Egypt's Ramses II sarcophagus in Paris for first time in 50 years

Elaborately decorated coffin to be displayed in French capital as part of touring exhibition including dozens of ancient relics

The sarcophagus of Ramses II is displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris in May 1976. AFP
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The sarcophagus of Ramses II, one of ancient Egypt’s most prominent pharaohs, will return to Paris for the first time in 50 years to be displayed in a five-month exhibition that launches in April.

The elaborately decorated coffin will be placed alongside dozens of other ancient Egyptian relics as part of the touring Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibition organised by the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The exhibition will travel to San Francisco and Houston before heading to Paris and then Sydney. But the sarcophagus will only be shown on the Paris leg of the trip, which ends on September 6. It will then be flown back to Egypt.

The French embassy in Egypt said the rare loan of Ramses II’s sarcophagus was only allowed through a special exception made for France.

Dominique Farout, an Egyptologist who is the exhibition's scientific commissioner, told AFP that the exception was granted because France is where the sarcophagus and the mummy it once housed were treated for fungus when they were last on display there in 1976.

Though the mummy was also displayed back then, it will not be leaving Egypt for this year’s show because of amendments to the country’s antiquities law that prohibits its departure.

The wooden sarcophagus depicts Ramses laid on his back, dressed in bright colours with his arms crossed over his chest, a common funereal position for ancient Egyptian royals.

He is holding his sceptre in one hand and whip of office in the other.

The king’s eyes are outlined in black and the vivid colours on the coffin show clearly the stripes of his pharaonic headdress.

Ramses II’s first visit to Paris was a huge success, which the organisers are hoping to repeat.

Known as Ramses the Great, he is one of the most celebrated figures of ancient Egypt.

“I almost wept for joy that I would be seeing him again here when they told me he was coming to Paris,” Mr Farout said.

Alongside the sarcophagus, the exhibition will also include solid gold and silver jewels, statues, amulets, masks, other sarcophagi and mummified animal remains, which the law does allow to leave Egypt.

A 2019 exhibition in Paris displaying the treasures of another prominent ancient Egyptian pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, attracted 1.4 million visitors.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 11:02 AM