Cairo – The Egyptian Museum and Coptic Churches

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It was hard to believe our fantastic adventure was coming to an end. This was our last day, and we spent it in Cairo, Egypt, with our guide and now friend Sam. we looked forward to a great day visiting the Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo, and a few other sites. Sam picked us up at the hotel around 8:30. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and we thought there would be little traffic! Surprise, we don’t think there is a quiet traffic day in Cairo. It is NUTS!

Egyptian Museum

Front view of the Egyptian museum in Cairo
The Egyptian Museum

We were excited to visit the museum as we had heard many stories about how artifacts from Giza, Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings were displayed. It was going to make all the stories come together for us.

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is an education in itself. They are in the process of building The Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, near the Great Pyramid. They have already moved many artifacts to storage at the new museum, which will open in 2023. We were lucky that The Tutankhamun Exhibit had not yet been moved, and when it is, it will be the opening display at the museum.

There was so much to see and too much even to remember. It was extraordinary! We have written about different displays and history representing different aspects of the museum. We hope you enjoy it and we didn’t try to write a history “tomb,” pun intended!

The Rosetta Stone

Of course, we all remember the language learning company the Rosetta Stone in the United States. The actual stone is one of the most important stones(s) ever found. As you enter the Egyptian Museum, one of the first displays is the Stone. It was the most critical artifact ever found in deciphering ancient Egyptian scripts. This led to the proliferation of the term “Rosetta Stone” as a generic reference to anything that decodes ciphers or reveals hidden mysteries. Still, neither of us remembers being taught about this important discovery in school classes on the History of Civilization or World History!

We thoroughly enjoyed learning the story of the Rosetta Stone!

How was the Rosetta Stone discovered?

Soldiers in Napoleon’s army discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 while digging the foundations for an addition to a fort. The fort was at a tributary of the Nile near the Mediterranean coast east of Alexandria near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta). On Napoleon’s defeat, the stone became the property of the British under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801), along with other antiquities that the French had found.

Without its discovery, understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which told Ancient Egyptian history, most likely would not have happened! They would end up just as beautiful art.

Many copies of the Rosetta Stone in various temples throughout Egypt were discovered over the years. The first one discovered is on display at the British Museum in London.

For many groups of Egyptians, the stone has been regarded as an emblem of a shared cultural and national heritage. As such, some individuals have framed the “export” of the Rosetta Stone as a colonial “theft” that should be assuaged through repatriation to the modern Egyptian state. Current discussions may see the British Museum return its stone to Egypt!

The Rosetta Stone is one of the most critical objects in the British Museum as it holds the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs—a script made up of small pictures used initially in ancient Egypt for religious texts. Hieroglyphic writing died out in Egypt in the fourth century AD. Over time the knowledge of how to read hieroglyphs was lost until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and its subsequent decipherment.

Description of the Rosetta Stone writing.

The text, already known from the Greek version, was a decree in the name of king Ptolemy V Epiphanes. On March 27, 196 BC, a synod of priests from around Egypt convened to celebrate the king’s coronation in Memphis, the traditional capital of Egypt.

The front face is smooth and crammed with the text inscribed in three scripts. These form three distinct bands of writing. The inscriptions are three translations of the same decree.

  • The top band is Egyptian hieroglyphics, only written by royals and priests in Egyptian temples, tombs, and buildings,
  • The middle band was written in” demotic,” a native daily script.
  • The bottom was written in ancient Greek, the language of the administration. This was after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.

Many researchers tried translating the text of the Rosetta Stone, and two stood out. In the 1820s, Thomas Young (1773–1829) and Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832) were in the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. Both men were brilliant. Champollion confirmed the hypothesis that Egyptian hieroglyphs indicated phonetic sounds, using his knowledge of Coptic to correctly deduce the reading of the hieroglyphic writing of the word “to give birth” (𓄟 ms, Coptic ⲙⲓⲥⲉ). With this exceptional feat of “breaking the code,” Champollion established himself as the “father” of Egyptology, embedding the Rosetta Stone into the birth of a new discipline.

With the mysteries of the Egyptian script unlocked by Champollion and his successors, scholars could confirm that the Rosetta Stone represented three translations of a single text. Continued research comparing the three scripts allowed the interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ability to read and interpret the hieroglyphics opened up Egypt’s ancient history, enabling each dynasty’s story to be told!

Egypt’s first Pharaoh Narmer. The Narmer Palette that Honors King Narmer

This is one of the earliest representations of an Egyptian ruler. King Narmer is shown in the symbolic act of unifying the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. The unification resulted from a long process rather than a single event, and every king who came after Narmer would re-enact his achievement through ritual performance.

At the bottom, Narmer is shown as a wild bull breaking into a walled enclosure and trampling a figure. From the later Predynastic period, the king was portrayed as a bull or a lion to symbolize his power. The palette was probably a ritual object made to be offered or used in temple ceremonies.

There is an excellent article called Narmer: Ten Facts on the First Egyptian Pharaoh that, if interested, tells much more of the story.

The Benben stone is the name given to the capstone placed on top of a pyramid.

In the mythology of ancient Egypt, there are several accounts of the world’s creation. One of these is centered on the god Atum and has its origins in the city of Heliopolis.

According to this mythology of the creation story, the universe was brought into being by Atum.

In the beginning, there was nothing but darkness and chaos. It was out of the dark waters that the Benben stone arose, on top of which stood Atum.

As the Benben stone rose from the primeval waters. it has been suggested that this word is associated with the verb ‘weben,’ which is the Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘to rise.’

The Benben stone was atop the pyramid as the capstone

King Tut’s Ancestors

We had a lot of fun taking the information we learned about King Tut’s family and putting it in order of generations. It represents a part of one of the 30 or 31 Egyptian Dynasties. The dynasties ran from 3100 BC, the beginning of the unification of the north and south in Egypt, to about 332 BC.

Tut’s family tree is complex in ways typical of ancient Egyptian royalty, and we could relate to it in today’s royal families. Yuya and Tuyu weren’t royals, but they must have had connections in the upper tiers of society. Their daughter Tiye became the Kate Middleton of her day when she married the country’s most eligible bachelor—Amenhotep III, one of the most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history. 

It was very interesting to see for ourselves the family tree and be able to tie the history together in the museum. The history is exciting, but putting the faces, or “masks,” together was much more fun. It only happened about 3,500 years ago!

King Tut’s Great Grandparents Yuya and Tuyu – Their Amazing Mummies

Yuga and Thura parents of Queen Tiyewho was the grandmother of King Tut

Queen Thuya is buried in the Valley of the Kings; she became royal Yuya, and Thuya, the parents of Queen Tiye, were each buried in a nested set of two Osiriform coffins inside an outer shrine (Upper Egyptian Per-Nu and Lower Egyptian Per-Wer shrines, respectively) on a sledge.

Yuya was in the north part near the entrance, and Thuya was in the south part of the tomb chamber. The sledge shrines were covered with a glistening black pitch with gilded text bands, as was Yuya’s outer coffin. Thuya’s outer coffin was entirely gilded. Yuya’s inner coffin had a silver leaf background with gold decoration and glass inlays; Thuya was gilded. The inside of each was covered with silver foil.

The mummies were enclosed in openwork cartonnage ‘cages.’ The head of each mummy was covered with a gilded mask with inlaid details, pictured above. The burial equipment of the couple also included canopic chests in the form of Per-Wer shrines holding alabaster jars with human-headed lids containing their mummified internal organs wrapped in packets with miniature masks.

Both Yuya and Thuya had ushabtis placed in individual shrines. The coffin lids, masks, and some of the mummy wrappings had been removed by the robbers searching for jewels, so the well-preserved faces of the white-haired Yuya and Thuya, each aged about 60 years at death, were visible to the discoverers of the tomb.

Thuya’s ceremonial wig was discovered on a rock shelf beside the second sealed entrance to the tomb, and another wig was found near her coffin.

