Antiquities & Archaeology

Twenty-two mummies transported in nitrogen-filled caskets across Cairo in museum move

Pharaohs opulent golden parade was streamed as part of marketing exercise

A convoy of vehicles transporting royal mummies is seen in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, 3 April 2021 AP Photo

Twenty-two royal Egyptian mummies—18 kings and four queens—were transported across Cairo over the weekend as part of a lavish parade which was broadcast live on state television.

The mummies, along with 17 sarcophagi (stone coffins), left the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square to be rehoused in the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), which has been under construction in the al-Fustat district south of Cairo since 2004. The new exhibits will be installed in the Royal Hall of Mummies scheduled to open 18 April.

The ancient rulers were taken on a five-kilometre route across the capital in chronological order of reign, from the 17th Dynasty ruler, Seqenenre Taa II, to Ramses IX, who reigned in the 12th century BC. Roads along the route were repaved to ensure a smooth journey with minimum disruption.

Other conservation measures include carrying the mummies in oxygen-free, nitrogen-filled capsules on trucks with special shock absorbers. Mostafa Ismail, head of conservation at the Mummies Conservation Lab and Storeroom at the NMEC, told CNN that the special caskets limited the damaging effects of humidity, reducing risks from bacteria, fungi, and insects.

"The mummies were transported safely as far as I know, but they have not all been unpacked. It was a spectacular show... It was [a challenge] for those involved on several levels, not least [those responsible for the] security and safety of the mummies," Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, tells The Art Newspaper.

The ceremony could help revive the country’s beleaguered tourist industry in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, said Egyptian government officials. But according to the New York Times, banners and flags lined the route, blocking out impoverished areas.

According to Arab News, around 3.5 million tourists visited Egypt last year compared to 13 million in 2019. In February, Khaled Al-Anani, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, told the same newspaper that the Grand Egyptian Museum, located near the Great Pyramids of Giza, is scheduled for completion by mid 2021; the 490,000 sq. m institution was initially due to open in 2011.