A procession of 22 mummies made its way through Cairo on Saturday in a multi-million dollar event intended to draw attention to Egypt's ancient heritage.
The procession included the preserved remains of 18 kings and four queens moving in order of the eldest first on climate-controlled floats decorated with wings and pharaonic design in an ancient Egyptian style.
“This parade is a unique global event that will not be repeated,” said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El Anany.
Lights and banners lined the route, which passed through Cairo's upmarket Garden City district and the Nile Corniche.
It is hoped that the event will be a showcase for Egypt's world-leading tourist potential to a global audience, after the coronavirus pandemic caused losses to the industry of about $1 billion a month.
The mummies were relocated from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum to a site in the capital at Fustat, an ancient city built after the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641.
A new museum, the National Egyptian Museum of Civilisation, will be their resting place.
A historic procession
As the parade was set to begin, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi issued a statement on its significance.
"The awe-inspiring spectacle will be proof of the greatness of Egypt’s people, who stand guard over this unique civilisation that extends back to the depths of history. I invite all Egyptians to witness this monumental day, and to be inspired by the spirit of their ancestors."
"Let’s continue on the road we started, the road of growth and humanity," he said.
"I think this convoy will bring magic and excitement everywhere in the world," said Zahi Hawass, a renowned Egyptologist and former minister of state for antiquities.
Mr Hawass also narrated the event, which was broadcast in 60 countries.
“Our aim is to be simultaneously present in every home across the world,” Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El Anany said.
The Pharaohs' Golden Parade
Anticipation of the parade reached a fever pitch on social media on Thursday night, as Egyptians posted footage from Tahrir Square, which has received an extensive facelift for the event.
The square, which was the site of protests during the Arab uprisings of 2011, has been closed to the public.
A new obelisk and statues of four rams taken from Luxor’s famed Karnak Temple now adorn the square.
“The streets around Tahrir Square are the cleanest I’ve ever seen them,” El Hassan Hedaya, a resident of downtown Cairo, told The National.
The Egyptian Museum, where the mummies were moved from, was lit by floodlights powerful enough to be seen in the sky from the nearby 6th of October bridge.
The government also gave the Tahrir Complex, Egypt’s largest administrative entity, and the nearby Arab League headquarters a coat of paint, as both buildings are prominent landmarks on the parade’s route.
Downtown Cairo, a district synonymous with heavy traffic and hordes of shoppers who visit its many retail stores, was empty before the parade.
The government closed off all streets with access to the procession’s route and urged everyone to stay at home and watch the event on television.
A delicate task
All 22 mummies were transferred in nitrogen-sealed capsules designed to protect them from oxygen, which promotes decomposition, and to keep them from high levels of pollution on Cairo’s streets.
The capsules were equipped with a stabilisation mechanism to stop the mummies from bumping into the sides of their coffins, said Dr Mustafa Ismail, director of the mummies division and head of the Mummy Conservation Laboratory at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC).
Once the mummies arrived at Fustat, they were to be moved into a temperature controlled environment.
The NMEC will open its doors for visitors starting on Sunday, and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that tickets will be sold at half price for a month to celebrate the mummies’ procession.
The Royal Mummies exhibit, however, will open on April 18, said the tourism ministry. Some restoration work is still needed before the mummies can go on display.
The curse of the Pharaoh
"The museum has what it takes to preserve (mummies), the best laboratories... It is one of the best museums we have," Waleed El Batoutti, adviser to the tourism and antiquities ministry, told state television.
The NMEC opened its doors to limited exhibits from 2017 and will open fully on Sunday.
In the coming months, the country is scheduled to inaugurate another new attraction, the Grand Egyptian Museum, near the Giza pyramids.
It, too, will house pharaonic collections, including the celebrated treasure of Tutankhamun.
Discovered in 1922, the tomb of the young ruler, who took the throne briefly in the 14th century BC, contained treasures including gold and ivory.
A so-called "curse of the pharaoh" emerged in the wake of Tutankhamun's unearthing in 1922-23.