Alexandria National Museum offers a glimpse of the city’s colorful past. The museum was inaugurated December 31st 2003. The museum is set in an elegant white mansion on the corner of Tahrir Street housing 1800 artifacts. The building itself is 83 years old that belonged to Al Saad Bassili Pasha, who was one of the wealthiest wood merchants in Alexandria and harbored an underground bomb shelter during World War II. Each era is displayed in a separate gallery, with the center pieces of the museum the Greco-Roman collection. It show cases dramatically lit photos of excavations off the coast of Alexandria, where divers found the sunken city of Heraklion, lost to the sea during earthquakes in the fourth century AD. What makes this museum special is that the majority of the artifacts on display were found in and around Alexandria.
Descending the dimly lit stairs to the exhibition of Pharaonic artifacts offers an insight into what compelled the Ancient Egyptians to build such elaborate tombs for their dead. The museum’s collection includes a piece of painted limestone taken from a tomb showing pharaoh seated beside his wife accepting huge table of offerings piled high with ox leg, goose, vegetables, bread and wine from his sons. Jewels and chalices in amber, jade and other natural materials were placed alongside elaborately decorated sarcophagi to keep away evil. Small wooden replicas of the boat that would have carried the pharaoh’s body across the Nile to the burial chamber, complete with masts, sails and the customary female mourners, show the level of craftsmanship that existed 2500 BC.
The set of four alabaster canopic jars held the entrails of the dead, including the stomach, intestines, lungs and liver, the protection of which was entrusted to the four sons of Horus; a falcon, a baboon, a human and a jackal. The heart however, was always left inside the mummy, guarding the entrance of the tomb with Anubis the black jackal.
A highlight of the museum is the Terracotta figurines in flowing robes and elaborate hair-dos showing the fashionable trends of Greek women.
Another highlight is an impressive collection of pottery lamps than can be traced from the third century BC to the first century AD. They were intended for both interior decorations as well as for rituals and ceremonies.
Examples of urns used to hold the ashes of the cremated exemplify the ancient Greeks ritual of burning their deceased. Many are painted with human or animal figures and mythological creatures, an artistic motif that developed around the Roman era.
Long necked amphora vases used to store wine, black flasks with intricate relief work from the Hellenistic period and table ware with floral patterns and geometric designs form part of an interesting collection.
Under water photos show an enormous pink granite statue of the Goddess Hapi that remained half buried in the sand, as well as gold icons depicting Alexander and jewels retrieved from seabed.
Coptic and Medieval Eras
This section of the Museum has a wooden carving of bearded saint, a sixth century parchment narrating the martyrdom of Saint Peter seventeenth century icons representing the crucification of Christ and the last supper are the show pieces of the small Coptic gallery.
A collection of the Islamic era that arrived in the seventh century AD is represented in this gallery. Blown glass, delicate glazed vases and ceramic dishes from the Mamluk and ottoman era show changing artistic influences over the course of 500 years.
An ostentatious collection of fruit bowls, elaborate candelabra, curios and trinkets from King Farouk’s palace are on the first floor.
The Alexandria Museum is not very large in comparison to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo or the Luxor Museum, but it offers a well displayed sampling of history that illuminates the evolution of Egypt’s second city.