national museum of egyptian civilization

20 Incredible Things To See At The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization has an incredible collection that includes mummies and treasures from across Egyptian history.

This new state-of-the-art museum boasts 20 royal mummies and a vast collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt through the modern day – all in a megalithic building overlooking a lake.

NMEC’s collection tells the story of Egyptian civilizations from pre-historic to Ancient Egyptian, through the Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods right up until modern times.

It’s a sweeping collection that gives you a great overview of Egyptian culture through the ages.

And it’s a perfect introduction to your travels across the country.

You’ll see everything from pre-historic stone tools to the golden coffins of Ancient Egypt and the glass lamps of medieval mosques.

There are also 19th-century busts of Khedive Ismail, who inaugurated the Suez Canal, and sculptures by early modernist Egyptian artists.

What better introduction to the long and complex history of Egypt across the ages?

A sweeping timeline

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
Full circle: An Ancient Egyptian figurine of a woman carrying a vessel (in the Egyptian Textile Hall), and a statue of a peasant woman with a water jar by Egyptian modern artist Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934).

The museum is housed in an enormous main hall that’s arranged chronologically from pre-history through Islamic, Ottoman and modern Egypt.

It doesn’t look very large at first glance because the collection is all in one space.

But once you enter the exhibits you’ll easily spend a few hours diving into the artifacts and the stories behind them.

It took me about 3 hours to get through the museum at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time to read the display cards and take photos.

The NMEC is easily Cairo’s most beautifully organized and state-of-the-art museum.

national museum of egyptian civilization

The idea of the museum dates back to King Farouk. And it was pushed to fruition thanks to a UNESCO campaign in 1982.

The collection is massive but it’s spaced out for comfortable sightseeing.

And the displays are well-labelled with informative and engaging display cards, photos and diagrams.

The collection is well curated, bright and airy – and a pleasure to browse through.

It’s worlds away from my beloved but far less organized Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

So what’s the difference?

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

It’s easy to get confused about Cairo’s museums these days with new museums opening and under construction.

Here’s the rundown:

  • The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) near Coptic Cairo gives you an overview of Egyptian history, from pre-history through Ancient Egypt and Islamic to modern times. It’s a glorious crash course to all the epochs that make up Egyptian culture. And it has the mummies collection and a great smaller hall devoted to Egyptian Textiles.
  • The Egyptian Museum in downtown’s Tahrir Square is focused on Ancient Egypt only. And it still holds the world’s largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts. It’s not as well-organized as the NMEC. It’s older, dustier and far more massive with a collection that dives deep into Ancient Egypt.
  • The Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza is not open yet. But it’s expected to open in late 2023 alongside the pyramids. It’s set to focus on Ancient Egyptian artifacts and it will include the complete Tutankhamun collection (King Tut’s famous gold mask is still currently at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir).

The NMEC collections

So where should you begin your visit at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization?

The Main Hall

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

The Main Hall has a diverse array of objects from Egypt’s history in chronological order, including some stunning Ancient Egyptian statues, jewelry and coffins.

Start with the pre-history collection on the right of the entrance and wind your way around to modern times.

The Mummies Hall

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

The Mummies Hall is in the center of the museum in a circular hall that’s below ground and dimly lit to preserve the mummies.

A beautiful light show plays in the hall that you can also watch from upstairs.

The 20 royal mummies are the museum’s crown jewels. The mummies of the ancient kings and queens are displayed alongside information about their various ailments, Egyptologist findings and x-rays.

The collection includes Hatshepsut and Ramses. Some of the mummies are so well preserved that you can make out their strands of hair.

And they’re all showcased in an interactive display that sheds light on the rituals of mummification with videos, narration and imagery.

Start your visit at the Mummies Hall and head upstairs to the Main Hall afterwards. 

The Egyptian Textile Hall

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

The Egyptian Textile Hall is large enough to be its own museum with a vast collection of traditional Bedouin dresses, uniforms and displays on the linen of Ancient Egypt.

It’s outside of the Main Hall and located immediately to the left after you pass through the ticket gates.

And don’t miss the Dye House – a 1st-century archaeological find that’s the only well-preserved example of a Cairo dye house. It tells the story of Ancient Egyptians’ use of coloring agents to permanently dye fabrics. It’s outside (just as it was discovered) to your left as you’re facing the ticket gates. You can either view it from the hallway windows or from an outdoor viewing platform.

Head to the museum’s Brioche Doree cafe overlooking the lake for a pastry and cappuccino to rest your legs with after your visit.

But skip the Museum Shop. It’s overpriced, not very exciting and the only disappointment at this otherwise brilliant museum.

Must-see highlights at the NMEC

Ready to begin your visit?

Here are the top must-see masterpieces at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization:

1. Nazlet Khater Skeleton

Nazlet Khater Skeleton

Nazlet Khater Skeleton

This skeleton is a mind-blowing 35,000 years old – and it’s the oldest human remain found in Egypt.

The skeleton was discovered in 1980 near Nazlet Khater, in modern-day Upper Egypt, buried alongside one of his stone tools.

The skeleton dates to the Upper Paleolithic era, or the Old Stone Age. And it’s proved invaluable to the study of evolution as a rare specimen of its era.

The skeleton is anatomically modern with a wide face and some archaic traits.

Nazlet Khater Skeleton

It’s thought to have belonged to a tall, strong and young adult male.

It was discovered during excavations conducted by Belgium’s Leuven University. And it was returned to Egypt in 2015 after more than 30 years in Belgium.

The skeleton is now exhibited alongside a fascinating collection of stone tools.

2. Senenmut

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This granite statue depicts the 18th-dynasty architect Senenmut, who was a close advisor (and some say secret lover) of Queen Hatchepsut.

The statue depicts Senenmut in beautiful detail holding Hatshepsut’s daughter Neferure, whom he tutored.

Born to a low provincial family, Senenmut went on to oversee many of Hatshepsut’s major architectural projects.

Senenmut supervised the erection of two twin obelisks (at the time the world’s tallest) at the entrance to the Temple of Karnak.

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

He also designed and oversaw the construction of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the masterpiece of ancient architecture near Luxor.

Senenmut became Hatshepsut’s close confidant. And some Egyptologists claim he was also the widowed queen’s secret lover.

Egyptologists know more about Senenmut than most other non-royal figures because his parents’ tomb was discovered wholly intact.

3. The Story of Sinuhe

The Story of Sinuhe

This New Kingdom manuscript contains the epic story of Sinuhe, a literary masterpiece of Ancient Egypt about exile and the importance of homeland.

The manuscript narrates the story of the official Sinuhe who fled after hearing that Egypt’s pharaoh had been assassinated.

Perhaps he was afraid or complicit in the killing. But either way, Sinuhe escaped Egypt to wander the Levant and finally settled into exile in Syria to make a new life amid a foreign culture.

But Sinuhe desperately missed Egypt and didn’t want to die away from his homeland.

Surely you will let me see the place where my heart still stays! What matters more than my being buried in the land where I was born?,” Sinuhe asks in the Middle Kingdom poem.

The Story of Sinuhe

When Egypt’s new pharaoh invited Sinuhe to return to Egypt, forgiving Sinuhe’s real or alleged crimes, Sinuhe eagerly accepted. He made his much-awaited return home after 30 years in exile to be buried in Egypt.

The story was wildly popular in Ancient Egypt and copies have been found dating up to 750 years after the original.

It was written in Hieratic script, a simplified form of hieroglyphics used for business, literary, religious and scientific texts.

And though it was written some 4,000 years ago, it’s still interpreted today in the popular novel The Egyptian (1949) by Finnish author Mika Waltari.

4. Hapi the Scribe

Hapi the Scribe

Hapi the Scribe

This New Kingdom sandstone statue depicts Hapi the Scribe, a supervisor at the temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak, holding the papyrus that was the tool of his trade.

