Egypt—one of the most popular travel destinations in the Middle East—needed a way to bring back the tourists. Before COVID, the country had welcomed more than 13 million people per year—raking in over US$13 billion in tourism revenue in 2019. Then the pandemic tanked the market, causing the sector’s take to shrink to US$4 billion in 2020, according to Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled el-Anany. So the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) broke out the mummies.
On 3 April, the newly opened museum brought ancient history to life—and livestream—in downtown Cairo. Dubbed the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, the 40-minute event took the mummified remains of 18 kings and four queens on a 5-kilometer (3-mile) journey from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to their new home at NMEC. The rulers appeared in chronological order, beginning with Seqenenre Taa II and closing with Ramses IX—and they traveled in style. Their custom-made carriages were crafted to mirror the boats once used to transport Egyptian pharaohs to their tombs. But the team meshed style with substance—and some serious risk management: To protect the fragile mummies from fungi, insects and humidity, each one was placed in an oxygen-free, nitrogen-filled container and carried on a boat-like vehicle equipped with shock-absorbing material. Flanking the processional were hundreds of performers decked out in traditional outfits, some riding horse-drawn chariots.
The multimillion-dollar project took months of planning. And it wasn’t without controversy, including reports that working-class neighborhoods were deliberately hidden from view ahead of the parade and debates over the ethics of displaying mummies.
Before making their public debut in their new digs at NMEC’s Mummies Hall, each mummy underwent 15 days of laboratory restoration. All but two were then put on display—ready to greet tourists in a hall designed as a modern-day Valley of the Kings.
U.K. archaeologist Nigel Hetherington called it “truly a momentous occasion” carried out with appropriate planning and precision: “There was the spectacle, but we also felt that everything was done safely,” he told Al Jazeera. “Obviously these are irreplaceable royal ancestors, so every care had to be taken.”