Egypt Moblog #10 – Egyptian Museum, Al Azhar Mosque and Khan Al Khaleeli

Today morning we reached the famous Egyptian Museum with our guide Ms. Marwah.

The Egyptian Museum has over 120, 000 pharoanic artifacts and has been operational since 1902.

Our first stop was before the Narmer Palette – this palette is from 3200 BC commemorating the unification of upper and lower egypt by Narmer (a.k.a Menes). Narmer is the founder of the pharoanic civilization that lasted nearly 3000 years with 30 dynasties. The Narmer Palette is so well preserved that it is hard to believe that it is 5200 years old.

The next stop was in front of a replica of the Rosetta Stone ( we had seen the original in the British Museum in London). Jean Francois Champollion, 23 year old French genius, in 1822, cracked this stone which had the same inscription in 3 versions – Hieroglyphic, Demotic (a commoner’s version of Hieroglyphic) and Greek. After nearly 1800 years, hierpoglyphics could be understood which literally threw the floodgates of Egyptology open. This decipherment of the Hieroglyphics is an epochal moment in the history of mankind. I for one, wait for this same moment to come for our Indus Valley script. I hope it will happen in my lifetime, that is my fervent dream.

Then we see a small statue of Khufu made of ivory – ironically this is the only artifact found of Khufu, the man who buillt the biggest pyramid of all time at Giza which we covered earlier.

Then we saw Zoser’s original statue – we saw a replica of this in the cellar near the Zoser pyramid in Saqqara. This is the one we had to see through a pair of holes.

Then we saw the crown jewels of the Egyptian Museum – the Tutankhamun collection. A few halls full of artefacts from Tut’s tomb which we covered in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

There are 4 rectangular box-shaped shrines with gold gilded. Each shrine is fitted inside the other like a Russian doll and inside the innermost one were the anthropoid coffins. The outside of the gilded shrines have the book of the dead carved on them.

We also saw the death mask made of solid gold, lots of jewellery and other paraphernalia like furniture, throne, beds. There is even a foldable bed for his expeditions. On the inside back of the royal throne we see a painting of King Tut with his wife Anexshunamun. Anexshunamun later married the high priest Ay after Tut’s death and Ay ascended the throne as the first high priest to become a pharoah.

Priya Raju was wondering that if King Tut who died at the age of 19 had so much gold and treasures buried how much would a king like Rameses II’s tomb have since he died at age 92. Unfortunately, the tomb robbers would have melted all the artifacts and taken the gold without realizing that the artefacts if intact would have netted 100-1000 times the value of the gold in them. Not to speak of all the knowledge of Egyptian customs that was lost How sad.

We saw 365 Ushabtis (we covered this in the mummification process) of King Tut. It is the only tomb where all the 365 Ushabtis were found – they had one for each day of the year.

Tut’s entrails were placed in 4 mini coffins made of gold and then placed inside the 4 canopic jars. The heads of the canopic jars had the heads of King Tut and not the traditional ones I covered in the mummification process.

Then we saw the massive statue of Amenhotep III and his wife Tiy. We then covered the Animal Mummies room – there were 4 kinds of animal mummies – pet mummies of cats, dogs etc, animal god mummies like crocodile, baboon etc, votive mummies and then victual mummies as food for the afterlife. There were some fake mummies also on display. The mummies were placed in a container shaped like the respective animal but nothing inside except some animal entrails. Perhaps, that animal was out of stock as noted in the museum display!

That completed the Egyptian Museum (one could spend weeks here and still not see all the artefacts).

We drove to the Al Azhar mosque a 1000 year old mosque. We went inside the mosque and saw the open courtyard with pillared corridors reminding us of pharoanic temples. I even noticed a papyrus motif on some of the pillars. Then we went inside the huge covered pillared hall, where people were offering their prayers.

Then we made a small donation to the mosque and were lucky to meet the Imam (a.ka Sheikh) – the Imam of this mosque is the highest priest in the Egyptian Islamic order.

