CAIRO: The coffin of one of ancient Egypt’s longest-ruling pharaohs, Ramses II, has been unveiled as the centerpiece of a major exhibition due to open in France.
As part of an exceptional loan to the French, the ornate sarcophagus will be the star attraction among 180 items — some of which have never left Egypt before — on display at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris.
Ramses II was the ruler of ancient Egypt between 1276 and 1213 B.C., during which time he established domination over Nubia and built the temple of Abu Simbel.
However, while the coffin will be on show in the French capital from April 7 until Sept. 6, the king’s mummy will remain in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Egypt’s loan of the sarcophagus was made as a gesture of thanks for the work of French scientists in helping preserve Ramses II’s mummy by treating it against fungus when exhibited in Paris in 1976.
Egyptologist Benedicte Lhoyer, the exhibition’s scientific adviser, said: “From a historical point of view, this is a piece of inestimable value. It’s not the mummy but the coffin of Ramses II, a wooden case that has protected it for 2,900 years.
“So, this is a very intimate object and is, in fact, Ramses II’s last resting place.”
French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak said: “It is an extraordinary opportunity for children and the public of all ages. It’s completely different to see it in real life rather than seeing it in pictures or on the internet.”
Its latest stay in Paris will offer visitors a rare opportunity to study inscriptions on the sarcophagus’ sides detailing how Ramses II’s body was moved three times from 1070 B.C. after grave robbers raided his tomb.
In addition to the coffin, the exhibition, titled “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” will include an array of ancient Egyptian artefacts, including solid gold and silver jewelry, statues, amulets, masks, and other sarcophagi.
Ramses II was the longest-reigning and one of the most famous pharaohs, playing a key role in securing and expanding the Egyptian kingdom, and bringing peace and prosperity.
His cedar coffin was not originally designed for him. Thought to date from the end of the 18th dynasty, it was likely covered with gold and inlayed with gems or glass. Its surface was scraped and painted yellow, with some details enhanced with bright colors and the eyes underlined in black.
Alaa Youssef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, described the sarcophagus exhibit as “exceptional” and a culmination of the “distinguished historical relations” that bound the two countries in various fields.
The envoy said the exhibition would allow “fans of the pharaonic civilization to discover the temple of Abu Simbel and the tomb of (Egyptian queen) Nefertari through a virtual reality show.”
And he urged the people of France to visit Egypt, “to get acquainted with its rich civilization, the comprehensive development process it is witnessing, and its promising future.”
In January, Egypt’s Cabinet approved the transfer of the coffin to France following a request from the head of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, which is organizing the exhibition.
State-of-the-art multimedia reproductions will showcase the opulence and beauty of ancient Egyptian civilization and give visitors an insight into the life and accomplishments of Ramses II.
The traveling exhibition is being held in several major cities. It was inaugurated in Houston in November 2021 before moving to San Francisco in August last year.