A Passion For Egypt

Plundered art and antiques, should rightfully be returned to their countries of origin and displayed in situ.

So I believed, very passionately, until I learned of the burning of the Institute d’Egypte, near Tahrir square in Cairo in December 2011. And of the destruction of almost all the precious manuscripts it contained.

Among them, it was reported, was one of eleven original editions of the Description de l’Egypte. A twenty three (?) volume illustrated compilation of nearly twenty years of observation by the team of French scholars and scientists that accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian campaign of 1798. The most comprehensive record of Egypt’s history and its monuments ever written, and the bible of modern Egyptologists.

The fire is alleged to have been started by demonstrators attacking army sharp shooters on the roof of the institute. What the army was doing on that roof in the first place, without having ensured the safety of the institute’s precious collection, is another matter.

The original copper plates of the Description d l’Egypte, are said to be safe in the Chalcographie in the Louvre, and digitised versions are now available online. But the incident still underlines the patent risk to what is essentially world heritage, during turbulent times.

The fire must also have been a setback, surely, for Egypt’s aggressive campaign for the return of a few of its most valuable artifacts from museums around the world. (A threat from their director of antiquities to cut off ties with the Louvre museum and ban all French excavation teams from its archaeological digs, resulted in the return of the Tetaki tomb frescoes in 2009.)

Dendera Zodiac - Musee du Louvre
Zodiac ceiling of Dendera

This past July, we dedicated our Louvre visit to some of those treasures in the Egyptian Antiquities section. Chief among them, the Zodiac Ceiling, the earliest known map of the sky, that I had been longing to set eyes on ever since I saw its soot covered reproduction in the incredible Temple of Hathor in Dendera.

Another, is the Seated Scribe from Saqqara. An uncannily lifelike statue of an unidentified man. Every minute detail, from his red veined magnesite and black rock crystal inlaid eyes, to his nipples made of wood, seems meticulously crafted. Making it even harder to believe that he is 4500 years old!!

The Seated Scribe of Saqqara
The Seated Scribe from Saqqara – 2620 – 2500 BC!!

Below are some more equally impressive pieces ranging from antiquity to the Coptic period. Should they go back? Not sure any more. I was just selfishly happy to have had one more opportunity to see them. For, as much as my heart bleeds for its people, I don’t see myself returning to Egypt anytime soon.

Next on my list of (confiscated) Egyptian relics….Nefertiti’s bust in Berlin!

Read: Older posts tagged Egypt

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

66 thoughts on “A Passion For Egypt

  1. Yes thought provoking post for sure. How terrible a loss of the manuscripts. Thanks for sharing your photographs and thoughts. Important issue. All things Egyptian are fascinating to me…when I was in the 6th grade we put on a play The Curse of Ra and it has always stayed with me as the first introduction to the antiquities of Egypt.

    1. I probably contracted my fascination in primary school myself Ruth! I think it s one of the most fascinating early civilizations ever!

  2. I believe that antiques and artifacts should remain where they are and not neccessarily returned to the country of origin. Taken to the extremes – this can only throw up unneccessary tensions between countries and peoples – usually stoked by politicians for personal gain.

    Lovely pictures and yes, that fire in Egypt is sad – fortunately, we have digitised records but it’s not quite the same, is it.


    1. Not too sure about that Eric. I still feel they should be returned, but perhaps a world body like UNESCO could ensure their safety somehow! An Utopian solution perhaps! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  3. I honestly don’t know what to think Madhu . . . . human rights in such places are on such fragile grounds that it is hardy surprising that valuable arts and antiquities will not be valued. I so hope the situation improves soon.

    1. I hope so too Patti. Art and antiquity aside, the Egyptian people are inherently gracious and decent. A majority live off tourism, and continued instability cannot be good for any of them.

    1. If really is Luann. And the rest of the ceiling at Dendera too. Do check out my Dendera post when you have the time 🙂

  4. Madhu, that header image is breathtaking. I have never been to Louvre inside … but I love their metro station .. *smile. I haven’t been to many museum at all .. wonder why ??? Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was one of them and I enjoyed every minute of it. So why haven’t I been to others … I have enjoyed art museums – expect Guggenheim in Bilbao. One day I maybe will go back to Paris and I will visit Louvre. You’re just magical with your posts … the information and the passion.

    1. Oh I am a museum freak Viveka! And hubby is constantly peering over my shoulder and striking out the minor ones from our itineraries 🙂 That said I can not handle more than two to three hours at a stretch in any museum. This was my second visit to the Louvre and I have barely begun to scratch the surface. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      1. When it’s about all cultures … I think we will always be scratch on the surface – and the more we scratch the more there is to find and share.
        You’re so fantastic with sharing your impressions.

  5. Incredible history and photos in your post, Madhu. Wonderfully written. The seated scribe is so life-like. And the dates just take my breath away…2600 BC, 2350 BC…..BC!!!!! Incredible!

    1. It is the dates that make all this so amazing Angeline. Most people tend to forget that places like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat are just about 700 – 1000 years old!!

  6. In all modern conflicts, I am appalled by the destruction of buildings, temples, our culture wiped away. You’d think we were more civilized, but I suppose we raze and plunder with the same disregard… Sad. I enjoyed this post tremendously. The wooden boat of Princess Anukhet and the seated scribe are incredible.

  7. It is sad indeed… Our own antiques are spread across the world, and God alone knows when, or if, we will ever get them back. What happened in Egypt does not justify though, the antiques remain in others’ hands. It could so easily have been the other way around. Just imagine how we would feel if our plundered art were destroyed in a foreign country… Twice the heartache…

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