The Nubian Museum
The area of Nubia is located between Aswan to the north and the city of Debba in Sudan to the south. Strangely, the name "Nubia" was never mentioned in the ancient Egyptian language. It was first mentioned in a book called "Geographica" by the Greek historian Strapon, who visited Nubia in the first century A.D. The word Nubia is said to be derived from the word "Nebo', referring to the mines of gold that Nubia was famous for in ancient times.
The lands of Nubia remained the Egyptian gate to Africa for thousands of years. Nubia is divided into two parts: lower Nubia, located in Egypt, and higher Nubia, located inside Sudanese borders.
Nubian Monuments And The Threat Of The High Dam
This historical location of Nubia faced a severe challenge when the Aswan High Dam was built. All the lands of Nubia were drowned in the Nile water. However, there were strenuous efforts exerted by UNESCO and the Egyptian government to save the treasures of Nubia, including several Pharaonic temples.
Although the building of the High Dam is considered the most difficult challenge that faced the area of Nubia, the lands of Nubia were drowned three times before the High Dam in history. The first time was when the Aswan Dam was built in 1902, which increased the river Nile water level, consequently threatening the monuments in Nubia. The second time was in 1912, while the third was in 1932. In all of these incidents, the monuments of Nubia were listed and recorded, and maps of the exact location of these monuments were put down to ensure they would not be damaged.
The real challenge occurred when the Egyptian government, headed by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, decided to build the High Dam to provide Egypt with fresh water and electricity. The High Dam caused a constant increase in the level of the Nile's water. Therefore, it became vital to exert considerable efforts to protect the Nubia monuments from this threat.
Efforts By UNESCO To Protect The Treasures Of Nubia
The executive committee of UNESCO studied a report that international experts prepared. The report mainly discussed the feasibility and importance of saving monuments in Nubia. As a result, UNESCO placed its historical global appeal on March 8, 1960, to keep the monuments of Nubia.
After an Egyptian initiative, UNESCO launched an international appeal for the largest operation of relocation of monuments in history, with more than 40 countries participating in the process through funding or sending workers to assist the Egyptians in preserving their monuments. The project was named the "Nubian Rescue Campaign."
The work of this mission went on for more than 20 years, and the workers and professionals of this international mission faced many challenges, but it was able in the end to achieve its goals. The mission was able to prepare scientific studies of the monuments in Nubia. Then, it could relocate 22 rehoused in new locations far away from the threat of the high water level. The monuments that were relocated included the two remarkable temples of Abu Simbel that were transferred to a unique spot south of Aswan, the astonishing Philae Temples, the Temple of Dabod, the Temple of Calabsha, the Temple of Dandara, the Temple of Beit Al Waly, and the Temple of Amada.
Building Of The Nubian Museum
The museum was designed by Mahmoud Al-Hakim, who succeeded in creating a museum in harmony with the surrounding setting of huge rocks, small mountains, and the shining sun of Aswan. The new Nubian Museum was opened in 1997, and the beautiful lines of its architecture alone make it well worth seeing. Nestled into the hillside at Aswan, it covers 50,000 square meters and includes landscaped gardens and buildings, which are divided into many different sections.
The museum is considered a gateway to Nubia's history, enabling visitors to understand this unique area's complex history. Each exhibit has a description note underneath it written in Arabic and English. The first place that attracts the visitor's attention is the museum's garden, which hosts more than eighty historical statues and rocks, some of which are dedicated to the gods of ancient Nubia. Some artificial lakes and waterfalls also serve as a demonstration of the river Nile and its flow into the lands of Nubia.
Many wild plants are cultivated in this area, which is 34,000 meters large. This section also has a theatre that hosts regular Nubian dances for visitors to view the unique folkways of the Nubian people. There is a cave as well that contains ancient drawings.
The museum consists of two floors. The ground floor contains the main gates of the museum, exhibition halls, and visitors' reception hall. In contrast, the first floor includes an information center, a cultural activities center, and an exhibition hall.
When the visitor first enters the museum building, they have to circle to the left to go to the starting point of his tour, which starts with the antiquities found in Nubia around 3500 B.C. The most important exhibits in this section include a bone comb with two giraffes carved on the handle, a vessel made out of an ostrich egg and decorated with incisions, and a paleolithic ax.
