Turin’s Egyptian mu­seum set to re­open af­ter five-year re­furb


Huge black and gold sar­coph­a­guses with kohl-rimmed eyes dwarf vis­i­tors at Turin’s pala­tial Egyptian mu­seum, which is re­open­ing to the public af­ter a “pharaonic” five-year ren­o­va­tion.

What was it like to be an early 20th-cen­tury ex­plorer, stum­bling across the an­cient tombs of pharaohs and dig­ni­taries and un­earthing the mum­mi­fied bod­ies and trea­sures within?

Now vis­i­tors don­ning 3D glasses in the mu­seum in north­ern Italy will be able to ex­plore a re­con­struc­tion of the tomb of Queen Ne­fer­tari, Ramesses the Great’s favourite wife, as well as that of an­other tomb and a cult chapel.

The red-brick build­ing in the heart of Turin’s his­toric cen­ter, built as a Je­suit school in the 17th cen­tury, has un­der­gone a 50 mil­lion euro (US$53.7 mil­lion) makeover that has dou­bled its ex­hi­bi­tion space to 12,000 square me­ters.

“The (re­fur­bish­ment) works were re­ally pharaonic. This ren­o­va­tion is not the end of the jour­ney, but the be­gin­ning,” mu­seum direc­tor Chris­tian Greco told a press re­view Tues­day.

“The Egyptian mu­seum will be­come a great in­ter­na­tional mu­seum once again,” he said.

One of the top 10 mu­se­ums in Italy in terms of vis­i­tors — with over half a mil­lion peo­ple through its doors in 2014 — it is open­ing to the public for free on Wed­nes­day, one month be­fore this year’s Expo be­gins in nearby Mi­lan.

Or­ga­niz­ers hope some of the mil­lions of vis­i­tors ex­pected in Italy’s eco­nomic cap­i­tal for the 6-month Expo will be en­ticed to add Turin — and the world’s only mu­seum out­side of Cairo ded­i­cated en­tirely to Egypt — to their itin­er­ar­ies.

The col­lec­tion — which boasts 32,500 pieces, only a small por­tion of which are on show — is laid out over four floors and cov­ers a pe­riod from 4,000 B.C. to A.D. 700.

Tow­er­ing Sar­coph­a­guses

The star draw is clearly the new sar­coph­a­gus gallery, where var­nished wooden or stone burial cas­ings sport­ing in­tri­cate hair braids and long goa­tees stand with their arms crossed, and a mum­mi­fied body lies curled on its side.

A large part of the mu­seum’s cur­rent dis­play of stat­ues, pa­pyrus texts, sar­coph­a­guses and mum­mies were bought in 1824 by King Car­los Felix (1765-1831), king of Pied­mon­tSar­dinia and of the House of Savoy.

They were part of a col­lec­tion put to­gether by Bernardino Drovetti, a Pied­mon­tese diplo­mat and an­ti­quar­ian ap­pointed French Con­sul to Egypt by his com­pan­ion in arms, Napoleon.

Sniffed at by France, the col­lec­tion was of­fered to Italy — and ar­chae­o­log­i­cally savvy Car­los Felix jumped at the chance.

Egyp­tol­ogy at the time “was very in fash­ion. The public were dis­cov­er­ing th­ese ob­jects that were so new, that told an ob­scure, far-away story,” Beppe Moiso, one of the mu­seum’s eight cu­ra­tors said.

French scholar Jean-Fran­cois Cham­pol­lion, known pri­mar­ily for de­ci­pher­ing the Egyptian hi­ero­glyphs on the fa­mous Rosetta Stone, stud­ied the Turin col­lec­tion when it was first put to­gether.


Egyptian ar­ti­facts are dis­played at the Museu Egizio (Egyptian Mu­seum) in Turin, Italy, the only mu­seum other than the Cairo Mu­seum that is ded­i­cated solely to an­cient Egypt art and cul­ture, Tues­day, March 31.

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