The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has always been famous for its collection of art from Ancient Egypt and Nubia (Sudan). It recently revamped these galleries as part of a major remodel.
While the new galleries reopened in November, I didn’t want to write it up until I got to see it for myself. The old galleries were dark, cramped and had endless cases crammed with artifacts. In other words, they were arranged in the old style. Museums are changing, though. The trend these days are to have brighter, more open and inviting spaces that reduce museum fatigue. Most of the Ashmolean got this treatment back in 2009, and after a big fund raising effort the famous Egyptian and Nubian galleries have also been revamped.
As you can see from the above picture, the gloomy old galleries have been opened up. Signage has been improved with lots of detailed information about each piece. The Ashmolean has become the poster child of new museum design, and its impressive collection certainly helps make it a world-class destination.
Personally I walked through the galleries with mixed feelings. Creating more space means displaying fewer artifacts. The crowded cases filled with dozens of figurines or amulets are gone, replaced by displays showing single pieces or at most half a dozen. As one of my friends complained, this slants the displays towards the best objects, while the more day-to-day objects familiar to the common people aren’t represented. She also pointed out that you lose the chance to compare typology, how the appearance of artifacts change over space and time.
On the other hand, the new galleries are definitely a more user-friendly experience. All the objects for which the galleries were famous are still there, like the phallic statue of the god Min, the Shrine of Taharqa and a Roman-era female mummy complete with golden tits. While obsessive archaeology buffs will be a bit disappointed with the new look, most visitors will find it a pleasant change.
All photos courtesy copyright Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
This desert land was once home to a great empire that built giant temples in honor of strange, animal-headed gods and memorialized their rulers with pyramids. It had one of the most advanced civilizations of its time and was known throughout the ancient world.
Egypt? No, Sudan.
The Kingdom of Kush in what is now Sudan built great cities and traded the products of its large and expert iron industry as far away as India and China. It lasted from about 1000 BC to 350 AD before finally being conquered by the Empire of Axum in Ethiopia. For almost a hundred years from 747-656 BC, the Kushites ruled Egypt as the twenty-fifth dynasty.
A new exhibit at the Louvre in Paris is the first to focus on Meroë, the capital of Kush in its later period and home to more than two hundred pyramids, some of which are shown in this photo. Meroe: Empire on the Nile showcases works of Meroitic art that help us understand the daily life, religion, and social structure of this often-overlooked empire.
Meroe: Empire on the Nile runs until September 6, 2010. Many of the objects are loans from the Museum of Khartoum, so if you can’t make it to Paris before September, you can always go to Sudan and the see the objects, and the pyramids, for yourself. Last year The Wall Street Journal listed the country as one of the top five destinations for the super adventurous.
Image courtesy Sven-steffenarndt via Wikimedia Commons
BootsnAll brings us another excellent list, with the intention of adding yet more destinations to our ever expanding “life lists”. This time it’s their selection of ten magnificent monuments, amazing structures from around the globe, that inspire us to travel thousands of miles just so we can take them in ourselves.
Some of the selections on the list are centuries old, such as the Nubian monuments found in southern Egypt or Stonehenge in England. Others are relatively recent in their construction, like the Washington Monument in D.C. or the Brandenburg Gate in Germany. These monuments were built for a variety of reasons, some religious in nature, like the Reclining Buddha in Thailand, others to commemorate a particular person or event, like the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico. Each of the places on the list include a photo and a nice description of why it deserves your consideration as a travel destination.
One thing that I like about this collection is that not everything on it is well known. For instance, the obvious choice for Egypt is the Great Pyramids or the Sphynx, but BootsnAll went with the temples located in Abu Simbal, far to the south, and far less visited by tourists.
For the traveler who has been everywhere and seen everything, perhaps this list will give you a few new ideas for future adventures. For those just setting out on their travels, this is a great list to start with.