Journal: Sunday 28 April 2002
The new Museum of Mummification on the Luxor Corniche first opened in May 1997 and is the first in the world dedicated to this subject. So far I have avoided visiting the museum believing that mummies would be on display there, something I don’t agree with, so I was a little reluctant when Mary suggested we go there this morning. She didn’t want to do anything else today so I eventually decided to go with her, walking all the way along the Corniche to the modern building by the Nile. I must say the entrance is very nicely done with colourful mosaic tiles above the staircase leading down to the museum.
The modern purpose built museum consists of only one large room, but the visitor is guided around well-lit and beautifully displayed exhibits and story boards which describe the process of mummification from beginning to end, as well as the religious customs associated with burials. The purpose of mummification in ancient Egypt was to preserve the body of the deceased so that they could dwell in the afterlife, in the realm of the gods. The process began naturally when the ancient people discovered that bodies buried in the hot dry sand of Egypt would be preserved almost intact. Techniques were enhanced from very early times, using natron to dry out the body, removing certain organs and wrapping the remains tightly in bandages of linen, often covered with a thick resin. The peak of the art was reached by the end of the New Kingdom Period.
The museum is extremely dark inside with spotlights on the exhibits, but it was hopeless for photography, even with a fast film in my camera. An interesting and colourful collection of well-preserved New Kingdom mummy-cases, mostly from the dryer climate of Upper Egypt, is displayed in the entrance to the museum along with a statue of Anubis, the jackal-headed god who leads the dead into the underworld. We walked around the guided walkways and I was relieved that no bodies were on display – at least not human ones, but there were several animal mummies including a crocodile, a cat and a ram of Khnum with its gilded case from Elephantine. In glass cases, many artefacts associated with the process of mummification are displayed with detailed descriptions of their use. Model funerary boats, amulets, wooden statuettes and a fine set of canopic jars were interesting, but I just couldn’t get excited the way I do in other museums.
We had lunch in the Anubis Restaurant which is on a wide terrace behind the museum at river level. It was quite expensive but nice to sit by the Nile and look out over towards the West Bank, where we could watch the feluccas darting backwards and forwards with each gust of a breeze. It’s cloudy today but the clouds are keeping in the heat and the air is almost unbreathable. Back at the hotel later in the afternoon Mary and I had a little siesta – unheard of for me, but walking in the heat made us both feel lethargic.