Scribes were highly revered in Ancient Egypt. And the Ancient Egyptians considered the invention of writing a divine event in which the God Thoth gave each sound a form.

Scribes were mostly administrative but also helped to preserve Egypt’s oral traditions, epic poems and stories.

5. King Thutmose III

Thutmose III

This splendid black granite statue from the New Kingdom depicts Ancient Egypt’s great warrior king Thutmose III.

Widely regarded as a military genius, Thutmose III was Egypt’s expansionist ruler who’s sometimes called “the Napoleon of Egypt.” He conducted some 17 military campaigns that stretched Egypt’s borders to their largest extend.

The statue shows an athletic and fit Thutmose III with a smooth and youthful face and large high-bridged nose and slight smile.

Known as a master tactician and an athletic hunter, Thutmose III is shown at the height of his powers.

Thutmose III

Thutmose III is regarded (along with Ramesses II) as the most powerful ruler of the New Kingdom, when Ancient Egypt was at its height.

Though Thutmose III was crowned king as a very young boy, and the strong-willed Hatshepsut (his stepmother) took the duties of the throne in those years.

As he grew old, Thutmose III launched a campaign to erase all records of Hatshepsut’s kingship (for reasons still unclear to historians).

You can also view the mummy of Thutmose III in the Mummy Hall downstairs.

6. The coffin of Sennedjem (and funerary masks and furniture)


National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This collection from the tomb of Sennedjem, an artisan who decorated the royal tombs of the pharaohs, features a splendid coffin and funerary masks along with brilliantly painted furniture.

The objects were discovered in Sennedjem’s tomb in Deir-el-Medina, near modern-day Luxor, a village that was home to the ancient Egyptian craftsmen who decorated the royal tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings.

Sennedjem designed his own tomb and was buried there during the reign of King Ramses II.

His tomb was discovered in 1886 by French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero. And it was fully intact with a collection of funerary furniture, figurines and splendid paintings.

Much of the treasures from Sennedjem’s tomb are featured in this exhibit.

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

Sennedjem’s inner coffin, where his mummy was placed, is decorated with protective goddesses from the Book of the Dead and features Sennedjem receiving sustenance from the Tree Goddess.

The two painted funerary masks, belonging to Sennedjem’s wife and his daughter-in-law, were used over their mummified faces to identify and protect the corpse.

The funerary furniture includes a painted chair that Sennedjem actually used in his lifetime.

The small funerary figurines (called shabtis) were made to look like the person they were buried with. They stood in for the deceased person when the dead were called on to do work for the gods in the afterlife.

7. The Senet


Senet was a wildly popular Ancient Egyptian board game in which players maneuvered pieces to overcome obstacles in the afterlife.

This specific board from the New Kingdom, found in the workers’ village of Deir el-Medina, includes pawns on a board laid out in a grid of 30 squares.

The object of the game was to pass through one end of the board to the other, much like the soul passes through the underworld to get to the afterlife.

Senet was played by commoners and royals alike for some 2,000 years, right up until the Roman period. In fact, four exquisite Senet boards were found in the tomb of the boy King Tutankhamun.

But Senet’s exact rules are still relatively unknown and debatable.

These days, there are a few different versions of Senet. You can buy Senet board games on Amazon or download the Egyptian Senet app to try your hand at this ancient pastime.

8. Akhenaten


This splendid New Kingdom sculpture depicts a curvy King Akhenaten, the controversial pharaoh who revolutionized Egyptian art and religion.

Akhenaten is depicted in a realistic, androgynous and naturalistic style that’s worlds away from the well-proportioned, athletic sculptures of older kings.

He is depicted in sandstone with a round belly, broad hips, nearly feminine breasts and a long, thin face with thick lips that would have been deemed unflattering by earlier kings.

The sculpture is accompanied by an excerpt from a poetic hymn to the sun, which describes the sun as the mover and giver of all life.


Akhenaten is sometimes called the world’s first monotheist because he abandoned Egypt’s old polytheism and introduced a new religion that centered on a single sun god Aten.

