Dazzling ‘Golden Parade’ carries pharaohs to new museum in Cairo

“This grandiose spectacle is further proof of the greatness… of a unique civilisation that extends into the depths of history,” said President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Sunday 04/04/2021
The carriage carrying the mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I (1525-1504 BC) advances as part of the parade of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies in historic Fustat (Old Cairo). AFP
The carriage carrying the mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I (1525-1504 BC) advances as part of the parade of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies in historic Fustat (Old Cairo). (AFP)

CAIRO--A procession of floats carried the mummified remains of 22 pharaohs, including Egypt’s most powerful ancient queen, through Cairo Saturday evening, in an eye-catching parade to a new resting place.

Under hefty security, the mummies were driven on floats seven kilometres across the capital from the iconic Egyptian Museum to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation.

Dubbed the “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade”, the 18 kings and four queens travelled in order, oldest first, each aboard a separate vehicle decorated in ancient Egyptian style.

Both pedestrians and vehicles were barred from Tahrir Square, site of the current museum, and other sections of the route.

Images of the slick parade and an equally carefully choreographed opening ceremony were broadcast live on state television, to rousing music.

Reactions on social media showed regional and world public to have been deeply impressed by the parade.

The mummies entered the grounds of the new museum to a 21-gun salute, after a slightly shorter than expected journey time of around half an hour.

“This grandiose spectacle is further proof of the greatness… of a unique civilisation that extends into the depths of history,” said President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi just ahead of proceedings.

Seqenenre Tao II, “the Brave”, who reigned over southern Egypt some 1,600 years before Christ, was on the first chariot, while Ramses IX, who reigned in the 12th century BC, brought up the rear.

Another great warrior, Ramses II, who ruled for 67 years, and Queen Hatshepsut, the most powerful female pharaoh, were also on the short voyage.

Emblazoned with the name of their allocated sovereign, the gold and black coloured carriages were fitted with shock absorbers for the trip, to ensure none of the precious cargos were accidentally disturbed by uneven surfaces.

The heads of the UN cultural agency UNESCO and the World Tourism Organization were also present at the ceremony.

Each mummy had been placed in a special capsule filled with nitrogen to ensure protection, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said.

They were carried on vehicles designed to cradle them and provide stability.

“We chose the Civilisation Museum because we want, for the first time, to display the mummies in a civilised manner, an educated manner, and not for amusement as they were in the Egyptian Museum,” Hawass said.

Archaeologists discovered the mummies in two batches at the complex of mortuary temples of Deir Al Bahari in Luxor and at the nearby Valley of the Kings from 1871.

The oldest is that of Seqenenre Tao, the last king of the 17th Dynasty, who reigned in the 16th century BC and is thought to have met a violent death.

The parade also included the mummies of Ramses II, Seti I, and Ahmose-Nefertari.

Fustat, the home of the new museum, was the site of Egypt’s capital under the Umayyad dynasty after the Arab conquest.

“By doing it like this, with great pomp and circumstance, the mummies are getting their due,” said Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo.

“These are the kings of Egypt, these are the pharaohs. And so, it is a way of showing respect.” (Additional

Great pomp 

Discovered near Luxor from 1881 onwards, fascinating new details of the pharaohs’ lives — and deaths — are still emerging.

A high-tech study of Seqenenre Tao II, involving CT scans and 3D images of his hands and long-studied skull fractures, indicate he was likely killed in an execution ceremony, after being captured in battle.

Egypts President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi attends the ceremony of  transfer of Royal mummies in Cairo, Egypt April 3, 2021. (AFP)
Egypts President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi attends the ceremony of  transfer of Royal mummies in Cairo, Egypt April 3, 2021. (AFP)

For their procession through Cairo’s streets, the mummies were placed in special containers filled with nitrogen, under conditions similar to their regular display cases.

The new resting place, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in the Fustat district of Old Cairo, consists of sleek, low-rise buildings topped with a pyramid amid expansive grounds.

New home 

The mummies will undergo 15 days of laboratory restoration before they are showcased individually in their new home, in an environment redolent of underground tombs.

They will be accompanied by a brief biography.

In their new home, they will occupy “slightly upgraded cases”, said Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

Temperature and humidity control will also be enhanced.

The “museum has what it takes to preserve (mummies), the best laboratories… it is one of the best museums we have,” Waleed el-Batoutti, adviser to the tourism and antiquities ministry, told state television.

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation opened its doors to limited exhibits from 2017 and will open fully on Sunday, before the mummies go on display to the general public two weeks later.

In the coming months, the country is due to inaugurate another new showcase, the Grand Egyptian Museum, near the Giza pyramids.

The carriages carrying 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies advance past the Obelisk of Ramses II along Tahrir Square as they depart from the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo on April 3, 2021. (AFP)
The carriages carrying 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies advance past the Obelisk of Ramses II along Tahrir Square as they depart from the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo on April 3, 2021. (AFP)

It too will house pharaonic collections, including the celebrated treasure of Tutankhamun.

Discovered in 1922, the tomb of the young ruler, who took the throne briefly in the 14th century BC, contained treasures including gold and ivory.

A so-called “curse of the pharaoh” emerged in the wake of Tutankhamun’s unearthing in 1922-23.

A key funder of the dig, Lord Carnarvon, died of blood poisoning months after the tomb was opened, while an early visitor likewise died abruptly in 1923.

With the parade coming only days after several disasters struck Egypt, some inevitably speculated on social media about a new curse provoked by the latest move.

The past days have seen a deadly rail collision and a building collapse in Cairo, while global headlines were dominated by the struggle to refloat the giant container ship MV Ever Given which blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week.

The mummies’ re-housing “marks the end of much work to improve their conservation and exhibition,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, who was in Cairo for the parade.

“This raises emotions that go much further than the mere relocation of a collection — we will see the history of Egyptian civilisation unfold before our eyes.”