Egyptian Museum (Cairo, Egypt)

This statuette of Osiris, the first son of Geb, the original king of Egypt, was photographed by Hajor in December 2002.
This statuette of Osiris, the first son of Geb, the original king of Egypt, was photographed by Hajor in December 2002. | Source

Demand for Egyptian Art in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Today, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt contains the world’s most important collection of the arts of ancient Egypt. One might think it is a “given” that the most important collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts should be found in Egypt, but this was not always the case.

Egyptian statuettes, stelae—inscribed or carved stone slabs set upright, scarabs—carvings representing the holy beetle, and coffins often were found in the collections of European courts and wealthy households in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Napoleon’s expedition to the Nile aroused public interest in Egyptian antiquities. Enthusiasm was increased when the key to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics was found on the Rosetta Stone. Demand for all types of Egyptian art continued to grow. Collectors and museum directors wanted Egyptian art.

Plunder of Egyptian Art in the 19th Century

My research has shown that in the nineteenth century, under the reign of Mohammed Aly, the plunder of Egyptian art knew no bounds. European consuls in Egypt, seeking to satisfy the requests of their countrymen—and perhaps wanting to earn some money for themselves—became the first international dealers in Egyptian antiquities. They obtained permission to ransack the local cemeteries. Their agents—prominent local families—collected entire caravans of artifacts for them year after year. Twenty holding companies were formed. The purpose of these companies was to collect Egyptian art and sell it to stock museums in Europe.

General Wendebauendjed's Funerary Cups from the Tomb of King Psusennes I at Tanis were photographed by John Campana in December 2003.
General Wendebauendjed's Funerary Cups from the Tomb of King Psusennes I at Tanis were photographed by John Campana in December 2003. | Source

Conservation of Egyptian Antiquities

In 1834, an organization for the conservation of Egyptian antiquities was established, and a museum was set up in Cairo in a school near the Ezbekiah Pool under the direction of Sheik Rifaa, the Minister of Education. Youssef Zia and his assistants collected antiquities from various archaeological sites, which were then catalogued to provide a check against appropriation of artifacts by dealers and tourists. Zia’s work was not particularly successful. Most of the antiquities disappeared before they reached the museum—or were distributed by the government as gifts to dignitaries and important visitors. What was left of the collection was so small, that when the museum was moved to the Ministry of Education’s headquarters, only one room was needed to house it.

An important acquisition by the museum in 1854 was a stelae discovered by Auguste Mariette, a French Egyptologist. When the Archduke Maximilian of Austria traveled through Cairo in 1855, he begged Muhammad Sa'id Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, to give him some antiquities. The Pasha presented him with the entire collection. The mid-nineteenth century nucleus of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was moved to Vienna, Austria.

This ancient Egyptian dagger, containing the name King Apophis. was photographed by Udimu in July 2009.
This ancient Egyptian dagger, containing the name King Apophis. was photographed by Udimu in July 2009. | Source

Auguste Mariette, Director of Antiquities

When Auguste Mariette learned that Napoleon III was planning to spend the winter of 1857 in Egypt, he used his influence to secure an invitation to accompany the Emperor of his trip. Napoleon III’s visit to Egypt didn’t materialize, and Mariette traveled to Egypt alone.

Napoleon III recommended that Muhammad Sa'id Pasha put Mariette in charge of an Egyptian antiquities museum. The Pasha’s decree of June 1, 1858 appointed Mariette Director of Antiquities, but it didn’t mention the establishment of a museum.

Mariette knew that if he pressed for a museum, he would face opposition from antiquities dealers, the European museums, and the Egyptian government. He remained quiet and continued to excavate a large number of sites.

To store the artifacts he excavated, Mariette obtained the use of some old buildings on the banks of the Nile River at Boulak which belonged to a river transport company.

Mariette used four rooms to exhibit the most beautiful objects and stored the other artifacts. Mariette had only one assistant, a handyman, who built the pedestals and cases for displaying his finds.

The collection was so popular with Sa'id Pasha and the public, Mariette was able to greatly enlarge it.

Auguste Mariette’s collection of Egyptian antiquities was installed in a new building, which was officially inaugurated on October 18, 1863 by the new ruler, Ismail Pasha.

International Exhibitions of Egypt

Some of the Egyptian Museum’s antiquities were shown at an international exhibition in London, England in 1862. In Paris in 1867, the best of Egypt’s antiquities were exhibited in a specially constructed building which resembled an ancient Egyptian temple that was approached via an avenue of sphinxes. At the Paris exhibition, the Empress Eugenie was so impressed with the Egyptian art she asked Ismail Pasha to give her the entire collection. Thankfully, the Pasha referred the Empress to the director of the museum, Auguste Mariette, who refused.

