If you give your child the choice between going to a playground and visiting a museum, they will most definitely choose the playground, and it’s hard to argue against that.
That s why the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities set up its first children’s section, a miniature version built on the same premises in the heart of downtown Cairo displaying real artifacts alongside innovative replicas made entirely from Lego bricks. And it also houses a play area.
“This occasion today gives me the time to make an exciting discovery… that it is possible to create new artistic portraits and new monuments from the old Egyptian civilization with ordinary cubes of plastic, Denmark’s Prince Henrik told attendees at the inauguration of Egypt’s Children’s Museum last Monday.
The ceremonial ribbon was cut by Prince Henrik alongside Head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass and the Danish ambassador to Cairo, launching a project that has been in the pipeline for the past three years.
A giant Lego Sphinx leads the way to the six-chamber underground space situated on the westside of the museum, which begins with a colorful Lego map outlining Egypt’s main archaeological sites and ends with a workshop room equipped with Lego bricks for the little visitors to play with.
The faces of legendary Pharaohs have been refashioned with tens of thousands of colorful plastic bricks in a fashion that blends the ancient civilization of the east with the west’s manufactured products.
With children in mind, the curators made sure the walls are color-painted, the artifacts are placed on low shelves and the description of each display – available in English and Arabic – uses simple language.
The first showroom to the right-hand side of the entrance showcases everyday activities in ancient Egypt. The viewer meets statues and Lego formations of beer brewing and bread-making alongside toys, cosmetics, artifacts displayed behind a glass window and Lego models perched on ceramic bases.
The next room shows the most fascinating of rituals practiced by the Pharaohs: mummification.
A model of a body ready to be mummified is accompanied with Lego-jars bearing the heads of four Gods as was the case in ancient times. A simple explanation of the process hangs on the wall while other equipment used for ancient mummification is also on display.
The room also includes a Lego model of a boat carrying a dead man, equipped with material needed for the burial as it heads to the city of Abydos, the main center of worship for Osiris.
It is fascinating to see that even though the greatness of the ancient civilization is diminished to colorful brick models, the grandiose feeling that is associated with the Pharaohs’ way of living is still traceable.
Rooms on the left-hand side of the entrance are dedicated to writing, ancient knowledge and the palace life as depicted during the times of the Pharaohs. Pieces include a Lego-model of a king being serenaded by harp musicians; a Lego-man kneeling down as he writes on papyrus; a statue of Ramses II; and a sandstone statue of a baboon, symbol of Thoth, the God of knowledge.
Upon exist, the viewer is greeted with a one room workshop where children were seen playing with Lego bricks on the opening day. In addition, the walls are dotted with artwork produced through activities run by the Management of Museum Education for the Talented and People with Disabilities.
After the inauguration ceremony, Daily News Egypt spoke to Director General of the Egyptian Museum Wafaa El-Seddiq on the choice of Lego and what the new museum plans to offer the children that visit it.
“It [Lego] is the most suitable artistic technique for a child’s brainpower… Lego cubes make children sit and reflect on their own creation, El-Seddiq said.
“Lego is a great invention. Children might listen and forget, but whatever a child creates with their own hands will stick to his/her mind; this is exactly our aim, she added.
The idea came to El-Seddiq after she visited a Lego exhibition titled “The Secret of the Pharaohs as it toured Europe. She approached the organizing company who later agreed to donate the collection to the Egyptian Museum.
“All the pieces on display have been collected by a group of archaeologists and psychologists to ensure that it interests children, she said, adding that around 100 real artifacts were added to the Lego collection to complement the concept.
“As long as it is called a museum, it has to include real artifacts.
A researcher of children’s museums, El-Seddiq points to the crammed nature of the Egyptian Museum as one of the reasons why Egypt was in need of a museum specifically designed for children.
“Children are unable to comprehend the scores of monuments displayed in the Egyptian Museum, she explained, adding that the new museum will offer additional educational tools for visitors.
Alongside the Lego playroom, fliers are currently available in four languages: Arabic, English, French and German. In the future, El-Seddiq hopes to prepare workbooks to be given out to visiting children or their teachers, which will include crossword puzzles and coloring pages based on the displayed pieces.
In addition, audio tours are a future consideration.
When asked whether the new museum will move to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, she said: “The current Egyptian museum and the newly inaugurated Children’s Museum will continue to display the marvels of the ancient civilization [here in downtown]. Only a few chosen pieces will be moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum.
Although the collection targets children, the museum looms as an enjoyable visit for all ages, offering a simplified but compact display of the ancient Egyptian civilization in an innovative manner, a space that is definitely serener than its larger kind.