King Amenhotep III and his wife Tiye – Grandparnts of King Tut

This colossal statue depicts the royal couple, Amenhotep III, his wife Tiye, and their three daughters. This is the most giant known ancient Egyptian family group statue ever carved. It was discovered in a Nile River flood area by the city of Luxor and installed on the museum’s first floor.

Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, one of the final rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty, was dubbed “the Magnificent.” He brought unprecedented amounts of gold to his kingdom and built many epic structures, including the famed Colossi of Memnon.

They were married when both were very young. The most exciting thing about Queen Tiye was her portrayal in statuary. Amenhotep deliberately commissioned statues showing himself and her as the same size, presenting her importance in the royal court, on par with the pharaoh! In Egyptian culture, visual size was everything; more prominent was better, so a big king and an equally big queen showed them as equals. 

Amenhotep III, his wife Tiye, grandparents of King Tut

King Tut’s Parents –

Known as Amenhotep IV for the first four years of his reign, King Tut’s father became known as Akhenaten, the heretic king, in the fifth year of his reign. He was one of two sons born to Amenhotep III and his Chief Queen Tiye and assumed the throne after the death of his older brother.

Although little is known of Tut’s regard for his father, the ancient Egyptians hated him because he replaced their polytheistic religion with a monotheistic one. His radical religious beliefs were forced upon his subjects through the use of the Egyptian army.

All the old gods were destroyed, and the capital was moved from Thebes (Luxor) to the new city of Amarna. This disrupted the economy and destroyed businesses.

Under the old religion, the temple priests ran the economy; under the new monotheistic religion, the government was in control.

The consensus among historians is that Akhenaten was so unpopular that he had to abdicate his throne. He died shortly after.

King Tut’s mother was previously believed to be a Mitanni princess named Kiya. She was prominent in court activities until shortly before Akhenaten’s death, and she’s often referred to as one of his favorites; her coffin of gilded wood is similar to one of King Tut’s. Since his parents were siblings, Tut’s mother was also his aunt, and his father was also his uncle.

King Tut

King Tut's Funeral Mask from the Howard Carter discovery of King Tut's tomb
King Tut’s Funeral Mask

Tomb of King Tut Discovery

On November 24, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter made the most spectacular discovery in the history of archaeology: the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun. finding king tuts tomb. The story of his discovery is fascinating. How Howard Carter Discovered King Tut’s Golden Tomb. Carter initially found what he believed to be the tomb in 1918, just under the entrance to Ramses IV’s tomb. He covered what he found and went on to look for other discoveries in the Valley of the Kings, returning to the initial site in November 1922.

The Carter team painstakingly excavated for almost ten years, its four small rock-cut chambers hidden beneath the rock of the Valley of the Kings, which yielded over 5,000 incredible objects, bearing witness to the life and death of this 18th Dynasty monarch.

From the Golden Mask placed over the dead king’s face to his first bow, each artifact from the tomb helps to paint the picture of a unique individual from the ancient past and the cosmopolitan era in which he lived.

King Tut Displays at the Egyptian Museum

Many of the artifacts in the galleries were used by the king during his life; others were made expressly for his burial. All display the artistic mastery achieved by the craftsmen of this era and attest to the great wealth that Egypt’s empire had poured into the royal treasuries.

What is known about Tutankhamun? Although many details of his reign remain lost, historians have spent years trying to piece together the pharaoh’s life and legacy. All agree that he is one of the most famous kings because his tomb was found intact and not what was accomplished through his reign.

We were not allowed to take pictures in the main Tutankhamun Exhibit; strictly enforced.

A young Tut ascends to the throne.

Born during ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty—which stretched from 1550 B.C. to 1295 B.C.—Tut began his life under a different name: Tutankhaten.

