The Nubian Museum
The area of Nubia is located between Aswan to the north and the city of Debba in Sudan to the south. It is strange that the name "Nubia" was never mentioned in the ancient Egyptian language and in fact it was first mentioned in a book called "Geographica" that was written 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 which Nubia was famous for in ancient times.
The lands of Nubia remained the Egyptian gate to Africa for thousands of years. Nubia is mainly divided into two parts: lower Nubia which is located in Egypt and higher Nubia which is 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 with the Nile water. However, there were serious efforts exerted by UNESCO and the Egyptian government to save the treasures of Nubia, which included a number of Pharaonic temples.
Although the building of the High Dam is considered to be 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 that resulted in an increase in the level of the river Nile water which consequently threatened the monuments located in Nubia. The second time was in 1912, while the third time was in 1932. In all of these incidents the monuments of Nubia were listed, recorded, and maps of the exact location of these monuments were put down to make sure 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 in order to provide Egypt with fresh water and electricity. The High Dam caused a constant increase of the level of the Nile's water. Therefore, it became vital to exert huge efforts to protect the Nubia monuments from this threat.
Efforts By UNESCO To Protect The Treasures Of Nubia
The executive committee of the UNESCO studied a report that was prepared by international experts. The report mainly discussed the feasibility and importance of saving the monuments in Nubia. As a result, the UNESCO placed its historical international appeal on March 8, 1960 to save the monuments of Nubia.
After an Egyptian initiative, the 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 through 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 a lot of challenges but it was able at the end to achieve its goals. The mission was able to prepare scientific studies of the monuments in Nubia and then it was able to relocate 22 monuments that were rehoused in new locations far away from the threat of the high level of water. The monuments which were relocated included: the two remarkable temples of Abu Simble 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 metres and includes landscaped gardens and buildings which are divided up into many different sections.
The museum is considered to be a gateway to the history of Nubia that enables visitors to understand the complex history of this unique area. Each exhibit has a description note underneath it written in Arabic and as well in English. The first place that attracts the attention of the visitor is the garden of the museum which hosts more than eighty historical statues and historical rocks, some of which are dedicated to the gods of ancient Nubia. There are also some artificial lakes and waterfalls that serve as a demonstration of the river Nile and its flow into the lands of Nubia.
A lot of 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 this 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, while the first floor contains an information center, culture activities center, and another exhibition hall.
When the visitor first enters the building of the museum, he or she has to walk in a 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 trading of raw materials, wood, and ivory. It is clear that 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 whch was 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" that 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 that would 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 figurine typical of the C group style, (dated c.a. 1900 - 1550 BC) and inscribed "basket" pottery.
Egyptian control over Nubia has declined gradually starting with the end of the 21 dynasties around the year 1050 BC. In the year 900 BC, a new power controlled a huge part of Nubia and remained there for more than 1000 years.
This new civilization was called Kosh which is the name the Egyptians gave to Nubia at this point in time. This era is divided into two sections: the Napata which continued until 270 B.C. and the Merow that 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 to be the language of the Meroitic.
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 important title of Divine wife of Amun.
The next section demonstrates Nubia during the Ptolemaic and Roman era 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 a number of popular 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 more secured means of life and this was where they established the Ballana civilization that is considered the most successful culture ever created in Nubia. Maybe this was because the Ballana culture was a combination of many different traditions from a variety of 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 huge number of its inhabitants transformed to be Christians which affected every aspect of the lives of the Nubians. The Nubians started building Churches and Monasteries where they can 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, 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, in Nubia Islam took some time to replace the dominant Christian beliefs. It wasn't until the 16th century when 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 maybe most interesting section of the Nubia Museum is the modern Nubia section with demonstrates the lives of Nubian people today and a few decades ago. Many tourists from around the world are fascinated with Nubia, maybe because of its uniquely rich culture. This section includes a silver pendant and anklets, a lot of 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 to be 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 9AM-1PM, 5PM-9PM
Egyptian: LE 20 (LE 10, students)
Foreign: LE 50 (LE 20, students)
Student rates available to bearers of a valid student ID from an Egyptian university or an International Student ID Card (ISIC).