Mummies, sarcophagus & coffins at Cairo’s Egyptian museum! Pyramids of Giza laser light show, Nile dinner cruise.
Call me Queen of the Damned. If you dare rouse me from my sarcophagus, I’ll unleash the curse of the mummy!
I think you can tell I had fun with Yukiro in Egypt, on our journey with Travel Talk Tours. Alas, this is the final story from the land of Cleopatra… but it’s an epic one, featuring royal mummies, sphinxes, and other undead delights in Cairo.
Our 12-day Travel Talk tour included two days in Cairo. I was most excited to visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities — I’ve dreamed of being here since I learned about it as a child.
Egypt — the ancient land of powerful women rulers.
Cairo’s Egyptian Museum was built in 1901, and parts of it shows its age (crumbling walls, tilted captions). In the outdoor sculpture courtyard, a Sphinx welcomes visitors.
However, the city is currently building a new Grand Egyptian Museum, slated to open in 2020. I caught a glimpse of it by the Giza pyramids: designed by Heneghan Peng, it’s a modern structure of glass triangles.
Until then, you can go to the original Egyptian Museum to see tens of thousands of ancient artifacts. The museum houses around 120,000 items, with most of it in storage.
(Note: you need to get a photo pass in order to take images inside, like we did).
In books and blogs, you typically see the most famous Egyptian works (such as the Rosetta Stone and bust of Nefertiti). But I’m here to show you the most bizarre relics we encountered at the Egyptian Museum!
Is it just me, or does this standing male sculpture make you think of Beavis and Butthead? “I am the Great Cornholio, I need TP for my bunghole!”
Not all mummies look like the elegant King Tut. In the later era of Egyptian civilization, the sarcophagi had Greco-Roman-style portraits painted over the facial area.
(And it appears they understood the importance of elevating one’s feet, even after death!)
I think you can guess why the sarcophagus room was our favorite area of the museum. From above, the shape resembles a vampire coffin. (I suppose that’s why the undead emerge from both?)
Looks like a mummy has escaped from one of the coffins…
These are traditional styled Egyptian sarcophagi, with the nemes headscarf. Propped up in a row, the dark stone death chambers are as Gothic as it gets!
Speaking of morbid anatomy — we were delighted to see Egyptian canopic jars. During the mummification process, the viscera are removed from the corpse, and preserved in these carved jars for the afterlife.
Canopic jars are topped with four deity heads. Your lungs are protected by Hapi the baboon, while your stomach goes to jackal-headed Duamutef. Imsety the human gets the liver, and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef holds the intestines.
If you’re fascinated by ancient Egyptian death rituals, you’ve got to see the Mummy Room at the museum. Entry requires a separate ticket, and it’s well worth it for the special exhibits related to mummification… and the glass cases of dead pharoahs!
You aren’t allowed to take photos in the Egyptian Museum’s Mummy room, so you’ll have to imagine the small, shriveled brown bodies of Egypt’s most famous pharoahs.
We ooh-ed over the preserved corpses of Seti I, Ramses II, and various pharoahs named Amenhotep and Thutmosis. Each was wrapped up in bandages, with arms crossed over the chest. The mummification technique was so pristine that we could still see their teeth and nails, and strands of hair!
The museum labels couldn’t possibly explain all the weirdness we saw. What’s the deal with the two heads coming out of a stone covered in hieroglyphics, much like an Alien movie scene?
I did a double-take when I saw the potato head faces in the middle, staring at me from the side of a stone mausoleum. Why are they turned to towards the viewer, like something out of a horror movie?
Plus, they’re flanked by horned and snake-headed deities… and led by a woman giving a “hail!”
It’s obvious why the ancient Egyptians are associated with the occult and undead. (How heavy metal is this pose?)
Aleister Crowley, deemed “the wickedest man in the world,” spent time in Egypt investigating the dark arts. In 1904, he was Cairo with his wife, and she had a dream where a voice was saying “They are waiting for you.”
Crowley’s wife described an ancient artifact in her dream. They went to this very Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and she discovered that it existed. The relic showed an image of Horus on a slab, which became known as the Stele of Revealing.
And then, Crowley looked at the number of the exhibit… and it was 666, the sign of the Beast!
(Unfortunately, the displays are no longer numbered, so we couldn’t find it… but here is a rather Gothic double-ankh.)
Fascinating how the Egyptians worshiped gods with animal heads and human bodies. Here’s the fierce lioness Sekhmet, and falcon-headed Horus in a shrine (or is it a birdcage?)
We were mesmerized by the wing of the museum dedicated to Akenhaten. The ruler is always portrayed in this strange way, with wide hips, a slender face, and womanly body.
This has given rise to theories that Akenhaten was intersex, or a woman cross-dressing as a man! However, he had several children… perhaps he chose to be carved like this for political or spiritual reasons lost to the sands of time.
