Egypt's Newest Antiquities

Article excerpt

Byline: Tara Weingarten

King Tut is certainly more famous now than in his own time. The boy king died suddenly at the age of 19, before he could make a monument, or even a name, for himself. But just look at him now. He, or at least his stuff--the gilded masks, the lapis lazuli necklaces, the ornate thrones--is on a second blockbuster tour, traveling the world displayed safely behind glass in grand museums. Meanwhile, the pharaoh himself lies mummified in a decidedly unroyal-looking tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

You could line up with the throngs and plunk down about $28 to see a few of Tut's treasures, or you can hop a plane and see the royal mummy--and thousands of other ancient artifacts--on their home turf, where they have context, relevance, and meaning. There's never been a better time to visit the cradle of civilization: Egypt is on a tear to open newly restored antiquities. Beginning now, and for the next three years, the government will inaugurate an impressive 22 new museums and attractions throughout the country--all in anticipation of the vast sums of tourism money likely to flow into the country as a result.

This month sees the opening of the mind-boggling Avenue of the Sphinxes on the east bank of the Nile River, a promenade of 1,350 lionlike statues that once linked the opulent temples of Karnak and Luxor. Though archeologists weren't able to unearth the entire avenue--it would have destroyed much of the modern town of Luxor built atop the ruin--a sizable portion of the alleyway was uncovered, exposing 900 original statues. Also on view are the remains of a Roman village on the site, complete with a large-production bakery, a wine factory, and a residential neighborhood, as well as several unearthed cartouches of Cleopatra, which experts believe prove she visited the grand avenue.

Also this month, Abusir, situated just outside Cairo between Giza and the vast burial ground of Saqqara, will open, showcasing a collection of 11 pyramids that have long been off limits to tourists. Just south of Saqqara, less than an hour's drive from Cairo, the NK Cemetery has been revealed, allowing access to its painted tombs of the less-famous (though not less extraordinary) royal family members Maya and Horemheb.

Saqqara itself deserves a serious visit. It's home to the stunning 4,700-year-old step pyramid of Djoser, which will also open late this summer for interior tours. There are 16 pyramids on the site, in varying degrees of dilapidation. Even those that look like piles of rock can offer good examples of pyramid advancement. There's early graffiti painted on a tomb wall, likely left by hoodlums during Jesus' time. Most impressive, though, is the hewn-stone building complex--once used as gathering spots and administrative offices for the pharaoh and his cronies--considered to be the oldest of its kind remaining anywhere on earth. …