Thursday, April 15

Egypt: The great parade of the mummies takes over Cairo | Culture


Two men spend this week in Cairo in front of a sign announcing the parade.
Two men spend this week in Cairo in front of a sign announcing the parade.MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY / Reuters

For the astonishing spectacle to be complete, it would only be necessary for Boris Karloff, Patricia Velásquez’s Anck-Su-Namum and Tutankhamun himself (who lies in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings) to also parade through the streets of Cairo. The so-called (in the purest Barnum Circus style) The Pharaohs Golden Parade, The golden parade of the pharaohs scheduled for Saturday afternoon in the Egyptian capital, is the astonishing icing on the long history of vicissitudes of the royal mummies of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the famous set of embalmed bodies of sovereigns that has kept the Tahrir Square museum since 1902.

The mission of the Egyptian Museum of Barcelona in Sharuna finds the remains of a temple of Ptolemy I

The transfer of the 22 mummies of the set (plus 17 royal sarcophagi) to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), another of the great new museums in development (not to be confused with the Great Egyptian Museum, GEM, yet to be inaugurated), has been carried out in the form of a mass media spectacle that contributes to encouraging the return of tourism to the country of the Nile Without ruling out that the festival also makes life happy for the inhabitants of Cairo in these times of pandemic and crisis. Although there are also those who have suggested that the stop is accompanied by a curse of the mummies that has already had a warning in the blockade of the Suez Canal (which would be a warning not to move them). Radical Islam probably also does not look favorably on a parade of bodies of pagan kings through the streets of Cairo.

Despite the fact that the authorities and prestigious specialists such as the Egyptologist Salima Ikram have ensured that the safety of the mummies (18 kings and four queens) is absolutely guaranteed, in their well-packed glass urns with nitrogen, and that the parade is presented as an act of homage and glorification of the ancient monarchs, there are many eyebrows that have been raised at the initiative. The usual thing, without a doubt, is to move the museum pieces, which is what the mummies are, in a discreet way and with strict security measures. That doesn’t seem to marry a public parade. But it is true that mummies are also bodies of high state dignitaries and burials o reburial public figures of public figures have always been great shows, just remember that of Queen Victoria or Lady Di.

Does their media coverage affect the dignity of the royal mummies? Beyond the Arab taste, somewhat overloaded for Western eyes, the procession seeks to honor the mummies, they are accompanied by illustrious figures, policemen and soldiers, military gondolas are used to carry the urns. The baroque ornaments can make us think of those carnival carriages, but the reference is the pharaohs’ chariots or the golden funeral boats that once moved them to their (supposed) last resting place. “The pharaohs would be proud,” said Zahi Hawass (the question is not if Hawass was in the initiative but if he was going to have his own car) and, the truth is, there is no reason to doubt that they would be moved that 3,500 years later they were remember and applaud through the streets.

Work to prepare the streets of Cairo for the parade.
Work to prepare the streets of Cairo for the parade.MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY / Reuters

The idea of ​​the ceremony is the minister of antiquities Khaled el-Anani, who remembered seeing in a documentary in the French school that he attended as a child the official parade that was mounted in Paris to the mummy of Ramses II (one of the most notable parading in Cairo) when he traveled, as head of state, for a check-up in 1976. On that trip, the Egyptologist Christiane Desroches Noblecourt made the plane carrying the old moth-eaten pharaoh fly over the pyramids of Giza, as tribute to the passenger, which is already an extravagant detail with a mummy.

Those of the Egyptian Museum, which now stop at the NMEC’s ​​Mummies Hall, an evocative space that wants to recreate the atmosphere of the Valley of the Kings, with an access ramp and dim rooms and which will open to the public on April 18, have already experienced various displacements. The collection is made up of 22 of the embalmed bodies found in two famous mummy caches where dedicated priests gathered the mummies of various kings and nobles, especially the New Kingdom, removing them from their tombs to protect them in times of looting.

The Egyptian Egyptologist Zai Hawass, in January of this year, after the announcement of important discoveries in the necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo.
The Egyptian Egyptologist Zai Hawass, in January of this year, after the announcement of important discoveries in the necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

The first of those hiding places to be found was the hiding place from Deir el-Bahari, on the cliff above the Temple of Hatshepsut, in the Luxor necropolis. DB 320 or TT (Theban Tomb) 320 was the tomb of a nobleman converted into a refuge for fifty mummies, including those of 11 pharaohs, including some of the most famous in Egypt such as Ramses II, Tuthmosis III or Seti I. The They discovered – with the involuntary help of a goat – the grave robbers of the Abd el Rasul clan and were selling objects from the hideout for years until an investigation revealed where they came from. In 1881 Émile Brugsch, from the Antiquities Service, then directed by the Frenchman Gaston Maspero, made an urgent inspection and emptied the tomb within 48 hours. The mummies were shipped on a steamer to Cairo.

It is told – and it is shown very emotionally by the indispensable 1969 film The mummy (Al-Mummy), by Shadi Abdel Salam – that Egyptian peasants fired their weapons into the sky as the procession passed, and women howled in their own way in homage to old dignitaries (it could also be that they showed their grief that a source of income was wandering away). The mummies went to the Bulaq Museum (the first Egyptian Museum in Cairo, opened in 1863), but the center suffered a flood and the collections were moved in 1892 first to a palace in Giza and then, in 1902, to its new definitive seat (for almost 120 years) in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

The second hideout (second royal hiding place) from which the museum’s royal mummies come is the one from the tomb of Amenophis II (KV 35) in the Valley of the Kings. In that tomb, discovered by Victor Loret in 1898, nine other pharaohs had been relocated along with the owner. The collection of royal mummies in the Egyptian Museum had been exhibited together in the famous Mummy Room since 1958, one of the museum’s great attractions. But in 1981 Anuar el Sadat made it close, considering that it was not worthy to exhibit the bodies of statesmen of whom he somehow considered himself a successor — his sensitivity did not prevent him from being assassinated in October of that same year, in a parade, precisely. It was even planned to create a royal cemetery somewhere like the hills of Luxor to re-bury the royal mummies. More pragmatic, Hosni Mubarak reopened the Mummy Room, a great source of dollars, already with the pharaohs in their modern heated glass urns.

It is to be hoped that the kings and queens, among them the great pharaoh Hatshepsut, Amenophis III and Tiye, the abused Seqenenra Tao II or the herd of ramésidas, do not remember on this occasion their forced and accidental transfers of all those years, in haste shocks and dampness, but the most glorious of their great burials, and for a day feel that they have risen, marching under the warm sun of Egypt amidst the astonishment of humanity, to the golden glory of Ra.

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