Jewels of the Nile: 11 awesome Egyptian museums

For much of the 20th century, the Egyptian Museum in the center of Cairo was the gold standard for collections along the Nile.

Mainly because among the many nuggets inside were the glimmering death mask of Tutankhamun and all the other relics discovered in the boy king’s tomb by archeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

But Egypt has always had far more treasures than a single museum could display.

It’s only in recent decades that a flurry of museum-building up and down the Nile has allowed the Middle Eastern nation to showcase more of its artistic and cultural heritage than ever before.

Slowly but surely, the Ministry of Antiquities is relocating many of the Egyptian Museum’s priceless relics from crowded downtown Cairo to a sprawling new suburban campus called the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).

Located in Giza, the GEM will display the entire King Tut collection for the first time and connect to the nearby pyramids via a landscaped causeway spangled with immense statues from Egypt’s ancient past.

In southern Egypt, the Nubian Museum in Aswan, housed inside a stunning sand-colored structure that blends perfectly into the surrounding Sahara, won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001.

Along the Mediterranean shore, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina houses six specialized libraries and four separate museums inside a futuristic building whose design was inspired by the significance of the rising sun during ancient Egyptian times.

Taking a cue from the historic house museums of Europe and North America, Egypt is also transforming some of its heritage homes into museum spaces like Cairo’s Gayer Anderson — which has already “starred” in a James Bond movie.

Here are some of the best places to explore Egypt’s ancient artifacts.

Egyptian Museum

Since it debuted in 1902, the distinctive pink palace overlooking Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been the world’s premier showcase of ancient Egyptian artifacts, and it will remain so until the GEM finally opens.

The massive collection, which consists of more than 120,000 objects, runs a broad gamut from colossal statues and royal mummies to papyrus scrolls, intricate jewelry, and even children’s toys from long ago.

Egyptian Museum, Tahiri Square, 002020 Cairo, Egypt; +20 2 33777263

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

This site is a reincarnation of the ancient Library of Alexandria, destroyed in the third century AD during the Roman occupation.

It houses four permanent museums devoted to Egyptian antiquities, manuscripts, the history of science, and former President Anwar Sadat, as well as several exhibits.

Opened in 2002, the museum campus was designed by a Norwegian firm that beat out 1,400 other entries in a UNESCO-sponsored design competition.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Imtedad Dr Abd Elhamed Sayed Street, Bab Sharq, Alexandria, Egypt; +20 3 4839999

Nubian Museum

The historical and cultural heritage of Nubia — a region that encompasses southern Egypt and northern Sudan — is the focus of this award-winning Aswan museum.

Perched on a commanding bluff overlooking the Nile, the collection spans prehistoric times through to the Islamic period including artifacts saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser and precious objects from the ruined city of Meroë.

Nubian Museum, Assuan, Sheyakhah Oula, Qism Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Egypt; +20 97 2319111

Museum of Islamic Art

A silk and silver horse saddle from the Ottoman Empire, an intricate copper table from Mamluk Egypt, and rare copies of the Koran are among the masterpieces on display at the Museum of Islamic Art.

As the world’s single largest assemblage of Islamic art and artifacts, the collection here spans the entire Islamic world, from Iberia and Morocco to the Indian subcontinent and western China.

All told, the museum safeguards more than 100,000 wooden, metal, plaster, ceramic, glass, and textile artifacts from the Middle East and beyond.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha; +974 4422 4444

St. Catherine’s Monastery

Located at the base of Mount Sinai, the peak celebrated as the spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments, the fortified compound harbors a museum of Christian relics collected since the third century AD, when monastics first ventured to the site.

Among its treasures are golden icons, mosaics and murals, and illuminated manuscripts.

Overnight accommodation is available inside the monastery for visitors who make the long trek from Cairo.

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Qesm Sharm Ash Sheikh, South Sinai Governorate, Egypt; +20 69 3470353

Coptic Museum

This Cairo collection focuses on the art and artifacts of Egypt’s Coptic civilization, Christians who trace their faith to the first century AD and the evangelical work of St. Mark.

Many of the treasures date from the Roman and Byzantine period, when Christianity was Egypt’s primary religion.

The museum is surrounded by gardens and six ancient Coptic churches.

Coptic Cairo, 3 Mari Gerges, Kom Ghorab, Old Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt; +20 2 23628766

Luxor Museum

Unveiled in 1975 as one of Egypt’s first modern museum, the Luxor collection lies along the Nile beside the towering Temple of Luxor.

Rather than an archeological jumble like its counterpart in Cairo, the Luxor Museum spotlights only its most precious items.

Items on display include a partial reconstruction of a rare Akhenatan temple, a life-sized statue of Amenhotep III with the crocodile god Sobek, and the mummies of pharaohs Ramses I and Ahmose I.

Luxor Museum, Cornish el Nile, Luxor City, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt; +20 95 2370569

El-Alamein Military Museum

Located on Egypt’s northwest coast, the museum spins tales of the 1942 battles that decided the fate of Egypt (and by extension the entire Middle East) during World War II.

British Commonwealth troops under Field Marshal Montgomery prevailed against the Africa Corps of Germany’s General Rommel. Vintage tanks, artillery pieces and aircraft are the main attractions.

Nearby is the Commonwealth War Cemetery with more than 7,000 graves and on the outskirts of El Alamein town are German and Italian war memorials.

El-Alamein Military Museum, Marsa Matrouh Road, Markaz Al Alamein, Matrouh Governorate, Egypt;+20 46 4100021

Gayer Anderson Museum

Cairo preserves several of its historic homes including two 17th century residences at the Gayer Anderson compound in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood — Beit el-Kiridiliya or “House of the Creatan Woman,” built in 1632, and Beit Amna Bent Salim, constructed in 1540.

Named for the retired British major who restored the homes in the 1930s and 40s, the museum is filled with period furnishings and artwork.

Pop culture footnote: the museum appeared in the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Among the city’s other historic house museums are the spectacular Abdeen Palace, the home of Egyptian poet laureate Ahmed Shawki, and the recently reopened Aisha Fahmy Palace on Zamalek Island.

Gayer Anderson Museum, Ahmed Ibn Tolon, Tolon, As Sayedah Zeinab, Cairo Governorate, Egypt; +20 2 23647822

Museum of Mummification

This small but intriguing collection on the Corniche boulevard in Luxor displays the various tools and materials used in the mummification process.

There are also a few examples of the art, including animals and an ancient high priest.

Museum of Mummification, Luxor City, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt; +20 95 2370062

Grand Egyptian Museum

Nearly 20 years in the making, the Grand Egyptian Museum is still under construction, but it’s expected to open to the public sometime in 2020.

The colossal complex crowns the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo and will be connected to the pyramids by a two-kilometer landscapes causeway.

Costing more than half a billion dollars, the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single ancient civilization is to house more than 100,000 artifacts and display the full Tutankhamen collection for the first time.

Grand Egyptian Museum, Alexandria Desert Rd, Kafr Nassar, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt