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Monday, June 3, 2019

Greetings at the GEM - Al Ahram Weekly

Greetings at the GEM

The column of the Pharaoh Merneptah now stands ready to greet visitors to the Grand Egyptian Museum

Greetings at the GEM

Almost a year after its relocation from the Salaheddin Citadel in Cairo to its new permanent display space in the atrium of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), reports Nevine Al-Aref, the column of the Pharaoh Merneptah is now standing beside the colossus of his father Ramses II ready to greet visitors to the museum. 

The column was transported from the citadel where it has been kept since 2006 for conservation and preservation purposes. It was originally discovered in 1970 among other architectural elements from the ruins of Merneptah's mortuary temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, now the Cairo suburb of Matariya, where it had suffered deterioration due to high levels of subsoil water.

Director of first-aid restoration at the GEM Eissa Zidan explained that great care had been taken before the column's transportation and that it had been comprehensively studied to detect and consolidate weak points.

 It had taken eight hours to prepare the column for transportation and two hours for its journey to the GEM, he said. A wooden base padded with layers of foam had been designed for the column, and it had been tied with carefully tensioned rope to safeguard it during transportation. 

The Tourism and Antiquities Police accompanied it on its journey. Upon its arrival, it was examined, and further restoration work was completed.

"Lifting up the column to stand beside the colossus of his father was not an easy task," Zidan told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that the process was "a challenge" that had taken two days of work with the help of a special company under the supervision of archaeologists and restorers from the GEM Conservation Centre.

The column is 5.6m tall and weighs 10 tons. It is carved of red granite, while the base is made of limestone. It is decorated with engravings showing the Pharaoh's different titles and scenes commemorating his victory against Libyan tribes. 

Greetings at the GEM

Scenes at the top of the column show him wearing the red crown of ancient Egypt and offering incense and wine to the god Amun Re, who holds the ankh sign in one hand and a curved dagger in the other. He gives the dagger to the Pharaoh, saying "take the slander of all foreign lands."

Wearing the blue crown, Merneptah offers incense to a worshipper, Anat, who holds the sign of the ankh in her left hand and presents him with her hand to help suppress rebels. 

He also appears wearing the double crown inscribed with the royal prayer offering bread to the mother of the god Ra Hor Akhti, who encourages the Pharaoh to act against foreign countries.

Merneptah, whose name means "beloved of the god Ptah", was the fourth king of the 19th Dynasty and the 13th son of Ramses II. He took the throne when he was nearly 60 years old and ruled for 10 years from 1213 to 1203 BCE.

 His reign was filled with military revolts and invasions. During his early years, he succeeded in conquering a revolt in Palestine, but his greatest challenge was his victory over the Libyan tribes and the so-called "Sea People".

Merneptah ordered the carving of four great commemorative texts recording his victories, the Great Karnak Inscription, the present column, and the Athribis Stele. 

The last two are shorter versions of the Great Karnak Inscription, and there is also a stele found at Thebes, called variously the Hymn of Victory or the Merneptah Stele, that is now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. This describes the reign of peace resulting from his victories.

Merneptah died in 1203 BCE and was buried in Tomb KV8 in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. The disappearance of his mummy once added to speculation about his being the Pharaoh mentioned in the Biblical book of Exodus, but its discovery in 1898 in a mummy cachet ended such speculation.

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