Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ancient Egyptians At Home in Turin

The Post and Courier Charleston, SC: "Although the Greeks invented the Olympics, the ancient Egyptians were no couch potatoes in athletic feats.

Pharaoh Amenhotep II - an accomplished horse rider, runner and archer - bragged that he was the greatest sportsman of all time and made sure royal sculptors captured his massive biceps and pecs.

The granite colossus of the 15th-century B.C. ruler is just one of the ancient marvels that Turin's Egyptian Museum offers to visitors looking for something different in this northern city and the surrounding Alpine slopes.

The Museo Egizio claims one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo. Just in time for the 2006 Winter Olympics, which began 10 days ago, it opened a new pride-and-joy gallery set up by Dante Ferretti, Oscar-winning art director for 'The Aviator.'

The new exhibit gives visitors a who's who of ancient Egypt through 56 monumental statues, bathed in soft light and reflected in ghostly images by opaque mirrors.

Statues such as Amenhotep II's were usually placed around temples, highlighting the ancient Egyptians' concern with securing a place in the afterlife.

'When they passed by your statue, the priests would utter your name, and that kept you alive,' museum Director Eleni Vassilika said.

The trick must have worked, because the 13th-century B.C. statue of the revered Ramses II looks ready to rise from its stone throne. The great king's pleated garment, puffy cheeks and hooked nose were painstakingly chiseled using only stone tools on tons of hard black basalt, but look no less lifelike.

Walking through the darkened gallery - accompanied by haunting background sounds of water, sand and cymbals - visitors also can gaze upon the lion-headed Sakmeth, goddess of vengeance, and on the creamy limestone depiction of a young Tutankhamen dwarfed by the towering figure of the god Amun.

he new gallery is only a fraction of what's on view for the $7.50 admission price - entire tombs, painted chapels and even a small temple have found a new home in downtown Turin.

Opened in 1824 in a 17th-century Jesuit building, the Museo Egizio has about 6,500 artifacts on display and more than 26,000 in storage.

One of the museum's centerpieces is the contents of the 3,500-year-old tomb of the architect Kha and his wife, Merit. The skilled and wealthy builder worked for years to prepare his burial, but when his wife died unexpectedly, he readily gave up his gilded death mask and his coffin.

Later, the architect was buried in the same tomb, together with his instruments, furniture and monogrammed underwear. And if stealing from the dead didn't warrant a deadly curse, you could almost take a bite from the well-preserved supplies for the afterlife that include bread wrapped in palm leaves, salt, wine, dried meat and vegetables."