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The Egyptian Museum of Turin
The immortal appeal of the Pharaohs
With well over thirty thousand exhibits, including some priceless items, it is considered the most important museum of Egyptian civilization in the world.
Thanks also to a radical restructuring of the spaces and the “Immortali” exhibition, already in progress, it will be among the great attractions of Expo 2015
by Mario T. Barbero
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Pendua and Nefertari, statues in limestone from XIII century secolo B.C., symbol of the “Immortali” exhibition. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Museum of Turin

The Egyptian Museum of Turin is the second in the world after that of Cairo, but it’s considered the first for the importance and the unique nature of its exhibits. Since its constitution, many experts of international repute have dedicated themselves to the study of its collections; first of all the decoder of Egyptian hieroglyphics Jean-Francois Champollion, who, on arriving in Turin in 1824, wrote thus: “The road to Memphis and Thebes goes through Turin”.

It was founded in 1824 with the name of Regio Museo delle Antichità Egizie by King Carlo Felice, with the purchase of the important collection belonging to Bernardino Drovetti, nominated as Consul of France in Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte. Thanks to his friendship with Mohamed Ali, viceroy of Egypt, Drovetti managed to transport 5,268 exhibits to Europe, including 100 statues, 170 papyruses, stele, sarcophaguses, mummies, bronzes, amulets and objects from daily life, currently conserved in the Palazzo dell’Accademia, designed in the XVII century by architect Guarino Guarini. The Turin collection initially exhibited objects collected in the area of Thebes; later, between 1913 and 1920, Ernesto Schiapparelli enhanced it with exhibits extracted from the excavations of Qau el Kebir and Gebelein and then the Italian Archaeological Mission, in 1935, added to the collection at Eliopoli, Giza, Deir-el-Medina, Hammamija, the Valley of the Queens at Thebes and Asiut.

One of the latest important purchases is the Temple of Ellesija, donated to Italy by the Arab Republic of Egypt in 1970 for the significant technical and scientific support given during the campaign to save the Nubian monuments damaged by the construction of the great Aswan Dam. By now it has more than thirty thousand items that offer a great insight into the art, the history and the most diverse aspects of Egyptian civilization after the Paleolithic age. The largest monuments in the museum are gathered in the statuario, most of which from the Temple of Amun in Thebes, and amongst which some stone sarcophaguses, two large Amenhotep III sphinxes, lions with human heads to symbolize the sun divinity of the king and the large statues of the kings of Egypt, most importantly that Ramesses II, the famous king of the XIX dynasty, considered a “masterpiece of Egyptian art”. Among others, we must mention that of queen Nefertari, whose Theban tomb was the source of some exhibits, the colossus of Sethi II wearing an elaborate crown on his head, the statue of Anen, a Theban astronomer from 1400 B.C., as well as those of sovereigns in the Ptolemaic age. An interesting exhibit is the statue of Thutmose III but also the group of Amun, with the figure of a young king identifiable as Tutankhamon, and the sarcophagus of Gemenfharbak of the XXVI dinasty. In the rooms of the museum on the upper floors of the palazzo, there is, amongst other things, The Book of the Dead (the names of the deceased were written on a papyrus and represented his entrance into the reign of the dead), the tomb of queen Nefertari, the tomb of Kha, a rare collection of papyrus, a mummies hand with a ring set in which is a stone scarab, an animal considered sacred to the sun. One of the most venerated gods of Egypt was Anubi, the god of the dead, in the guise of a jackal, Seth, in the guise of a donkey, the Kasa wooden tabernacle, one of the oldest and most precious objects of worship. Restructuring work has been in progress for some years now to make this legacy which belongs not only to the city of Turin but also to the whole of humanity more accessible to the public.

On 1st August 2013, with the exhibition entitled “Immortali”, the final phase of re-modernising got under way by utilizing the premises of Galleria Sabauda. This took place with the inauguration of the new underground areas in the basement of the 16th century building, Collegio dei Nobili. These works of radical restructuring will create, by 2015, a completely renovated expo space with the aim of the full enhancement of the museum’s treasures. In future the underground floor will have a different use, while the definitive museum route will begin by going up to the second floor by means of a system of escalators set in an ideal and evocative itinerary of “going up the Nile”: an exciting walk around three floors through the fascinating mystery of Ancient Egypt.

The temporary exhibition Immortali, l’Arte e i Saperi degli antichi egizi”, which will be the big attraction of Expo 2015, is a modern and essential itinerary created to enhance about a thousand exhibits among the most representative in the museum. An informal walk which offers visitors an evocative and original direct approach which gives them the chance to see each exhibit in its three dimensions. The sense of the exhibition is the cult of the Hereafter that represents one of the most fascinating aspects of Egyptian culture: the tension towards life beyond life was entrusted to the benevolence of the divinities, but, paradoxically, it has been the work of man to render the civilization eternal.

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