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viernes, 26 de abril de 2013

All the treasures of King Tutankhamun's tomb are on display in Prague

The legendary solid-gold death mask of Tutankhamun (visible above in replica) will never again leave the Museum of Cairo, where it is kept
Twilight and True Blood may have done it for vampires, and zombies have certainly experienced a revival in films like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Now, thanks to a traveling exhibition currently pit-stopped in Prague, it's all about the mummies. Well, one mummy in particular.

For centuries, ancient Egyptian society, with its advanced technology, fascinating culture and unique traditions and practices, has enchanted amateurs and Egyptologists alike. While the pyramids, tombs, hieroglyphics and names of some pharaohs are recognized around the world, perhaps the best-known of the ancient god-kings is Tutankhamun - popularly referred to as "King Tut" - who was said to have died around the age of 18. His tomb, prepared with a treasure trove of afterlife necessities, was discovered, nearly intact, in 1922 by the British self-taught Egyptologist Sir Howard Carter.
Tutankhamun was born as Tutankhaten to Akhenaten and his sister and wife around 1341 BC. Their only male child, he is said to have changed his name around 1333 BC and to have married his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten, with whom he had two stillborn daughters. In 1922, Carter discovered the mummies of these two children, along with approximately 1,000 other objects, inside Tutankhamun's tomb. Carter's discovery of the tomb, the first known contact with the former pharaoh since his death, is a vital part of the "Tutankhamun: His Tomb and Treasures" exhibition currently on display at Výstaviště in Prague 7 until the end of June.

Throughout several rooms, detailed, intricate replicas of the many splendid items that were found in the tomb are on display, allowing audiences not only to observe them up close, but also under one roof.
"I first went to visit the exhibition in Zurich, and I immediately recognized its extremely high quality," says Serge Grimaux, chief executive officer of Ticketpro and one of the main driving forces behind the exhibition being brought to the Czech capital. "Furthermore, I loved that they were presenting it using the life story of Sir Howard Carter to create a unique experience. More than just a museum experience, this was like a three-dimensional movie, where visitors also somehow become participants."
Grimaux explains the most interesting aspect of the civilization of the ancient Egyptians for him are the "mysteries" and "magic" of their vast knowledge and range of advanced skills; and the unsolved questions - some as basic as "How did they build the pyramids?" - are the main sources of the fascination.

"How could they bring these immense blocks of stone, perfectly cut, to the location where all these temples were made?" he asks, adding that the history of the many dynasties, the Egyptians' belief in life after death, their mummification technique and the civilization's advances in many sciences all contribute to the mystique.
Grimaux, who says he enjoys delivering "high-quality entertainment to Prague," has also brought to the capital the Cartier exhibition at Prague Castle, rock concerts and a chess tournament featuring Garry Kasparov. He spent five years with his colleagues Štěpán Janeček and Jiří Šajn planning the exhibition's appearance in Prague.
"One of the most difficult parts was finding a venue with the 4,000 square meters that were required," he tells The Prague Post. "Then we had to make sure it would be adequately prepared for providing the optimum environment necessary for the visitors to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Each visitor to the King Tutankhamun exhibition is given a headset connected to a remote-control-like device that is programmed to give information in either Czech or English. These audio guides offer information about certain numbered exhibition pieces - such as a large model of the Rosetta Stone, which stands in place as if to greet visitors. The original of this exhibit, the first of such educational stops in the show, was not found in the young king's tomb, but it nonetheless offers an apt introduction to the crash course in ancient Egyptian history that follows. (Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were essentially incomprehensible until the decree inscribed on the stone in hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek was successfully translated in1822.)

The rest of the first room gives an overview of Egypt's flora and fauna, geographic location and climate, some of the region's history and cultural practices, as well as the history behind Carter's excavation of the tomb, which seemed like a lost cause until George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, a wealthy British aristocrat who had traveled to Egypt hoping the warm climate would aid in his recovery from injuries - and who had already funded much of Carter's work - gave Carter the money he needed to carry out one final excavation.
Two short informative films describe, first, Tutankhamun's royal family lineage and high standing and then Carter's personal interest in Egypt, which started at a young age. After this, visitors are shown recreations of three of the tomb's chambers, displayed in the precise arrangement in which Carter first saw them, as well as a demonstration of how one sarcophagus was lifted out of its tomb by a system of pulleys. Finally, replicas of each of the items found in Tutankhamun's tomb are individually displayed along with information about the materials from which the original was made, as well as its meaning, significance and potential use in the afterlife.

According to Grimaux, the artifacts were so skillfully reproduced that the exhibition is endorsed by the relevant Egyptian authorities. In March, it was officially opened in Prague by Mohamed Ibrahim Abdel Hakam, the ambassador of Egypt to the Czech Republic.
"All the artifacts were made in Cairo," Grimaux explains. "They were handcrafted by Egyptian artists under the supervision of several Egyptologists, and they are perfect replicas of the originals. One fact worth mentioning, which also explains the huge popularity of the event wherever it has been presented, is that it is impossible to see in one place all of the elements that are part of the sumptuous collection found in the Tutankhamun tomb. Never again will the legendary mask or the solid-gold inner coffin … leave the Museum of Cairo."

Kasia Pilat can be reached at