The artifacts at the Cairo Museum represent the best that ancient Egypt has to offer, including fabulous statues, jewels of glittering gold and precious stones, miles of inscribed and decorated reliefs, the coffins and sarcophagi and mummies of kings, pottery spanning the ages, and countless pieces that are classified as “minor objects” but that are far from unimportant. Exploring the museum properly takes weeks—it is an unparalleled treasury of aesthetic pleasures and scholarly satisfaction, and thousands of tourists visit it each day.
Opened in 1902, the museum celebrated its 100th birthday two years ago, not long after I was named secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. As secretary-general, I was responsible for helping to oversee the museum’s centenary festivities, which included fireworks and a laser show. Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and Farouk Hosni, the country’s minister of culture, gave speeches, and scholars from all over the world talked about the museum’s collections. Everyone dressed in period clothes; music from a hundred years ago was played. The entire western courtyard of the museum was cleaned and renovated, with a huge tent erected to house the celebration.