Mummy portrait from the 2nd century AD of two brothers who appear to have died together
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an addictive place. On my two writing retreats in Egypt last year I found myself returning again and again. The collections are so vast, the displays so stunning, that no matter how many times you go you always find something that bowls you over.
Much of the museum is laid out chronologically, from the predynastic era all the way up to the Greco-Roman period (332 BC – 395 AD). This last period of ancient Egypt is often overlooked except for the famous mummy portraits like the one pictured above, lifelike paintings of the deceased. The rest of the art from this time is less compelling. Some of it is overdone, almost cartoonish, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Here’s a small sample of what the museum had to offer.
I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The Egyptian Museum is poorly lit and many of the cases are dirty, making good photography difficult. Hope you enjoy them anyway!
The pyramid of Menkaure (2532-2504 BC) and
its three Queens’ Pyramids, looking east
We’ve all seen the pictures. Tucked beside the massive pyramids at Giza are a few little pyramids. They are generally described in one line as the “Queens’ Pyramids” or “satellite pyramids” and not mentioned any further. They seem like such an afterthought to the awe-inspiring pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, not to mention the Sphinx, that they get all but forgotten. But why were these monuments built? And who were they for?
The Pointer at Mzoura. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero
Morocco is best known for its medieval medinas and Roman cities, but the region has some interesting prehistoric remains as well. Petroglyphs dating back tens of thousands of years can be found all over the country, and archaeologists are excavating early hunting sites and Neolithic villages to piece together Morocco’s prehistory.
One curious site stands out above all others — Mzoura, Morocco’s only stone circle. It looks strikingly like those of Western Europe, as if it had been transposed from Wiltshire or Brittany.
We visited on the same day we went to visit Asilah. The site makes a good side trip from that old pirate port. A private car is needed because the stone circle stands next to the little village of Sidi-el-Yamani, which is reached only infrequently by public transport over narrow and rough roads.
Iraq gets a lot of bad press. As usual with far-off countries, we only hear about them on the news when something goes wrong, and a lot has been going wrong in Iraq for the past few decades.
As usual, though, the news doesn’t tell the whole story. Iraq may be home to the 21st century’s most psychotic religious group and countless warring factions, but you can also find decent people and bastions of culture. The Iraqi intelligentsia fights a peaceful daily struggle to keep the nation’s culture and history alive.
Nowhere is this more clear than at the National Museum of Iraq. Like the Iraqi people, it’s a survivor, having withstood sanctions, invasion, and looting. That it’s survived at all shows just how dedicated its staff is to preserving humanity’s past.