After this experience, Mariette wouldn’t let the museum’s important possessions to leave Egypt. Only small objects and reproductions were sent to exhibitions in Vienna, Austria in 1873; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1875; and Paris, France in 1878.

Egyptian Museum Moves to Larger Quarters

In 1878, Auguste Mariette’s Egyptian antiquities organization became a government department within the Ministry of Public Works. Money was allocated for the new department, and the collection was expanded. The acquisitions soon outgrew the building at Boulak. Larger quarters were found in the Giza Palace on the opposite bank of the Nile, and the collection was moved in 1891.

The Egyptian Museum’s present building at Midan El-Tahreer (Tahrir Square) was opened in 1902. It’s design, in a Neoclassic style, was the result of an international competition which was won by French architect Marcel Dourgnon.

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Comments 22 comments

Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

daisy I love anything about Egypt.. it has always amazed me ..this is a great hub..sharing

Debbie


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Debbie,

Thanks for viewing my video and reading my article. Thanks, too, for commenting in and sharing my Hub. I appreciate your continued support.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Nice hub and full of interesting facts about this museum. Good video!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dianna (teaches12345),

Thanks for viewing my video, reading my article, and commenting. I appreciate your continued support of my art history / museum Hubs.

Congratulations on being awarded the 2012 HubPages Best Teacher Hubbie. It's well-deserved.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Great video, great information for those who, like me, love Egyptian history! This is a big +1, Daisy!

HubHugs~


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

India,

Thanks for viewing my video and reading my article. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Egypt has been on my bucket list of travel destinations for years. I hope I get there some day.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan

Fascinating history! This was a very well researched and intriguing hub! Thanks for sharing all of your Egyptian wisdom with us!


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Interesting and informative hub. I enjoyed reading, the video is great. The Egyptian museum is awesome and I hope I can visit it someday. Vote up.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Cara (cardelean),

Thanks for viewing my video and reading my article.

The history of the museum parallels the history of the country. I was fascinated by what I learned while doing my research.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

I'm glad you enjoyed my video and article. I hope you do get to travel to Egypt some day and that you're able to visit the Eqyptian Museum in Cairo.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Ancient civilisations and their boundless antiquities have all suffered a similar fate in being ransacked by conquering hordes. While at one end this depletes the 'ownership' of such antiquities it perhaps also raises their profile in the modern world ... so many wonderful stories and treasures. I love egyptology too! really useful video ad history of the museum in Cairo here Daisy. i love this series.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mohan (Docmo),

Thanks for taking time away from your holiday in the United States to view my video and read the accompanying text. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

I agree with you about what happens to artistic creations when civilizations are conquered. What might be different in the case of Egypt is that the collections were sometimes given to rulers of other countries and visiting dignitaries. The collections weren't always appropriated by conquering hordes.

I became interested in Egyptology when I was in high school. I always seemed to be drawing pictures of the artifacts.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Love this article, Daisy. The video and music is wonderful and your photos are gorgeous! I have not visited Cairo, yet, but this museum is a must when I do. I love museums and will definitely visit this one . I love the Egyptian culture and the artifacts. Thanks for a wonderful virtual tour of the museum. Great stuff as usual from you Daisy!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Suzette,

Thanks for reading and commenting in another of my articles. I appreciate your continued support.

I'm glad you enjoyed viewing the video. The a capella group singing is "Straight No Chaser." They produce such amazing sound. I'm a big fan of their music.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

All things Ancient Egypt are beautiful and intriguing. This was great to read and learn from...its always the 'little' things we know nothing about, like how the museum started. Your pictures were lovely too!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary (tillsontitan),

Thanks for viewing my video and reading my article. I've found that when writing about a museum, an artist, or a painting genre, including the "little" things makes the article more interesting.


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

Daisy, I never knew any of this about Egypt's artwork first being hoarded out of the country for European gain until reading your article. Thank you for enlightening me on that subject and for also sharing how the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was started. Very interesting indeed and have of course voted, shared and tweeted too!!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Janine,

Thank you for viewing my video and reading my article. Thanks, too, for commenting in, sharing, and tweeting my Hub. I appreciate your support.


tjdavis profile image

tjdavis 4 years ago from Moscow, Texas

Daisy, I really enjoyed your hub. I have always loved learning about ancient Egyptian way of life. Loved the video and photos.

Tweeted about it :-)


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Teresa (tjdavis),

Thanks for viewing my video and reading my article. Thanks, too, for adding your comments and tweeting my Hub.

I'm so glad that many ancient Egyptian artifacts have been preserved.


cfin profile image

cfin 4 years ago from The World we live in

Great hub. Shared :)


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

cfin,

It's nice to meet you. Thanks for viewing my video, reading my article, and sharing my Hub. I appreciate it.

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