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Tutankhamun's golden hereafter
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 11 - 2004

Treasures from the Tutankhamun collection have returned to Germany on the second leg of their European tour. Nevine El-Aref reports from Bonn
President Hosni Mubarak and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder inaugurated a major Tutankhamun exhibition yesterday in the beautiful Rhine Valley city of Bonn, the former German capital and birthplace of Ludwig von Beethoven.
The legendary treasures were last seen in Germany at a special exhibition in Cologne in 1981.
This is the exhibition's second stop in Europe after Basle in Switzerland, where visitors queued for hours to gain entry at the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig. "Tutankhamun: The Golden Hereafter" has already captivated Germany and been featured in the headlines of local newspapers and magazine covers.
One cannot turn on the TV without chancing upon a special show about the mysteries of Egypt's Pharaonic past or a documentary featuring the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by British Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922. A film showing the careful packing of the objects, their transportation overland from Basle to Bonn, and the process of placing them on display at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany (Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublic Deutschland) is also being shown.
Posters featuring items from the collection as well as splendid artefacts from the reign of the boy king's monotheistic predecessor Akhenaten, and the latter's beautiful wife Nefertiti and grand parents Yuya and Tuya, also adorn the arrival halls and corridors of Frankfurt airport, as well as the city's main roads, bridges, metro and train stations.
The roads in Bonn itself are lined with huge electronic billboards advertising the exhibition and its magnificent golden objects. Gift shops are stocked up with replicas of Egyptian artefacts, including canopic jars, statuettes, coloured scarabs, mummy tins and ushabti figurines.
Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni described the exhibition as a message of peace to the world, as well as an opportune moment to express the importance of cultural dialogue among civilisations as a way of combating conflict between cultures and religions.
"Since the dawn of history, Egypt has embraced a culture of peace," Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly. He stressed that the Ancient Egyptians did not build their unique civilisation on warfare with their neighbours, but on peace and goodwill, since such a civilisation could not otherwise have thrived for so long nor weathered periods of turbulence.
Wenzel Jakob, curator of the Art and Exhibition Hall, says one part of the exhibition focusses on gold and its perception in Ancient Egyptian belief. Gold was held to be the colour of the immortal sun, and was therefore a symbol of rebirth in the afterlife. Jakob points out that the exhibition's subtitle, "The Golden Hereafter", plays on the religious significance of the golden and gilded tomb treasures that are now between 3,300 and 3,500 years old.
"It is a great feeling to see the Tutankhamun exhibition in Germany again after 23 years," Jakob says. Following the last exhibition in 1981, Egypt prohibited any further showing of the treasures abroad. This was mainly because of damage sustained by the statue of the deity Selket, which fell at one point, causing the detachment of its scorpion crown. An American restorer was called in to repair the damage.
According to Hosni, it was not easy to get the People's Assembly approval for the European Tutankhamun tour. Permission was finally granted as a reflection of Egypt's strong diplomatic and cultural ties with Europe, and on the condition that only duplicate objects from the Tutankhamun collection would be on show. The famous golden funerary mask is regarded as one of Egypt's national treasures and is no longer lent abroad.
Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary- General Zahi Hawass called this exhibition a "journey of the afterlife", which not only offered a unique glimpse into the religious beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, but also highlighted the start of the zenith of splendid New Kingdom art.
"It was an era of great wealth, power and stability," Hawass told the Weekly. He said the exhibition was one of the best ways of promoting Egypt as a cultural and tourist destination.
For the next six months the Federal Art and Exhibition Hall will be displaying 120 objects, 50 of which are major works of art from Tutankhamun's burial site. The other 70 are royal funerary treasures from the XXVIIIth Dynasty, whose kings ruled Egypt from the 15th to the 14th centuries BC. The exhibition runs from 3 November until 1 May 2005.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with objects from the reign of Tuthmosis IV and the funerary goods of Amenhotep II, who ruled in the last quarter of the 15th century BC, followed by the collection of the courtier Maiherpri, masterpieces of the Yuya and Tuya collection, objects belonging to Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti in conjunction with the Amarna culture, and finally with the highlight of the exhibition, the treasured collection of Tutankhamun.
Black and white photographic enlargements of Howard Carter, taken at various stages of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, and others showing workmen removing the magnificent belongings of Yuya and Tuya from their tomb, are hung on the exhibition hall walls.
To enhance the information given to visitors about the Ancient Egyptian funerary process, a computer- animated map of burial sites in Luxor's Valley of the Kings is provided. This also gives a detailed view of the various architectural features of tombs, dating from the early to the late dynasties.
A reconstruction of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, as it was on the day of its discovery on 22 February 1922, is also part of the exhibition so that visitors can visualise the sight that met Carter and his team on that notable day.
Among the remarkable objects on display: a necklace with a pectoral disc showing Tutankhamun between Ptah, local god of the Nile, and the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet; two golden statues featuring Tutankhamun wearing the white and red crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt; a fan decorated with scenes of an ostrich hunt; and a shield showing the king as a sphinx. The beautiful gold funerary mask of Yuya, a limestone head of Akhenaten and a statue of Nefertiti are also part of the collection.
The exhibition, which is expected to be hugely popular, has been organised by the Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublic Deutschland, the SCA and the Egyptian Museum in cooperation with the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig. Deutsche Telekom is sponsoring the Bonn exhibition.
Hawass said that the 4.5 million euros in revenue the exhibition was expected to bring in would go towards financing restoration projects at various archaeological sites, as well as the construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Pyramids. He added that following its European tour, the exhibition would travel to the United States.


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