After this we went to the nearby Khan al Khaleeli market – loosely translated as Market of the Khaleeli Lane. In olden days, this market was the spice market and with a Spice market in Venice it controlled the entire spice trade (there are shops selling spices here still). It is to break the control of this market on the spice trade that Columbus, Vasco De Gama and others set out to find a direct route to India resulting in the discovery of the New World and as they say the
rest is history.

Today’s Khan al Khaleeli is a tourist trap selling souvenirs. We bought a few souvenirs and then had a cup of Turkish Coffee at the famed El Fishawy coffee house. Egyptian Nobel laureate for Literature Naguib Mahfouz, is known to frequent this place and Priya Raju was determined to have coffee here. So we did it.

That ended our magical tour of Egypt. When we reached our hotel back it was around 5PM. We had an early dinner and hit the bed early.

My sincere thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my moblogs. Special thanks for the interesting questions and comments.

We leave for India tomorrow morning and reach Chennai early morning on Wednesday.


Comments

  1. Quote

    Thank you for the great series Sukumar. I enjoyed every post, it was facinating. It is amazing you could make time to write such elaborate posts in the midst of your travel.

    Looking for more such travelogs, please travel often πŸ˜€

  2. Quote

    Great reporting combined with good insights Sukumar. I have always wondered how you could remember so much information. Would love to know the technique.

    Ganesh

  3. Quote

    Sukumar & Priya – Looks like you have had a great vacation. Looking forward to meet you here. Have a safe trip back to Chennai.
    I just saved a lot of money reading your detailed travelogue. I dont have to visit Egypt anymore. πŸ™‚
    Lakshmi has always been facinated by the Land of Pyramids. Lets see when we can plan a trip there…

  4. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 4:47 am:

    Thanks Archana for the kind words.

    Ganesh, thanks for the support and encouragement as always. I think I have a child like passion for such stuff and it helps that Priya also shares my interests. Lot of credit goes to the guides and the lonely planet guide book. Thanks again.

    Sai, thanks for stopping by. I’m sure we’ll meet when we reach chennai. See you then.

  5. Quote
    ayshwarya (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 6:17 am:

    Sukumar,
    I just visited Egypt and I actually compared notes with ur travelogue. Thanks for helping me fill in the gaps in my travelogue.:-) Really nice posts!!!

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 6:27 am:

    Thanks Ayshwarya. I wanted to call you before I left but heard from Sai that you were sick. Hope you’re better now.

    Did you goto the same places? Also, did you notice any inaccuracies?

  7. Quote

    It was an amazing series. Really enjoyed each and every bit of the details on Egypt. Thanks a lot for your time to post this to such details.

  8. Quote

    Hi sukumar

    Great Travelogue. A very informative post filled with intricate details. Although there were no photos, your words painted a greater picture. Thank you for taking us all with you in your journey.I will definitely print a copy of it when we go on our Egypt vacation.

    My son loves the pyramids and everything about it. We do have plans to visit Egypt. But i had question, do they let kids into all the places\pyramids. Is there any age\size restrictions? Are they kid friendly?

    Sujatha

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 11:10 am:

    Thanks for the kind words Bharathi. I’m glad you enjoyed the series.

  10. Quote
    Sreedhar N.K (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 3:05 pm:

    Sukumar,

    I read through all your Egypt moblog posts in one sitting. Very very interesting. I have some questions and some thoughts – would love your thoughts on it.

    1. Goddess Nut – the pictures that you saw, was her head to the left and her legs to the right. The reason I ask is, in Hinduism, you go around the temple in circle, but you do it right->left. Wondering if that significance comes from Nut swallowing the sun at night.

    2. Another one that I always wondered – why in Hinduism is the right hand, right side preferred over the left. Has that to do with the rising and setting of the sun as well? Did you see any relation to this in their ancient civilization?

    3. We have 3 logams in hinduism as well. In your posts, you covered the underworld and the heavens. Sounded very familiar. I also remember my grandma (and even old movies) talking about 2×7 (14 logams). Not sure where that comes from?

    4. In vaishnavism, there are 12 alwars (similar to the 64 nayanmars concept in shaivite) and Andal is considered the 13th alwar, though not officially. I always found that similar to the christianity concept of 12 apostles and some say that Mary Magdalene was the 13th apostle. Did you find anything similar in the egyptian civilization?