Akhenaten was also the head of one of Ancient Egypt’s most well-known families. His wife was the beautiful Queen Nefertiti and his son was King Tut.

After his death, Akhenaten was called a heretic and an enemy. His new capital (at modern-day Amarna) was knocked down and the stone was re-used for temples to the old gods.

9. Prosthetic toe

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This very life-like (and slightly macabre) artificial toe is the world’s oldest functional prosthetic device.

The prosthetic toe dates to between 950 to 710 BC. And it belonged to the 55-year-old female mummy of Tabaketenmut, the daughter of a high-ranking Ancient Egyptian priest.

It’s definitely one of the strangest and most fascinating pieces at the NMEC.

And it’s in impeccable condition with a very realistic toe that even includes a carved toe nail.

The prosthetic toe is made to look as realistic as possible. And it was very functional too, helping Tabaketenmut with mobility after she had her toe amputated because of a blocked artery.

The prosthesis is made of several pieces with a hinge that mimicked the movement of joints. There’s also lacing that helped to secure the prosthesis to the foot.

And according to a modern-day experiment with a replica, the prosthesis worked remarkably well.

10. Duck bracelets of King Ramesses II

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

These incredible gold and lapis lazuli bracelets once adorned the wrists of Ramesses II. They testify to the skills of New Kingdom craftsmen.

The solid gold bracelets are studded with intricate geometric motifs and made of two parts linked together by hinges and clasps.

They’re decorated with a double-headed duck with a spread tail, whose two beaks curve towards the lapis lazuli that makes up the duck’s body.

The bracelets are engraved with the cartouche of Ramesses II, which suggests that both bracelets were actually worn by the king himself.

11. Coffin of Nedjemankh

Coffin of Nedjemankh

Coffin of Nedjemankh

Coffin of Nedjemankh

This golden coffin of a high-ranking Egyptian priest has been through a very dramatic journey.

It was stolen, sold with fake papers to the MET and finally returned to Cairo thanks to – of all people – Kim Kardashian.

Nedjemankh’s tomb was raided in 2011 and his coffin was smuggled out of Egypt. It was transported through several countries and then sold (with forged documents) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a whopping $4 million dollars.

But the case really gained steam after Kim Kardashian posed with the coffin at a 2018 Met Gala.

Kardashian’s photo went viral and caught the attention of one of the thieves who’d been double-crossed by his partners (they never paid him for unearthing and smuggling the coffin).

Coffin of Nedjemankh and kardashian

(photo: Landon Nordeman/Trunk Archive)

Now the thief was ready to talk and get his revenge. He contacted Manhattan’s Assistant District Attorney, who’d been on the trail of the smuggling ring for years.

The stolen coffin was eventually identified as Nedjemankh because the looters accidentally left a finger bone of the mummy inside.

The MET shut its then-ongoing exhibit of Nedjemankh and returned the coffin to Egypt.

The wood coffin is covered in gold and decorated with hymns from the Book of the Dead meant to protect Nedjemankh in his journey to the afterlife. It’s considered one of the masterpiece coffins from the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BC).

Its return to Egypt is a testament of the country’s decades-long efforts to retrieve its stolen artifacts from collectors and museums around the world.

12. Coptic collection

Coptic art

The museum’s collection of Coptic artifacts is a brilliant illustration of the culture of Egyptian Christians.

Egypt has long been connected with Christianity. The Holy Family once sought refuge in Egypt after their escape from Herod. And Egypt is also the home of the world’s first monastery founded by Saint Antony the Great.

Today, Christians make up roughly 15 percent of Egypt’s population, with the heart of their modern-day community centered around Coptic Cairo.

Coptic art is characterized by depictions of Christian figures and saints with broad faces, wide eyes and thick eyebrows. Coptic artisans excelled in icon painting and rich, elaborate tapestries of contrasting colors.

Coptic art

Coptic art

The 18th-19th century stole, a garment worn by the deacons of the Coptic Church, features elaborate embroidery that depicts several saints with their names written in Arabic.

