Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 November 2004
Issue No. 716
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Under Tut's spell

For the next six months, Germans will be under the spell of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun as his new exhibition opened last week. Nevine El-Aref reports from Bonn

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President Mubarak and Chancellor Schröder admiring the wooden gilded coffin of Tuya the grandmother of the monotheistic King Akhnaten; brown quartzite head of queen Nefertiti; a portrait of Tutankhamun's discoverer Howard Carter; partially gilded and silver-plated wooden throne chair of Satumun; a wooden gilded face of Tuya.

Against a large electronic poster featuring the splendid golden mask of Tutankhamun, and with a selection of Beethoven's symphonies filling the warm, candle-lit evening air of the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, President Hosni Mubarak and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder last week opened the exhibition "Tutankhamun: The Golden Hereafter" on the second leg of its European tour. The exhibition had been on show in Basle, Switzerland since last May.

President Mubarak, who said he was "delighted" with the organisation of this exhibition and the treasured collection on display, described it as "a token shoring up the cultural dialogue between the Egyptian and German communities".

It also expressed the importance of culture as a bridge for the dialogue of civilisations, he said. He pointed out that the exhibition reflected the strong ties between Egypt and Germany, not only on political and diplomatic levels but also in the archaeological and cultural fields. Mubarak went on to say that archaeological cooperation between the two went back to the year 1843, when the German Egyptologist Richard Lepsius travelled to Egypt on a historical fact-finding mission to document and publish all known Ancient Egyptian archaeological sites. Lepsius was followed by Heinrich Brugsch, who played a major role in training some of the first Egyptian Egyptologists. Ludwig Borchardt also shared in the discovery of Akhet- Aten or "The Horison of Aten" (today's Tel Al-Amarna) founded by the Pharaoh Akhenaten.

This archaeological cooperation has continued up to the present day. Just two months ago, another cultural and educational landmark was passed in Egypt when both heads of state opened the German University in Cairo.

For his part, Chancellor Schröder sees the Tutankhamun exhibition as another brick in the foundations that consolidate the cultural partnership. He also emphasised that the exhibition was a continuation of the dialogue between civilisations, an example of which was inviting the Arab world to be guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly that President Mubarak's and Chancellor Schröder's support underlined the importance they were allocating to the dialogue of civilisations as a way of combating conflict between different cultures and religions. He suggested that it was good timing for an exhibition such as this, which along with the one inaugurated last month in Paris had overshadowed the unfortunate events in Taba.

"Culture is the magical material that paves the way for political success," Hosni told the Weekly. He also pointed out that the aim of such exhibitions was to emphasise Egypt's cultural existence on the international scene. Along with these Pharaonic exhibitions, Hosni continued, other cultural activities reflecting Egypt's modern life and civilisation were already available. These were being put in the public eye through cultural evenings for Egyptian musical concerts and art exhibitions.

The exhibition at the Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn opened on 3 November and is currently the highlight of the city. It will continue until 1 May. Streets, shops, the airport, railway stations, buses, hotels and restaurants are adorned with posters featuring the famous gold and faience head of Tutankhamun. The boyish face of the legendary Pharaoh is on several magazine covers, while objects from the collection appear on the front pages of all the newspapers. Even gift shop showcases have been cleared of their usual autumn displays and restocked with Tutankhamun souvenirs or posters.

Treasures from the Tutankhamun collection, last seen in Germany in 1981, are back again along with funerary treasures of other members of the 18th Dynasty.

Despite the cold, rainy weather, visitors are queuing in front of the modern black and white building of the Art and Exhibition Hall. The museum is expecting 1,700,000 visitors to the exhibition over its six- month duration. Bonn is within easy reach of large cities such as Cologne, Dèsseldorf and Frankfurt and not far from Belgium, Holland and Austria.

Visitors are first guided past an audio-visual map of the Nile showing all the towns and cities of Egypt. By pressing on the name of any city, a window opens to reveal visual images of its major archaeological sites along with full details. "It is a virtual voyage along the Egyptian Nile," Wenzel Jacob, curator of the Art and Exhibition Hall, said. He said that today, 23 years after the last similar exhibition in Cologne, Tutankhamun's treasures were shining once again in another city on the Rhine. "It was hard going to secure this exhibition again in Europe, but after three years of negotiations the dream has come true," Jacob told the Weekly.

The exhibition has the same theme as the one held in Basle. It is arranged chronologically, starting with Tuthmosis IV and the funerary goods of Amenhotep II, who ruled in the last quarter of the 15th century BC; the collection of the courtier Maiherpri; followed by masterpieces of the collection of Yuya and Tuya -- the grandparents of Akhenaten; Akhenaten himself and his wife Nefertiti in conjunction with the mysterious Amarna burial; and finally the treasured collection of Tutankhamun, which is the highlight of the show.

Against a deep rose-painted background hang black and white photographic enlargements of Howard Carter at various stages of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. Others show workmen removing the magnificent belongings of Yuya and Tuya from their resting place. Photographs of other funerary collections are also hanging. "This is the most suitable colour for an exhibition like this," Jacob said, explaining the choice of rose pink for the walls. "It reflects modern taste, adorned with the ancient. So it gives the combination of ancient and modern."

To further enhance the display and allow visitors to learn more about the burial chamber on the day of its famous discovery -- 22 February 1922 -- and how it looks after the removal of the priceless collection, a coloured reconstruction of the chamber has been installed in the exhibition hall. This room is dimly lit in order to provide an atmosphere of serenity and even divinity.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the third stop of the touring exhibition would be in the United States, where it will remain for 18 months and travel to Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago. After that Tutankhamun will return to Europe to spend another six months in London.

During the tour, Hawass told the Weekly, the king's mummy, which has remained in his tomb, will be removed to the Egyptian Museum so it can be CT scanned in the hope that something will be learnt about the secrets behind his early death, whether the cause of death was natural or more sinister. The probe into Tutankhamun's mummy will be screened on I-Max film, which will be seen by visitors to the Egyptian Museum. Hawass said that the mummy would afterwards return to its original burial place in the Valley of the Kings.

While visitors crowd round the Tutankhamun collection, others at Bonn University are studying the life of his British discoverer Howard Carter. Wafaa El-Sedik, curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, said that a documentary exhibition is highlighting details of Carter's discovery. The exhibition includes his handwritten archaeological notes, the diary he kept daily during his stay in the Valley of the Kings searching for the burial site, and letters between himself and his British and German colleagues discussing archaeological theory. Some of these letters spoke of the so-called "Pharaoh's curse".

The splendour of Ancient Egypt has captivated the press during the week-long inaugural celebrations. Bonner Rundschau issued four pages in colour featuring the exhibition and describing it as "an alluring window on the treasure of Tutankhamun after 23 years of absence". General-Antzeiger in its weekly issue ran a front-page piece entitled: "Tutankhamun, the golden king of every era", calling the display one of best ever held at the Art and Exhibition Hall. ZDF TV and NTV broadcast long reports about Tutankhamun's treasured collection, describing it one of the most important exhibitions ever held in Bonn.

Hawass said that, as Egypt's ambassador, the exhibition would represent a great cultural tradition and suggested that Egypt itself was well worth exploring.

Bahi Sobhi, head of the Egyptian Tourist Bureau in Germany, said the exhibition would bring enormous benefit to the Egyptian tourism industry because it would attract many more tourists, not only Germany but from all over Europe. He expected that this year the number of German visitors to Egypt would be more than a million, while the number of tourist nights would rise to 12 million.

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