    5. Throughout your posts, there are places where you’ve written about 2 pillars, 2 columns etc on either side of the entrance. Sounds very similar to the “Dwarapalakas” in hindu temples. Did you see this similarity?

    6. I found the pylon (pilon) very interesting (2 walls in front of temples). Perhaps, that’s how the pylon concept came to American football with 2 pylons in front of the goal post. πŸ™‚

    7. Throughout your posts, I found the numbers 2, 12, 24, 64 (and once 14 judges) repeated. I can understand the significance of the number 12 (being related to the 12 day hours and 24 relating to the day, Jesus & Mary visiting St.sergins for 12 days), but I am not able to understand the significance of the 64 priests or the 64 symbols that’s there all through your posts. Did you find any reason why 64 was important to them?

    I have to say, reading your Egypt travel posts gave me the same rush, excitement and nervous energy that I got after waiting for a Harry Potter book and reading it in one sitting. Glad i got to it, but sad that it ended! Whew!

  11. Quote
    Sreedhar N.K (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 3:09 pm:

    test

  12. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 27, 2007, 11:36 pm:

    Sujatha,
    Thanks. Valley of the Kings is jocularly referred to as the Disney of the Dead because of the queues and special tickets for some tombs.

    As such we didn’t observe any restrictions being put on children. There were 2 young boys in our Nile Cruise group and they came everywhere.

    The only thing you may want to think about is the heat. We were in Egypt during their winter and the heat was unbearable especially in the Valley of the Kings. Your doctor may give you some advice on dealing with the heat for your children. In sharp contrast, the nights were quite chilly and we had to wear a jacket.

  13. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 28, 2007, 12:06 am:

    Thanks for your kind words Sreedhar.

    1. Usually Nut is depicted on the roof. I suspect the orientation would be east-west. Your interpretation of the clockwise rotation is interesting. Need to look that up.

    2. The right hand being the better hand concept could also be due to hygiene reasons, don’t you think? (before the advent of tissues, we used the left hand). In today’s Egypt also, you should not give anything with your left hand. Don’t know if it stems from ancient egyptians.

    3. Yes the 3 logams and the final judgement etc come from Ancient Egyptian. Don’t know where the 14 lokams concept is coming from.

    4. Most likely the 12 alwars concept is from the 12 apostles. It is actually 63 nayanmars in shaivism not 64. Don’t know why it is 63. My suspicion is that they wanted to allude to their numerical superiority against both the vaishnavites and the jains (samanas).

    5. Absolutely, the dwarapalakas concept we were reminded a lot of everywhere.

    6. Pylon I think is the term Egyptologists have given to the big walls at the front. I suspect the term may have been borrowed from football based on what you are saying not the other way around.

    7. Three was an important number for them – the Theban triad had 3 gods or the Isis triad – Isis, Ossyris and Horus also 3. This may have been the originator of the Holy Trinity concept in both Hinduism and Christianity. 12 of course was the nbr of hours in after life. It is not clear why 64 was important to them.64 was not consistently used everywhere so I suspect it is not an imporant number.

    Maybe Archana Raghuram, our resident expert on Hinduism can throw some light on these.

  14. Quote

    No idea about 64. Regarding the right and the left hand, i read in Da Vinci code that the left was always associated with the female. When the female pagen goddess were condemned, the left came to be associated with ill-luck. That is why right is considered auspecious. I don’t think the same reasoning holds good for Hinduism too. In Indian context, I think it is hygine factor more than anything else.

  15. Quote

    Heat and dehydration is definetely an important factor when taking younger children on vacation. Thank you Sukumar.

  16. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 29, 2007, 8:09 am:

    Thanks Archana. Where does the 14 lokams concept come from? – if I remember my grandma’s stories correctly there are 7 worlds above and 7 worlds below.

    Sujatha, you’re welcome. The heat in Egypt is a dry heat so the heat index must be very high as well. If you have been to Phoenix in summer you may experience a similar type of heat from the Sonoran. Given that Egypt is much closer to the Sahara the heat index becomes very high.

  17. Quote

    Wonderful series Sukumar. I saved a trip to Egypt..it is as if I saw most of it myself. Honestly after watching the movie “The Mummy” all my curiosity for Egypt drained out. And it got rejuvenated reading your trip notes. Now I have to plan to include Egypt in my 2010 FIFA world cup tour.

    Thanks once again for a great series. Felt so bad reading the -ve effects of Aswan Dam and how it impacted ecology of entire Mediterranean Sea… apart from submerging many archaeological wonders.

    Archana….such simple reply for Sridhar’s questions πŸ™‚ I thought you would shower with more info. (kidding). Sridhar, all your questions are thought provoking. I think most of the ancient civilizations/ religions borrowed customs, traditions and folklore very liberally while localizing. But the uniqueness of Hinduism/Indian civilizations perhaps could never be available in it’s original form due to the huge gap we had during the dark ages.

  18. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 29, 2007, 10:40 pm:

    Thanks Vamsi. FIFA world tour sounds exciting.

    Yeah, I was expecting Archana to give a more elaborate response πŸ™‚

    And yes, old religions borrowed ideas but given that Egypt predates everything else by atleast a few thousand years, many ideas are sourced from Egypt.

  19. Quote

    Vamsi,
    All of Sridhar’s questions were thought provoking. I don’t know answers though (pssst …this thing about me being an expert in Hinduism is just a hype :grin:).

    Sukumar,
    regarding your question about 14 lokams. Where does the term 7th heaven come from. It does seem to imply that there are 7 lokams above us right and highest being the 7th. I will see if i can find more information on this and get back to you.

  20. Quote

    Sukumar..

    Such a wonderful travlogue….I always thought a picture is worth a thousand words. Your narration has defied it. It was like a motion picture.

    Egypt and Turkey have always been in my must-see list. I feel like visting asap. In 2005, when I was in Tunis for a brief time, I tried my best but I couldn’t get a visa easily.

    I was again quite busy for sometime now and missed your blogs. The new look is good but somehow I feel that the earlier one was better.

  21. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 30, 2007, 7:19 am:

    Thanks Archana. I have heard that term 7th Heaven but I don’t know the origin. Please let me know what you find.

    Mahesh,
    Thanks for the kind words. Judging by your blog posts on the Angkor Wat trip, I guarantee that Egypt will blow your mind away.

    As for the new look, thanks for the feedback. Archana also gave me a similar feedback saying that the intellectual look and feel has been lost. If you know any wordpress theme that better fits my blog, please let me know.

  22. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 5:33 am:

    Mind Boggling Sukumar u have tranferred me to 1800 B.C thru yours post…U have made my urge to visit Egypt even higher …..

  23. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 5:35 am:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh_Heaven
    Please have look at this for some info on Seventh heaven….

  24. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 7:04 am:

    Thanks for the kind words Karthik and for the link on Seventh Heaven. very interesting.

  25. Quote

    Karthik – Very intersting read. Thanks for the link. Is there a similar explanation for hell?

  26. Quote
    sreedhar (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 5:09 pm:

    Very interesting read about the 7 logams. I am sure as we considered the earth to be flat, we thought of 7 other bodies being underground and that’s how ended up with “14 logams”.

    Another question to ponder – where did we get the “crossing 7 seas, 7 mountains” (sorry about the literal translation from tamil “Ezhu kadal ezhu malai thandi”). We had this in all old movies as well. What’s the significance of this.

  27. Quote

    Thats an interesting explanation, Sreedhar.

    BTW, Have you seen the navagrahams in temples. It has sun at the center and all the planets around it. Makes me wonder if we knew that Sun was infact the center of the solar system.

  28. Quote
    sreedhar (subscribed) said December 5, 2007, 10:21 am:

    Archana,

    I wonder if the sun being in the center has been that way before the 14th century when we figured we are not the center of the world (Copernicus). It will be interesting to see some of the temples built before the 14th century (like the Suryanarayana temple in TN) and see if Sun is in the center of those and whether it has been that way since the temple was built.