In the years before Tut rose to the throne, Egypt was going through a period of great upheaval. King Amenhotep IV, believed to be Tut’s father, had turned away from his culture’s many gods to worship a sun god called the Aten. He changed his name to Akhenaten and named his son Tutankhaten. Around 1336 B.C., King Akhenaten died after about 17 years on the throne. The young kink changed his name to Tutankhamun and restored the kingdom’s old ways, bringing back its many gods and opening new temples. He also took on the throne name of Nebkheperure, a nod to the old sun god Re.

He married Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. While the couple is not thought to have left any surviving children, two mummified fetuses found in Tut’s tomb were likely their stillborn daughters.

His short reign of nine years was unremarkable. Tutankhamun was one of the lesser-known pharaohs of his time. As some scholars believe it was likely that priests and royal advisors used him as a puppet to reverse the changes made by his father.

Mysteries surround his death with several theories; he may have been murdered, some think he died of malaria or another deadly disease, his body was missing ribs and a sternum, which may have been caused by accident, or he likely died as an invalid due to evidence of club foot and canes found in the tomb that may have helped him walk.

Papyrus – The writing surface used in Ancient Egypt

As we continued to walk thru the museum there were am stories on Papyrus paper on the walls of the stairs going from level to level. Papyrus is a writing material made from the papyrus plant, a reed which grows in the marshy areas around the Nile river. It was used in ancient times as a writing surface. Papyrus also refers to a document written on sheets of such material, joined side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book. A few examples are short sections of long scrolls that are 3,000 to 5,000 years old. We later purchased a picture that was painted using a surface made of Papyrus, which now hangs in our dining room at home.

Papyrus Scrolls 3,000 to 5,000 Years Old displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Papyrus Scrolls 3,000 to 5,000 Years Old
Papyrus Scrolls 3,000 to 5,000 Years Old displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Papyrus Scrolls 3,000 to 5,000 Years Old
New print on Papyrus paper that we purchased
Picture in our home

We left the museum to drive to an area near the Nile where the Hanging Church and the church of St George are located.

The Christian Churches of Cairo

We found the history of the Christain faith in Egypt fascinating. The word Coptic means Egyptian, so that is how the Coptic Christain Church got its name. The Apostle Saint Mark was sent to Alexander to teach and spread the lessons of Jesus Christ. He arrived in Alexandria in 61 AD and founded the Coptic Church, called the “sees of St. mark”; one of the earliest of the four sees; Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. He traveled throughout Egypt and was amazed by the huge growth of Christianity as he was sought out everywhere he traveled. He traveled to Rome to join St Peter and St Paul until their martyrdom in 64 AD, returning to Alexandria in 65 AD. He continued to build the church over the next three years when he was martyred himself.

The Coptic Church continued to grow along with the Roman Catholic Church, and by 700 AD, Egypt was an utterly Christian country that lasted for about 600 years. Then, the Arabs overtook the country and forced the people into the Muslim faith. Today Egypt is about 10% Christian.

The Church of Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in the Cave. Also known as the Church of Abu Serga.

This is the oldest church inside Coptic Cairo’s walls, built in the 11th century with 4th-century pillars. It honors the Roman soldiers Sergius and Bacchus, who were martyred in Syria for their Christian faith in AD 296.

The actual Cave. The Church of Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in the Cave where Jesu, Mary and Joseph stayed for several months when Herod wanted the first born killed
The Cave

As told in the Bible, the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus Christ fled from Palestine to Egypt to seek refuge from the persecution of the Jewish King Herod the Great. As they stayed in Egypt for three years, they lived a nomadic life, traveling through 11 of Egypt’s modern-day governorates, starting from North Sinai and going south to Assiut.

During their time in Old Cairo, the Holy Family rested in a cave for three months, and like many other holy sites, a church was built on it; the Church of Abu Serga. As an aside, the Trail of the Holy Family is currently being developed by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture to prepare the infrastructure of the Family’s 25 recognized stops in efforts to support and promote cultural and religious tourism in Egypt.

Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, known as “The Hanging Church.”