The 6th-7th century tapestry fragment showcases the elaborate detail that Coptic textiles were known for. Such tapestries were used in Coptic churches and homes, and sometimes used to clothe and cover the dead.

The 6th-7th century part of a dome depicts Jesus and Mary on tempera adorned with flower-shaped crosses.

13. Ballana and Qustul

Ballana and Qustul

This collection of treasures from the royal Nubian cemeteries of Ballana and Qustul were excavated right before flooding. And they’re a treat for anyone interested in black African culture.

The treasures include crowns and pottery of pure Nubian origin along with items imported from Byzantine Egypt and the Mediterranean.

They were excavated between 1928-31 by British Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery as part of a rescue project right before the flooding that was expected with the erection of the Aswan Low Dam.

Ballana and Qustul

Emery uncovered some 122 tombs dating from 350 to 600 AD. They contained remarkable silver jeweled crowns of kings and queens that blend Pharaonic and Byzantine influences.

There were also skeletons of the sacrificed servants and animals who were buried along with their owners, bracelets, gaming boards, incense burners in the shape of lions, pottery and pigeon-shaped lamps.

Ballana and Qustul are now flooded by Nasser Lake.

14. Mamluk lamps

mamluk lamps

These ethereal glass lamps from the mosques of some of Egypt’s most illustrious sultans showcase how the Arabic language itself is a decorative element in Islamic art.

The glass lamps are decorated with multi-colored enamel and adorned with a Quranic verse from Surat al-Nur (or The Verse of Light), which compares God’s light to a shining crystal lamp inside a niche.

Because the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed in Arabic, the Arabic language itself is regarded as a high art form that’s nearly sacred. The Arabic script was created by highly-revered calligraphers and molds itself into the curves of the lamp.

Mosque lamps during Mamluk rule were made in Egypt and Syria. And they were often presented to Mamluk sultans as gifts.

mamluk lamps

These oil lamps come from the mosques of Sultan Hassan, Al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun and Al-Zahir Barquq.

They were suspended from chains and used to light up mosques and other buildings inside religious complexes. The enamel would have made a splendid sight that threw its silhouette on the mosque walls in the evening.

The decorations on Mamluk mosque lanterns often include emblems of whoever commissioned the lantern along with praises to the Sultan du jour.

These decorations testify to the strict hierarchial society of the Mamluks where titles, flattery and connections were everything.

15. Mamluk table support

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This copper table support features an intricate blend of vegetal and geometric motifs in masterful filigree.

The table is linked to Sultan al Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, who ruled Egypt during three different periods. It was likely used in a palace as a support for a wide tray that was placed on top.

The table is richly decorated and embellished with vegetal motifs, intertwining stems and blossoms.

Such tables testify to the mastery of Mamluk-era metalwork. During the Mamluks, there was even an entire souq in Cairo dedicated to inlaid metalwork.

16. Bust of Khedive Ismail

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This bronze bust of Khedive Ismail portrays the mustached Egyptian ruler in uniform and tarboush looking out into the distance with a regal expression.

Khedive Ismail is regarded as a progressive ruler who modernized much of Egypt with a series of grand projects.

He moved the capital from the Citadel to Abdeen Palace, in modern-day downtown Cairo, and inaugurated the Suez Canal with a lavish celebration in 1869.

Khedive Ismail also launched many national projects like the Opera House and invested heavily in industry, development and urbanization.

But his policies threw Egypt into heavy debt, and the country later sold its shares in the Suez Canal Company to the British.

17. Astrolabe (and other tools)


National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This splendid astronomical instrument (above, top photo) is a handheld model of the universe used to measure planets and stars, guide sailboats and calculate prayer times.

The brass astrolabe is dedicated to Prince Youssef Kamal in what’s an early 20th-century tribute to the Egyptian royal known for his love of art, antiques and travel.

The astrolabe consists of a main disk called the mater, which all other elements are connected. Its intricate network of wires and cutouts form an ancient GPS system that measures the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body.