    I read that from the 5th Century BC (Varahamihira and Aryabhatta time) many of us (including Greeks, Middle-eastern and Indians) started thinking about heliocentric theories, but nothing that we were able to prove scientifically until Copernicus provided mathematical and scientific evidence. Even then, the world wasn’t ready to forego a geocentric theory. Look at what happened to Galileo!

    It’s possible that we had theories in circulation before 14th century AD for heliocentric galaxy, but will be much more interesting to see how much we had incorporated that in our life (especially in religious rituals), as most times, religion is the last one to change.

    My humble opinion – we might have changed the orientation (including in temples) after heliocentric theory was proven right.

  29. Quote

    Sreedhar,
    You make a valid point. But, in all the ancient temples I have seen, Navagrahas are always depicted with the sun at the center. We will have to date these statues to really know which time they belonged to. If your theory is right, Navagrahas may be only a recent additions to temples. Let me see if I can find any references in rituals.

    Any idea how old is Rameshwaram temple? The Navagrahas are partially submerged in the ocean there.

  30. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 6, 2007, 12:36 pm:

    Archana from what I understand the present structure of Ramehswaram is not more than 400 years old…must be around 16 century…but some of inner prakarams are as old as 12 cnetury when first masonic work was done onthe temple…by a SriLankan King ..I am not sure but i guess it must be parkrama bahu ..as he was king during that period…. but the Lingam is ancient….but the navagrahas being submerged i am not sure need to do some research on that…will check it out…

  31. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 6, 2007, 12:44 pm:

    Sreedhar ..about the 7 kadal and 7 hills…

    There is possiblity that seven seas could represnet Bay of Bengal,Indian Ocean,Arabian Sea ,Persian Gulf,Red Sea ,Mediteranean Sea and Agean Sea..These are seven seas one needs to cross from I go from present day Tamil Nadu to Greece..
    Now all these talk of seven seas are not mentioned in puranas but they appear in sungam literature and later ones…when Cholas and Pandya were in touch with the Romans so one goes from Pumpoohar or Tuticorin .. Greeks must have been exotic to Tamils hence this story of crossing seven seas to reach exotic lands…
    this is my 2 cents

  32. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 6, 2007, 1:57 pm:

    Interesting discussion. Sreedhar, Aryabhata and his follower Varahamihira lived in the 5th& 6th century AD not BC as you said. Aristarchus of Samos (Greek) living in the 3rd century BC is credited to be the first one to propound a heliocentric model. It is well accepted that Copernicus just revived the idea and Galileo, Kepler and Newton provided scientific evidence.

    Most big temples in India are relatively modern, built in the last 1500-1600 years. Even then it will be interesting to see if we had adopted the heliocentric model eventhough Europe accepted it only in the 15th century. It is going to be difficult to determine the dates because Navagraha section may have been added to the temple later.

    Karthik, interesting info on the seven seas concept. thanks.

  33. Quote

    I love the detail you put into your posts. Thanks for the excellent tour descriptions. I’m planning a vacation to Egypt soon so this is great stuff. Thanks!

  34. Quote
    vinothkumar said July 21, 2008, 6:52 am:

    friends do get the knowledge best .theconcept of helio-centric is way much older. the word heliois derived from tamilword hel means sun.if youtake tamil sangam works (300b.c.e-300a.d) theycalled sun as naal meen(heavenly body emits light by own) at centre and kol meen(planets and satellities which reflects naal meen ligh) revolving naal meen.meen in tamil not only indicates fish but also gliterring bodies in space. if u just analyse indus scripts ufound these planets and sun depicted in the form of fish( an evident tamilthe language of indus) and also indus the oldest civilization in theworld.

  35. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said July 23, 2008, 10:16 am:

    Vinothkumar,
    Thanks for your comment. You may want to read the posts we have written on this blog about the indus valley civilization. I do believe that proto-dravidian – a precursor to tamil was spoken in the Indus. i am intrigued by your Naal Meen and Kol Meen – i agree vinn meen is used still in Tamil for the stars. can you explain with citations why Naal Meen means the Sun? It will be very helpful for my research into the IVC.

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