We arrived at The Hanging Church, which was named for its location. It is called the Hanging Church because It was built on the southern gate of the Roman Fortress, called the Babylon Fortress. Logs of palm trees and layers of stones were constructed above the ruins to be used as a foundation. The Hanging Church is unique and has a wooden roof shaped like Noah’s ark.

Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church, known as "The  Hanging Church." Ceiling Representing Noah's ark. Cairo Egypt
The Roof Represents Noah’s Ark
Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church, known as "The  Hanging Church." Icon know as the "Coptic Mona Lisa" Actually Mother Mary, Ciara Egypt
“Coptic Mona Lisa”

The Hanging Church is also referred to as the Suspended Church or Al-Moallaqa. From the 7th to the 13th century, the Hanging Church served as the residence of the Coptic Patriarch.

Father Jacob Soliman sat at a table when we walked up the stairs and greeted us. We had a short conversation, and he asked if he could say a prayer of blessing, which we greatly appreciated. It was Sunday afternoon, and he offered us some of the Holy Communion Bread. We felt blessed to be treated so warmly, an experience we will remember.

The inside of the church was beautiful. There are three sanctuaries in the church, the one in the middle is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the one to the left is named after St. George, and the one to the right is named after John the Baptist. They had a total of 110 icons. The oldest is the “Coptic Mona Lisa,” dating back to the 8th century A.D. and representing the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist. Numerous altar icons date back to the 18th century A.D. 

We made our way out of the church and down to the courtyard, where there were several beautiful frescos. We had Sal take a picture of us in front of one of the frescos.

Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church, known as "The  Hanging Church." Wall fresco outside in courtyard to the church. Cairo Egypt

We came out of the church and wanted to treat Sam to lunch, so asked him where he would suggest; he found a restaurant along the way, so we stopped for a delightful lunch; the food was great.

Even more interesting was that many cats were under our feet, waiting for food to hit the floor. At some point, we put some scraps on the floor and soon realized there was a “pecking order” for the cats. They did a bit of fighting for the food, but in the end, a big red kitty stayed by our feet; he seemed to be the “in charge” cat and was the only one remaining. Sam went to push the cat with his feet so he would leave, and he would have none of that and attacked Sam! While it was crazy at the moment, Sam was fine, and we just let the cat sit under us at the table for the remainder of lunch.

We left the restaurant and headed out to do some shopping before the end of our adventure.

Egyptian Cartouche Jewelry

Sam wore a beautiful necklace with a Cartouche hanging from it; Sam’s wife had given him the necklace for an anniversary. On the front were his initials, and on the back were his wife’s initials, all in hieroglyphs. Janice had admired the necklace and asked Sam to take us to a store where she could look at possibly purchasing one.

So what is a Cartouche? It was initially an exclusive piece of jewelry worn only by the Pharaohs; it bore the ancient ruler’s sacred name and was worn as a symbol of good luck and protection from evil.  The cartouche is shaped like a scroll, and it is engraved using hieroglyphs. Below are the letters of our alphabet in hieroglyphs. As we had learned in the Egyptian Museum about the Rosetta Stone, this was the reason they could never figure out the meaning of these characters, and today, those symbols can be used for writing.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics Alphabet

We arrived at the store, and Janice looked at the many options and decided on earrings. She decided to have one with her initials and one with John’s initials. So stopped, and Janice selected earrings. On the left would be John’s initials, “JHW,” and on the right would be Janice’s initials, “JRW,” both in hieroglyphs. Below is a picture of the earrings that were made.

This was a wonderful end to a few days back in Egypt. It was time to return to the hotel and rest before taking a car to the airport for our 2:AM departure home.

We were gratified to have Sam as our guide and had a picture with him when he dropped us back at the hotel. Janice had been wearing her Mayflower Descendant tee shirt all day and was stopped by an American in the Egyptian Museum who said, “I am a descendant too,” it is a small world!

This brings to a close another adventure we will never forget!!!

Janice John and Sam saying our good byes when being dropped off at the Conrad Hotel on our last day
Time to say Goodbye to Sam