In early September 2018 I had the opportunity to go to Luxor, Egypt with friends from the Egypt Centre in Swansea, one of Britain’s two museums fully dedicated to Egyptology. I was the least knowledgeable member of our group as my Egyptian Education began and ended in the Ptolemaic Period, which existed from 332-30BCE. We were there for a week, and I both loved it and struggled with it. I had never before experienced ‘culture shock’ despite travelling to America, numerous European countries, and living in the UK for a year. But Egypt was hard on my autism.
Luxor is the modern name for the ancient living city of Thebes. Thebes was once the capital of united Upper and Lower Egypt. It is home of the Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu, and many other important historic and cultural sites. The Luxor Museum reflects its archaeological history in blessed air-conditioned galleries. And let me tell you, when the average temperature in September is 35-40 degrees Celsius, AC is a blessing.
Two of my companions had been to Egypt before, both pre- and post-revolution, and they assured us as we approached the security check that it was very normal. We purchased our tickets then had our bags and selves checked at the gate. It was a very similar process to the Security Tent at the British Museum, for example. Those who wanted to take photographs also had the opportunity to purchase a photography permit for 100 EP.
There are two sets of prices for most historic sites and museums: one for locals, one for foreigners. The full cost of entrance was 120 Egyptian Pounds or between 5 and 6 British pounds – a more than fair price if you ask me! Students with an international student card and teachers with the teaching equivalent, paid half the regular admission fees. I did not purchase a photography permit and would like to thank Cam Mitchell for sending me copies of his photos for this article.
Through the gate and straight ahead is the theatre and book shop. The theatre shows a continuous loop of a documentary immortalizing the return, or repatriation, of Ramses I from a Niagara Falls museum to Luxor. He had been located, misidentified, and kept in Niagara since the late 1800s. By some incredible coincidence, I now work with the son of one of the first Egyptologists to rediscover the pharaoh in Canada. The video is kept at a loud volume, I found that difficult even with my earbuds. It was one of the very few issues brought on by my autism I encountered in the museum itself, if you have sensitive ears, I recommend bringing protectors with you. The staff had no issues with me listening to the documentary from the hall. Once you’ve watched the documentary, and maybe bought a book, you go back outside and walk to the ‘old’ entrance. The theatre and bookstore don’t actually connect up with the galleries as far as I could tell. I’m not sure why that decision was made but given that bad weather is a rarity in Egypt, I can forgive them! It was a lovely, bright day and there are statues and colossi of kings and gods lining the path between theatre and gallery doors. We spit up into smaller groups of two or three inside the main museum.
The interior is difficult to explain without sounding like a total museum nerd. The floors are dark natural stone, the walls are painted dark too. This combination helps highlight the artifacts in spots of light and colour. My friend and I were immediately taken in by a small, well lit statuette of Tutankhamun the boy king, while others went off to find brightly coloured and amazingly preserved sarcophagi. The lighting was the icing on the cake of beautiful objects. Any one of the artifacts housed in the Luxor Museum would have looked breath-taking in a drab, dull, dusty old storeroom. The Egypt Centre has some truly amazing artifacts of its own but none of them hold a candle to Sobek’s toes, teeth, and scalely skin. We ran into him in the first gallery.
Every gallery had at least one attendant who was not an attendant in the way that we in the UK or Canada think of them – that is to say a person charged primarily with answering questions about the museum or exhibitions. Instead Luxor Museum attendants were closer to the Guardians found at Egyptian historic sites. Their job is to protect the artifacts from looters in any form ranging from intentional exploitation for the black market to disrespectful tourists that pose a threat to the longevity of the site. Within the galleries there was less chance of guests climbing on delicate stonework, if you took a photo, however, an attendant was quick to ask to see your photography permit.
One of our party members showed his permit as we came across canopic jars discovered just outside of Luxor, at a dig a friend of ours worked in. Dr. Ken Griffiths, archeologist and Collections Access Manager of the Egypt Centre helped uncover important historic artifacts at sites at South Asasif, four of which were canopic jars. Ken told us that the jars were there and roughly where they would be situated. There was a whole panel of information about the dig in English and Arabic, unfortunately, that interpretation – as with most of the detailed interpretation – was inside the case, behind the object. There was so much information I could barely read it even squinting. This was not a function of my disability but rather the layout of the cases. There are guidelines in Canada and the UK for sizing, spacing, even word count! But this was not the case in Luxor. For the most part if I needed to understand something, such as who was being depicted, I asked my companions. They all knew far more about the subject than I did!
Our tour of the museum ended with a walk into a statue gallery done up beautifully. You can see in the picture of Hathor that she is treated like the goddess she is. Beautifully placed and lit in a space reminiscent of temples. We could also walk all the way around these statues to read any hieroglyphs on the back or just to see the incredible detail the artists put into each one.
Luxor Museum with its beautiful artifacts and detailed interpretation don’t hold a candle to the sites I mentioned above (Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu, and South Asasif). In those places you walk among Ancient Egyptians. I lay down on the floor of Abydos to truly understand the majesty of the ceiling reliefs. But to skip out on the museum if you are in the area is to miss the opportunity to see the Ancient Egyptians through the eyes of Modern Egyptians. Museums are reflections of the people who create them, what Luxor Museum reflected to me is that Modern Egyptians have a high level of love and respect for their ancestors. If you are in the area, definitely go to the museum. See if you can find Ken’s canopic jars!