An early astrolabe was first invented in ancient Greece. But medieval Muslim astronomers developed the astrolabe to its height, adding angular scales and circles to the design.

The astrolabe was crucial in the Islamic world to determine precise prayer times, find the Qibla (the direction of Mecca where prayers are directed), and navigate travel for trade routes and war.

The Arabs later brought the astrolabe to Europe via 11th-century Andalusia, from where it spread and contributed to modern science.

18. Mahmal



This brilliant red embroidered Mahmal was used in processions that transported the black cover for the Kaaba from Egypt to the holy city of Mecca.

This Mahmal cover is embroidered with verses from the Quran, silver crescents, blossoms and vines.

It dates back to the rule of Abbas II Helmi (1892-1914), a nationalist Khedive who was later removed by the British.

The Mahmal is a ceremonial tradition that dates back to the 13th century and the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baibars. The ceremony was observed right up until the 1920s.


A 1791 illustration by English artist Richard Dalton of the Mahmal passing through Cairo.

The procession was lead by a camel who carried a vehicle with volumes of the Quran in silver boxes. The camel was followed by the Mahmal procession carrying the black Kiswa used to drape over the Kaaba.

Cities from across the Muslim world, from Darfur to Yemen, each sent their own Mahmal. The entry of their processions into Mecca was a joyous spectacle for pilgrims to watch.

A Mahmal returning from Mecca was believed to carry blessings back to its city of origin. And it was welcomed back by crowds who touched and kissed the cloth.

19. Kiswa


This Egyptian-made Kiswa was used to cover the Holy Kaaba in Mecca. And it contains beautiful embroidery made by dozens of Cairo artisans.

The Kiswa is considered one of the most sacred objects in Islamic art. And its manufacture is a prestigious honor for artisans.

And while covering the Kaaba dates back to pre-Islamic times, Egyptian kiswas were used since the 7th century. Egyptian cotton was legendary for its world-class quality and Egyptian textile workers were the best in the business.


When the Kiswa was completed, it was sent to Mecca in the Mahmal procession.

But in 1961 Egypt stopped producing the Kiswa amid political tensions between Cairo and Saudi Arabia.

Today the Dar al-Kiswah workshop in Cairo, where the Kiswa was made for generations, seems to have sadly fallen into neglect.

20. Khayamiya (at the Egyptian Textile Hall)

national museum of egyptian civilization

A colorful cushion cover from the Khayamiya market is one of the most vibrant souvenirs you can get in Egypt.

And the NMEC has a beautiful collection of historic examples of khayamiya in the Textiles Hall.

They date back to the Mohamed Ali Dynasty (1805-1953) and feature vibrant colors and masterful craftsmanship.

The elaborate patterns and bright colors are similar to quilts. They contain three layers: a heavy back, a background top and an elaborate applique over the top.

Khayamiya is a decorative applique textile used across the Middle East to decorate tents.


It has a long tradition passed down through generations. There’s even evidence that textiles similar to khayamiya date back to the Pharaonic era.

But there are not many khayamiya artisans left today.

The art is slowly dying out as fewer young people want to learn the demanding – and not very lucrative – craft. There’s also competition from cheap, imported dupes.

But efforts are underway to preserve this traditional craft.

Need to know:

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

Tickets: 240 EGP per adult, which includes entrance to the Mummies Hall. You don’t need an extra ticked for cameras (even for DSLRs) and all photography is free. Note that photos are not allowed inside the Mummies Hall, however, for preservation purposes.

The museum is easy to navigate and labelled well. There are also audio tours available (for 30 EGP), so it’s easy to visit without a tour guide.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 4 pm.

On Google Maps: 265X+78

How to get there: Take an Uber to the museum’s main entrance. It’s on a busy road but still easy for taxis to stop. There’s also an underground parking garage with entrances up to the museum where Ubers can drop you off.

Nearby: Coptic Cairo and all its attractions are about a 15-minute taxi away.


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