I have visited museums all over the world. They tend to have at least two important things in common– first, and foremost, they are curated by knowledgeable individuals, and it is clear that every attempt has been made to present the collection in an intelligent, organized fashion, with an end goal of offering the visitors information and entertainment. Second, and with occasional exceptions, they are free to the public. At the majority of museums, visitors are given the chance to donate an amount of their choosing on the way into exhibits. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo is the exception to both rules.
For starters, visitors must pay 60 EGP (Egyptian pounds, 60 of which equates to about 11 U.S. dollars) to gain entry to the museum. That is not an exorbitant amount, and if the museum were on par with other museums, I wouldn’t even be writing about it. I would consider the fee more than justified. As the Cairo Museum, as the museum is better known, is hands-down the worst museum I have ever visited, I find the entry fee to be anything but justified. Upon entering the museum, I sought an information desk. There is none. Instead, there is a booth at which you can buy postcards. I asked the clerk where I could obtain a map of the museum. None exists. A list of the exhibits? Also non-existent. Are there audio tours? No. Docents? No. Museum staff of any kind? No, only security guards. In short, visitors are left to their own devices.
The collection itself is in appalling shape. It is crammed with no discernible order into corners and dusty cases. Some items appear not to have been unpacked yet– as a visitor, you will encounter several piles of crated objects, presumably relics, stacked in front of unpacked and unsorted pieces. The majority of the collection is unlabeled, and the pieces that are labeled only have photocopied, hand-cut scraps of paper affixed to them; some of those have been mounted upside-down. To me, the entire museum felt as if a pharaoh had just moved into a new apartment, and had not yet unpacked or put away any of his stuff. Moreover, the majority of the collection is not even on display, as the museum is far too small; one can walk the entirety of the two floors in less than an hour. Most of the collection is languishing in the basement, allegedly sinking slowly into the earthen floor, or stored off-site.
There are certainly many cool things to see at the museum, some mummified animals come to mind, and some of it is understandable, but with no organization and few descriptions available to me, I left with a feeling of extreme disappointment, as though I had been robbed of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about Egypt’s ancient history.
I have visited the British Museum twice now, as well as Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, and there were moments while I was perusing the collection in which I felt a twinge of regret that such priceless treasures had been removed from their native land to be displayed on foreign soil. After seeing how the Egyptians treat their priceless treasures, all I can say is thank goodness some of them made it out of Egypt! Were it up to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Rosetta Stone would likely be facing a wall. The Bust of Nefertiti, if even displayed, may well be perched atop a mummy, or perhaps labeled as “Missus Tut.” I half wish some Indiana Jones type would organize a raid and liberate the rest of the collection so that it may actually be enjoyed.