Ancient mummies to parade through streets of Cairo
(CNN) – Ancient mummies of Egypt’s royal pharaohs will emerge from the lounges this weekend and parade through the streets of Cairo in search of a new home.
What looks like a movie plot is actually part of a rich celebration of Egyptian history and a project to relocate some of its greatest treasures to a new high-tech facility.
On Saturday, the mummies of Ramses the Great and 21 of Pharaoh’s colleagues will take part in what is being dubbed “The Pharaoh’s Golden Parade”, a long-awaited event organized by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Celebrations will reportedly include carriages, choirs singing in ancient languages and a plethora of movie stars and officials, but Egyptian authorities have kept official details of the event locked up.
“It’s a surprise,” Ahmed Ghoneim, executive director of the National Museum of Egyptian Culture, the institution that will be the last resting place for mummies, told CNN.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to hold a surprise event of this magnitude, especially when dress rehearsals have recently taken place in central Cairo. Enthusiastic Egyptians broke photos of specially made mummy vehicles decorated with gold ancient motifs and hastily posted them on social media.
The final move
The purpose of the parade is to move the 18 kings and four queens of Egypt, along with their coffins and belongings, from their old home to the Museum of Egypt.
They will be transported five kilometers (three miles) south, to their new high-tech rest area at the National Museum of Egyptian Culture (NMEC).
No, not the huge Egyptian Museum in Giza, which will also open to the public later this year. NMEC is a completely different museum in Cairo’s Fustat neighborhood, complementing an Egyptian-themed museum trio of must-sees in and around Cairo.
Although the NMEC had a partial opening in 2017, the parade will mark the grand opening.
“It’s a presidential opening,” says Ghoneim. And the completion of the Hall of Royal Mummies that seems to be a unique museum experience.
“The whole idea is not the mummies, the whole idea is the way the mummies appear … It’s how you tell the story, it’s the environment, it’s the atmosphere you feel when you enter,” he adds.
Ghoneim says visitors to the Hall of Royal Mummies will experience something similar to being buried in the Valley of the Kings.
All 22 royal mummies come from the New Kingdom, a time when tombs were built underground with hidden entrances to deter robbers. A world separate, and about 600 years, from their imposing royal counterparts who built colossal pyramidal tombs.
Preparation of mummies
A virtual tour of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, buried in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor, Egypt.
Dr. Mostafa Ismail, head of maintenance at the Mummies Conservation Lab and warehouse at NMEC, led a team of 48 people to prepare the royal mummies.
The preservation process, he tells CNN, involves placing each mummy in an oxygen-free nitrogen capsule “which can hold it without being damaged by the effects of moisture, especially bacteria, fungi and insects.”
The capsule is surrounded by a soft material that distributes the pressure and reduces vibrations during transport.
When the mummies reach the NMEC, the screens will have the same conditions as the nitrogen capsules. “So, there will be no shock to the mummy when we take it out of the box and put it in these units,” Ishmael added.
It accompanies every mummy that will be discovered with them, including their carriers.
The screens will also show CT scans that reveal what is under the wrappers, and sometimes any bone fractures or diseases that affect the kings.
“The main thing we want visitors to know about these mummies, is how they have been mummified and preserved for a long time.”
When asked if his team had discovered anything new about the mummies as they prepared for the move, Ishmael said “many things” but none that he would reveal before the parade. So there are more surprises.
A new cultural hub in Cairo
Undoubtedly, the Hall of Royal Mummies will be the attraction for visitors of the National Museum of Egyptian Culture, but Executive Director Ahmed Ghoneim hopes to place the museum differently from its neighboring institutions.
“I do not focus on the Pharaonic era, as most people would think,” he says. “Most Egyptians and non-Egyptians, whenever they go to an Egyptian museum then they think they are going to see the Pharaohs.
“Here I adjust differently, I tell a different story, going through the story and coming into the present.”
The first temporary exhibition will focus on Egyptian fabrics and fashion. “The whole story from carpets to clothes,” says Ghoneim.
Through the exhibits the museum will tell a richer story about the achievements of Egyptian culture, but the museum will also be a cultural hub.
“A place that offers everything, a place for education, a place for culture, a place for partial entertainment, a place for dinner and so on. It’s something unique.”
And finally, 3,234 years after his death, Ramses II can finally lie down.
The museum will be open to the public the day after the parade, April 4, with the Hall of Royal Mummies opening two weeks later on April 18. The golden parade of the Pharaoh will be broadcast live on the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.