Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 March - 6 April 2005
Issue No. 736
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig days:

Zahi Hawass

The Pharaohs in Paris

By Zahi Hawass

The Arab World Institute in Paris traditionally hosts exhibits on the history and archaeology of Arab countries. They even have a permanent exhibit about textiles in the Arab world. The institute's objective is to explain Arab culture to the French. Nasser El- Ansari, the institute's director- general, visited me the other day, expressing an interest in creating an exhibit that will attract the French public and tell the story of the Pharaohs. We agreed to set up an exhibit called the Glory of the Pharaohs; later it was changed to Pharaon. The title "Pharaoh" first appeared in the New Kingdom (1550 BC). Before the New Kingdom the ruler was called "king". The word "Pharaoh" is from the hieroglyph word "pr-aa" and in Arabic Pharaon. It means "the king who lives in the palace".

The exhibit will highlight kings from the Old Kingdom such as Khafre, the builder of the second Pyramid at Giza and kings from the New Kingdom such as Tuthmose III and Ramses II. The exhibit will also show those who were close to the king such as the commander of the army, the vizier, nurse of the king, scribes and other important officials. This unique exhibit will tell about the king's palace and furniture, beds, chairs, clothes and even the toilet. The scenes of birds in the marsh from the palace in Amarna will contribute to the section that is dedicated to Akhenaten. Another attraction will be the gold from Tanis.

I was fortunate to have the honour of showing this exhibit to President Hosni Mubarak, Mrs Mubarak, President Jacques Chirac and Mrs Chirac. It was important to tell the presidents that the exhibit will show the work of the French and Egyptian archaeologists.

French archaeologists are responsible for two very important discoveries. In 1904 Legran had an amazing find at Karnak that consisted of around 17,000 objects and about 750 statues, some of which are being shown in this exhibit. This cache was found when restoration work was being done on the hypostyle hall, exactly like the great discovery in Luxor in 1989 when they were restoring the hall of Amenhotep III. The surprise discovery in Luxor revealed some 22 statues. One statue of Amenhotep III could be the best piece of Egyptian art ever found. The other important French discovery occurred in the Delta in 1948 when the famous French architect Montet found the intact tombs of kings from the 21st and 22nd dynasties.

As we were visiting the exhibit I stopped in front of the beautiful mask of Pasenuses. "The Egyptians and President Mubarak gave this mask to the French people," I said. President Chirac's reply: "Thank you for the gift and we know that President Mubarak loves the French people." After that I said that it was only a temporary gift. The presidents laughed.

Next we stopped in front of a small silver statue of a Pharaoh standing, and in his hand stood another small statue of the goddess Maat, the goddess of justice and truth. I explained that the Egyptians ruled the world with Maat. We have a written document from Tuthmoses III advising his vizier Richmire to rule the people with justice and truth.

When we were in front of the statue of Kia, the mother of Ramses II, I told President Chirac that we recently had a surprise discovery. In Middle Egypt at a site called Akhmim we discovered a statue of Ramses II that could be the largest limestone statue of a king ever found. The statue has Ramses II in the middle with his wife and daughter Meretamun standing on one side and his mother on the other. Akhmim was dedicated to the god Min, the god of fertility in Ancient Egypt. The Arab travellers who visited the site in the ninth century AD reported that they spent from sunrise to sunset exploring the massive temple and that it was larger than the temple at Karnak. Currently this site is under a modern Islamic cemetery. This incredible statue was found accidentally under one of the family tombs. When they were preparing a tomb for burial they discovered the head of the statue. They did not tell anyone and returned in the middle of the night with plans to steal it. Luckily, they were caught in the act.

President Mubarak gave LE10 million to move the modern cemetery from the site so that we could start excavating the entire temple. We have already found another statue and expect our future excavations to be fruitful. I spoke with President Mubarak and President Chirac about the progress being made.

I believe that this exhibit will strengthen our relationship with the French. The day that the two great leaders visited the exhibit will never be forgotten.

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