Like most decent buildings in Cairo, the grand Egyptian Museum dates to British colonial times. Like many British colonial buildings, it doesnâ€™t seem to have seen much work since then. But itâ€™s grand. Egypt is cursed with having an abundance of antiquities and not enough decent museum floor space to exhibit them all. Iâ€™m told that the basement of the Egyptian Museum looks like a set from the last few minutes of â€œIndiana Jones and the Riders of the Lost Arkâ€, with thousands of wooden crates full of priceless treasurers stacked like pancakes. A super-duper brand spanking new museum is being built close to the Pyramids thanks to the generosity of Japanese taxpayers, but â€“ surprise surprise â€“ itâ€™s years behind schedule and several times over an already eye-watering budget. So in the meantime, the Egyptian Museum, just off the news-famous Tahrir Square in the city centre, has to do, and take it from me, it does so in spades and hieroglyphics.
The surroundings of this two-storey palace of history look alternatively like a war zone or an archaeological dig. Itâ€™s only renos, though no one actually seems to be doing any work. Like everywhere else in the state employ in Egypt, there are swarms of mostly middle-aged men inside and outside the museum, doing God knows what â€“ not working on the renos, thatâ€™s for sure. There are four times as many of them as needed to run an establishment of this sort, but collectively they only manage to do half of the work that a quarter of them should be doing.
All that aside, prepare to have your mind blown. The entry is 75 Egyptian pounds, which is roughly 7.5 Euro, which is a steal compared to European museums. But make sure you splurge on another, 50-pound ticket so you can take photos inside (without flash, and not of the royal mummies or the utterly spectacular Tutankhamun treasure, but these are minor exceptions). Inside, there are over 100 rooms or sections, chockful of the most amazing five millennia of art history. Iâ€™ve spent about three hours inside, but if youâ€™re more thorough or more fanatical about your ancient history you can easily while away the whole day or even two communing with the masterwork of the worldâ€™s oldest civilisation.
Tinder or no Tinder, I got swiped right by a cute recent pharmacy graduate called Nadi, who wanted to practice her already quite good by the Egyptian standards English. Not quite a guide but we spent about an hour walking around and talking about life and how she wants to go to Canada. Being a polite foreigner that I am I didnâ€™t say anything when she was telling me how the ancient Egyptians were actually monotheists and various animal-shaped gods in reality were simply the symbolic manifestations of the One. I didnâ€™t have the heart to break hers and explain to her that of all the pharaohs only Akhenaton was a proto-monotheist and for all his trouble he ended up prematurely dead and erased form history. But thatâ€™s probably what they teach here in schools to save the good Muslims from the embarrassment of having genius ancestors who created masterworks of beauty and built pyramids and magnificent temples while being unredeemed and unredeemable pagans and idolaters.
Anyway, go and see it all. As Napoleon said to his soldiers before the decisive battle of his Egyptian campaign, “Soldiers, remember that from the top of these pyramids, 40 centuries of history contemplate you.” You get the same feeling all the time at the Museum, except that every statute seems to roll its eyes in bemusement, “Oh goodie, another tourist.”
I will call this Brisbane Central YLNP meeting to order (apologies for an in-joke).