Step into a time when civilization grew along the Nile, pyramids dotted the skyline and people believed gods walked among us.

Over 5,000 years ago, one of the most advanced civilizations developed along the River Nile. Ever since, ancient Egypt – the land of pharaohs, extraordinary art, miracles and mysteries – has captivated imaginations all over the world.

Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs unveils the mysteries and explores the realities of daily life in ancient Egypt. This extraordinary exhibition looks beyond popular culture’s fantastical portrayals to examine the lives of commoners and god-kings and queens alike. More than 350 original artifacts dating back over 4,500 years, stunningly detailed models of once-lost cities and landscapes and vivid interactive multimedia spaces will combine to conjure up ancient Egyptians’ economic, mythological and cultural world. Egypt will bring the land of pharaohs back to life at Cincinnati Museum Center.

Egypt runs through August 18, 2019.

Introduction

Over 5,000 years ago, an advanced civilization began to grow along the Nile. Drawing life from the river’s fertile cycle, a culture of monument-builders, with a complex, intertwined religious and political system, expanded their influence across the Mediterranean and through the millennia. Today, ancient Egypt comes to us through the fog of popular myths. Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs unveils the mysteries of life in ancient Egypt using 350 original artifacts, some more than 4,500 years old, detailed models of ancient structures and new holographic technology. Discover how the people of this amazing ancient world lived, worked, worshiped and died.

Landscape and climate

Ancient Egypt is as much a story of a river as it is a story of ancient people. The Nile, the second-longest river in the world – flows through 11 modern-day African countries, through hot mountains and deserts to the south and vast plains to the north. Pharaonic culture found its roots on the Nile’s banks, as savanna cattle breeders moved east from the unending Libyan Sahara Desert and farmers from the Palestine region moved west seeking room and water for their crops. As prehistoric pharaonic culture grew into what we think of as ancient Egypt, complex irrigation systems and biannual harvests stretched the Nile’s nurturing reach.

Sacred spaces

Ancient Egyptian temples were nothing like modern churches or synagogues. They were homes for the gods, not places for normal humans to worship. To suit their cosmic inhabitants, temples were built to represent the Egyptian world. Dark basalt floors represent the Nile’s dark soil, columns are built to resemble plants and flakes in the ceiling shimmer like stars. Temples were also the site of economic activity. Large temples were home to breweries, bakeries and workshops, providing a regular income for large groups of people.

Private spaces

With the focus on gods and pharaohs, it can be tempting to imagine Egypt’s monuments as unchanging, infinite things that simply grew out of the desert. Not so. What was life like for the people who cut the stone, built the temples and inscribed the walls? Social life in ancient Egypt was not dissimilar to Khufu’s pyramids. At the top, alone, is the Pharaoh, the male or female head of state and religious leader. At the bottom, soldiers, artisans, laborers and farmers. You’ve seen the intricate temples and decorated tombs, now see how the everyday Egyptian lived.

The Pharaoh

Beginning with Menes, running through Amenhotep III and Ramses II, and ending with Cleopatra VII, Egypt was ruled by about 170 pharaohs. More than kings or queens, pharaohs were descendants of the sun god Ra and responsible for maintaining justice on the mortal plain. In Egypt, meet six pharaohs through their massive construction projects, their military ability and their dazzling tombs, and discover how our modern understanding of ancient Egypt is shaped by the pharaohs’ 31 dynasties.

Religion and gods

Cosmic gods, gods of fertility, gods of natural processes, gods of the dead, gods for the people: the ancient Egyptian religion was deeply polytheistic. Supreme gods, such as the falcon-like Horus, maintained their high place in the religion for millennia and found a representative on Earth in the form of the pharaoh. Thoeris, part hippopotamus, lion and crocodile, and the goddess Bes look after pregnant women. Bastet, a friendly cat deity, presides over festivals with music and dance. Ancient Egyptian gods personified, fought for and controlled the universe, and their place in the ancient religious imagination evolved as the civilization grew and declined over thousands of years.

Script and state

In 1799, Napoleonic soldiers found something curious in the port city of Rosetta. A stone with three different scripts: hieroglyphics on top, demotic (a late Egyptian dialect) in the middle and ancient Greek on the bottom. The Rosetta Stone unlocks a writing culture’s mysterious written language, which people haven’t been able to read for over 1,400 years. Writing powered the Egyptian civilization’s growth, allowing people to promulgate laws, record court decisions and track crop yields. Writing was so important to the Egyptians, they attributed the creation of hieroglyphics to a god, Toth, the god of wisdom.

Personal adornment

Egyptian bodies were temples. Beauty in ancient Egypt aimed for perfection, and both men and women would pursue that ideal with elaborate jewelry, clothing, perfume and makeup. Feasts and festivals were times to dress up: big hair, and wigs made of palm fibers dipped in beeswax, were a sign of youth, both sexes accentuated eyes and brows using black liner, and blush made from henna lent women a vital glow.

Secret spaces

The core of Egypt, take a step into the afterlife. Earthly death was thought to be an intermediate step between mortal existence and an eternal one. Ancient Egyptians prepare for death as if they’re preparing for a journey. Rich people’s elaborate, packed tombs are supply rooms for the unknown. The poor, unable to afford their own copy of the Book of the Dead, risk losing themselves in the dangerous Egyptian underworld.