Of course, Yukiro and I are fans of sphinxes — the mythical creature with the head of a human, and the body of a lion. You’ll recall that we saw the Great Sphinx of Giza with Travel Talk Tours.
The Egyptian Museum had plenty of Sphinx statues on display. This one had big paws and ears, and appeared to be winking at me.
“Sphinx” was the name given to this deity later on. Nobody knows what the Egyptians actually called this feline… perhaps that’s the true riddle of the Sphinx.
Could this be the first example of “kawaii” art? These smiling lions were certainly carved to look as cute as possible.
The ancient Egyptians considered cats to be sacred, and worshipped Bastet (the cat-god) and fierce lion goddess Sekhmet.
I could have spent all day at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The art techniques were remarkable for the time — and who knows what masterpieces are still buried under the sand.
When we think of Egyptian art, we usually picture the stiff, stylized “walk like an Egyptian” carvings. However, artists also made incredibly detailed, painted 3D sculptures. Aren’t the anatomy and facial detail astonishing?
So. Many. Sphinxes! It’s easy to spend hours wandering around, but leave some time for the excellent gift shop as well. I picked up a gold ankh as a memento, which I hang on my backpack.
We toured the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, which is located in the Citadel of Cairo.
Built in the mid 1800s, the mosque has a magnificent cupola lit with intricate lanterns. The soaring Ottoman-style interior reminded me of when I saw the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Outside, there’s a fabulous city view! Cairo is a massive capital, and has a population of 19.5 million.
Cairo is one of the oldest human habitations in the world. Do you see the points of the Pyramids of Giza in the distance?
We also got to see the Hanging Church, one of the oldest in Egypt. The leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church have a rather “vampire-slayer” look.
The Coptic Christian church is dedicated to Virgin Mary. She appears to have bats with human heads flying around her head…
As Elaine said on Seinfeld, when she realized she was going to hell… “and the heat, my god the heat!”
Expect to run into traffic jams when you’re in Cairo — it’s just part of the experience, and gives you a chance to take in scenes like this market.
Love the juxtaposition of fan-shaped palm trees and an alien tower.
Our group stopped at Khan el-Khalili souk, which is the main market in Cairo. You’ll find lots of shops and cafes here. (This man is balancing a tray of pita bread on his head!)
Most of the goods at this market are made in China trinkets… if you’re interested in souvenirs, be sure to barter hard.
For more authentic items, look for boutiques that sell goods made by Egyptian artisans. (We stopped by a shopping mall, and saw these funny ancient meets modern murals.)
Cleopatra’s hairstyle – straight black hair with bangs – never goes out of style. Pair it with kohl eyeliner and a mini-dress, and you’ve got a timeless outfit.
Travel Talk Tours offered a variety of optional excursions during the trip (Yukiro and I opted to do most of them). On our first evening in Cairo, we took a dinner cruise on the Nile River.
At night, the Nile lights up with rainbow colors from passing boats. (Imagine how this scene must have looked, in 2000 BCE!)
We helped ourselves to food, and watched an Egyptian culture show. The performance featured a sultry belly dancer, and a whirling dervish who spun in dizzying circles.
On another evening, we opted to watch the Sound & Light Show at the Pyramids of Giza. The show illuminates the Pyramids and Sphinx in neon lights, while you hear tales of ancient Egypt.
The Sound and Light show hasn’t been updated since the 1960s, and the effects are rather kitschy — which we actually loved.
The male narrator speaks in a dramatic “Ten Commandments” voice. Imagine him announcing: “Behold… (dramatic drum roll)… the Pyramid of Cheops!” (The triangle turns purple).
The retro kitsch made the experience unintentionally funny at times — but again, that’s why we were into it.
“Gaze… (lion roar)… upon the glory of the Great Sphinx!” (Can you imagine a synthwave party at the Pyramids?)
A final pyramid pose for you, as we say goodbye to Cairo for now.
Hearts to Travel Talk Tours for showing us the many sides of Egypt, over the course of 12 days. I recommend looking into their guided group tours, which cater to young travelers (18 to 30-somethings) and let you dive into destinations worldwide. Without them, we wouldn’t have seen so much of Egypt — and had this much fun!
That’s all from us Queens of the Nile… but I have good news. I’ll be traveling again with Travel Talk this spring! Keep your eyes peeled to find out where I’ll be heading this time (hint, I’ll be in eight countries with them)!
“Perhaps the last lesson Lizzie taught me is that travel creates some of the most important moments we have with loved ones. Travel can also bring us peace, when we’re acutely aware they will not always be with us.” (Read my full piece on Fodors.)
PPS If you’re in New York City, I hope to see you at the fashion show benefiting breast cancer – info here.