in here? Anyway, just beyond the entrance is the atrium, which is home to many early dynastic artifacts. In the center of this room, with absolutely no fanfare, is probably one of the museum’s most important items, the palette of Narmer. Narmer (also known as Menes) is noted with being the pharaoh to unify Upper and Lower Egypt around 3100 BC and wear the double crown.
As we walked clockwise around the ground floor of the museum we were greeted by the life-sized statue of Pharaoh Djoser (2667 BC) who built the complex at Saqqara just south of here where his step pyramid still stands. I’ll write more about him another day after we visit Saqqara. Suffice it to say that under his administration the world’s first monumental stone building and the first pyramid were built.
Continuing around the museum you are besieged by dozens of sphinxes each standing 4 feet tall, sarcophagus after sarcophagus, uncountable statuettes from tombs, and hundreds of life sized and larger than life-sized statues of Khafre, Menkare, Montuhotep II, Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep II, Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Ramses II to name a few. It is overwhelming. There is just too much to take in. You can touch just about everything, and at first you want to stop and look at everything, but then you’re just overwhelmed. Maybe that job writing descriptions for everything isn’t such a cool idea after all.
Somehow we managed to keep our sanity on the ground floor and decided to brave the second floor. When we reached the top of the stairs we found ourselves in the middle of the gold plated burial boxes of King Tutankhamen (born Tutankhaten). And in the words of Howard Carter when he first opened Tut’s tomb back in 1922, “Everywhere I saw the glitter of gold.” Here is a link to the National Geographic’s site, which offers an amazing animation of how al these pieces fit together. And again, everything is right there; you can actually smell the objects, and again with very little signage. The real treasures of Tut are found in a side room, which was surprisingly empty. I stood with my face inches away from Tut’s solid gold death burial mask. We stood beside his solid gold mummy case. We compared our finger and toe sizes to his solid gold finger and toe caps. It was truly amazing.
By this time we were suffering from what is known as chronic pharaonic fatigue syndrome. We left the museum knowing that we will need to return before we leave Egypt.
We exited the museum, Froggered our way across the street along the Nile and allowed ourselves to be convinced that what we really needed was an hour-long felucca ride on the river. Our salesperson was right; it was just what we needed.