Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Our Exhibition Abroad, Paris: Osiris, Egypt’s Sunken Mysteries
A major exhibition on Osiris and ancient Egypt’s sunken cities opened Two weeks Ago at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, reports Nevine El-Aref
French President François Hollande and Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty inaugurated the first ancient Egyptian exhibition to be held abroad since the 2011 Revolution last week, opening the “Osiris, Egypt’s Sunken Mysteries” exhibition at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris.
In the aftermath of the revolution and as a result of the lack of security, antiquities exhibitions abroad stopped and new agreements were cancelled. Today, however, such exhibitions can take place safely, and Paris is the first leg of the new exhibition, which will tour for two years in a number of foreign cities, including Zurich and London.
The exhibition features 250 ancient Egyptian objects that were submerged on the Mediterranean seabed off
Alexandria, where the legendary cities of Thonis, Heracleion and Canopus sank beneath the waves centuries ago. Objects from museums in Egypt are among those in the exhibition, including 18 artefacts from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo, 31 from the Alexandria National Museum, 22 from the collection of the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, and 15 from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Museum.
Eldamaty described the exhibition as “exceptional” and revealing much about one of the founding myths of ancient Egypt by evoking the mysteries of the god Osiris. The god and his mysteries were among the most important religious myths forming ancient Egyptian civilisation and art.
“The exhibition also highlights Egypt’s strong friendship with France,” Eldamaty told the Weekly. He added that it could help to promote tourism to Egypt and increase the ministry’s budget, needed to complete suspended archaeological projects such as the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau.
During the opening, Hollande said that the message of the exhibition went far beyond Egypt and showed how the will to preserve world heritage was stronger than the wish to annihilate it.
“This exhibition is a message, a fighting message, that we have preserved these artefacts and a message of hope at a time when the Middle East is undergoing such drama,” he said.
Archaeologist Franck Goddio led the underwater excavations for more than a decade after 2000. He described the exhibition as an incredible achievement. The cities it records had seemed lost to the world as they were submerged because of destructive earthquake,s but now their remains are being shown to the public, he said.
“Some objects only came out of the water last year, and others have never left Egypt before,” Goddio pointed out.
The underwater excavations are ongoing, employing a team of 50 underwater archaeologists and restorers. Goddio estimates that only as little as three per cent of the ancient cities have been uncovered so far. He said that it has taken seven years of underwater excavations to retrieve the artefacts from a 40-square-mile area of the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria. “The objects, covered in sediment and partially protected by the sea, date back 2,800 years and included a giant tablet with hieroglyphic writing,” Goddio said.
Mohamed Abdelmaguid, director of the Underwater Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, said during the opening that the artefacts on display have aesthetic value, but at the same time show continuity in Egyptian beliefs from the pharaohs to Greek and Roman times.
“We see Osiris, who became Dionysus in Greece and then Bacchus in Roman times,” Abdelmaguid explained. He added that the exhibition comes at a precarious time for antiquities in the Middle East, as militants from the Islamic State (IS) group have been destroying artefacts across Iraq and Syria.
“We should take care of this heritage because in reality it is not only our heritage. It is the world’s heritage,” Abdelmaguid said. “What is going on in Syria in the destruction of Palmyra and in Iraq shows a kind of thinking that does not represent the real beliefs of the region. This exhibition shows them. This preservation of culture in Paris shows that it’s just a minority who are doing the damage.”
The exhibition throws light on the discoveries made by submarine exploration by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology in Aboukir Bay off Alexandria. It reveals the incredible remains of the temples of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus in which secret religious rites and processions took place, as well as highlighting numerous objects bearing witness to a cult that has completely vanished today.
In the exhibition, visitors can follow the famous nautical procession of Osiris from Thonis-Heracleion to Canopus that accompanied the god each year on his passage to the hereafter. The exhibition as a whole is one of the highlights of the excavations directed by Goddio, in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities in the western part of the Nile delta.
It consists of three sections. The first presents the myth of Osiris and its protagonists. The second, the most important, consists of the archaeological sites and evidence for the rituals of the mysteries of Osiris. In the third and last section, visitors discover how the ancient myths evolved over time and space and how they were adapted at different sites, explaining the diversity of their representations.
A spectacular design of changing moods, colours and lighting mixed with underwater photographs and videos is used to illuminate the objects discovered by divers at the bottom of the sea and reflected in the masterpieces on loan from museums in Egypt.
Among the most distinguished objects are a beautiful and imposing five-metre granite statue of the god Osiris, tools and ritual objects. Most of the objects are in almost near-perfect condition and offer a rare public glimpse into the vast achievements of the ancient world. One of the biggest finds is a 30-foot statue of a pharaoh that archaeologists believe once stood at the entrance to a temple that is now underwater.