Afterward, we moved to the area the museum calls "Group A," which demonstrates the relationship between the people in southern Egypt and the people in Nubia, which were built mainly on the trading of raw materials, wood, and ivory. There was a trading center on Elephant Island. The most important displays of this section are a polished quartz cosmetic palette used for crushing galena powder used for eye makeup and a vessel decorated with a rowing boat with multiple oars, ostriches, and undulating lines symbolizing water.
We then go to the section "Group C," which tells the story of the new civilization that started in Nubia after the decline of the Sixth Pharaonic Dynasty, or the decline of the period of pyramid building. There isn't accurate evidence to tell us the origin of the tribes that started this civilization, but they came most probably from the Western desert. Exhibits of this section include Female figurines typical of the C group style (dated c.a. 1900 - 1550 BC) and inscribed "basket" pottery.
Egyptian control over Nubia declined gradually, starting with the end of the 21 dynasties around 1050 BC. In 900 BC, a new power controlled a considerable part of Nubia and remained there for over 1000 years.
This new civilization was called Kosh, the name the Egyptians gave to Nubia at this time. This era is divided into two sections: the Napata, which continued until 270 B.C., and the Merow, which continued until the fall of this kingdom in 320 A.D. The most significant characteristic of this era is that Nubia went away from Egyptian domination, and the area started having its own culture, habits, and even language that was transformed into the Meroitic language.
The most important exhibits of this section are tulip pots from the Kerma Culture and an ancient pot with a handle, a Meroitic offering table on which can be seen Meroitic writing, a crouching baby lion fashioned in clay, a statue of Harawa, who was the Great Steward of Amenardis, the divine wife of Amun, a post of considerable importance, a Statue of King Taharqa, younger brother of Shabatka, wearing the Kushite cap crown, and a statue of Amenardis who was the first Nubian princess to hold the critical title of Divine wife of Amun.
The following section demonstrates Nubia during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras who ruled at the same time as the Meroitic civilization, and both kingdoms held good relations together until the Ptolemies were able to take control of a part of lower Nubia, where they constructed several famous monuments like the temples of Philae, Kalabsha, and Dekka.
After the decline of the Meroitic civilization, the people of Nubia moved to the north looking for a more secure means of life, and this was where they established the Ballana civilization, considered the most successful culture ever created in Nubia. This could be because the Ballana culture combined many different traditions from various places.
The displays of the Ballena section in the Nubia Museum contain a pair of silver bracelets. The ends of each represent stylized lion heads, an Oil lamp in the shape of a pigeon, silver diadems, a gaming board from the 3rd century, which was a sort of backgammon with 15 ivory and 15 ebony pieces, and an incense burner in the form of a stylized lion.
When the Christian religion was introduced in Nubia, a considerable number of its inhabitants transformed into Christians, which affected every aspect of the lives of the Nubians. The Nubians started building Churches and Monasteries where they could practice the rituals of their new religion. Christianity also affected the type and style of art of the period.
The most important Christian displays in the Nubia Museum include a wooden Coptic cross, a Coptic prayer book that contains Coptic inscriptions, a Byzantine-style fresco from the church of Abdalla Nirqi, 10th century and a Fragment of a linen shroud depicting a human face.
When the Moslems opened Egypt in 641 AD, Islam became the official religion in Egypt. However, Islam took some time in Nubia to replace the dominant Christian beliefs. It was in the 16th century that most of the Nubian people changed their religion to become Moslems. This Islamic section includes a child's tunic from the Fatimid period, a tombstone from the Fatimid period, 968-1070 A.D., and a water vessel from the Mamluk period.
The last and most exciting section of the Nubia Museum is the modern Nubia section, which demonstrates the lives of Nubian people today and a few decades ago. Many tourists worldwide are fascinated with Nubia because of its uniquely rich culture. This section includes a silver pendant and anklets, many Nubian handcrafts, a Russian chain worn on the forehead by Nubians, and a pectoral jewelry piece named the Bey necklace.
The Nubian Museum is considered among the most distinctive museums of Egypt, with more than 500,000 displays that tell the story of Nubia from prehistoric times until today.
Hours Of Operation
Daily 9 AM-1 PM, 5 PM-9 PM
Egyptian: LE 20 (LE 10, students)
Foreign: LE 50 (LE 20, students)
Student rates are available to bearers of a valid student ID from an Egyptian university or an International Student ID Card (ISIC).
El Fenadek Street, Aswan (opposite Basma Hotel).