There is an ancient statue that resembles King Ramses II and has the body of a giant lion attacking a human who represents the enemy trying to cross Egypt’s borders. Another statue shows the king strongly holding his sceptre. These are some of the displayed relics at the commemoration exhibition of Sheikh Ibrahim Burkhardt, the man who discovered Abu Simbel Temples.
The halls of the Egyptian museum witnessed the opening of its latest exhibitions “Abu Simbel: 200 years after Sheikh Ibrahim Burkhardt” on Sunday night under the attendance of Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Anany, Swiss ambassador to Egypt Markus Leitner, and Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly, as well as several countries’ ambassadors.
The exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of the greatest discovery in Egyptian history, which coincides with year in which its Swiss discoverer, Johann Ludwig Burkhardt, died.
Organised by the Egyptian Museum and the Embassy of Switzerland with the University of Basel, which helped select the displayed items, the exhibition arrays some of the antiquities that were discovered at the places he visited on his way to Nubia.
“After the great discoveries the country has been witnessing for the past months, this [the exhibitions] means the spread of a good image of the country, which sends the message that there’s so much to see in Egypt and shows that Egypt is all about heritage and culture,” Leitner told Daily News Egypt
“We are very proud to celebrate this important historical and cultural link between Switzerland and Egypt. The exhibition sends a positive message to the Swiss people and encourages tourism to explore Egypt’s special history,” Leitner added. “The exhibition commemorates the history of a Swiss traveller who started it all 200 years ago. I believe this is an important statement we send people that says ‘come to Egypt.'”
Open to the public between 15 May and 20 June, “Abu Simbel: 200 years after Sheikh Ibrahim Burkhardt” allows some of the displayed items to see the light for the first time through this exhibition. This includes two fragments of a wall painting from the rock-cut sanctuary in Wadi Al-Seboua from the period of Amenhotep III.
In their speeches, both El-Anany and Leitner assured that Burkhardt played a remarkable role in documenting the lives of Egyptians as no other foreign traveller managed to do. This was due to his fluent Arabic which allowed him to engage in dialogue with citizens from various social classes and different lifestyles, including merchants, governors, and even peasants.
Burkhart discovered Abu Simbel Temples in 1813 on his trip to Nubia. The temple was buried in deep sand when he found it, and later, after he went back to Cairo, he informed Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni about his discovery. Based on Burkhardt’s description, Belzoni travelled to Abu Simbel, started removing the sand, and entered the temple 200 years ago in 1817. The same year, Burckhardt died in Cairo. He is buried in the Bab El-Nasr cemetery in Cairo.
“He’s buried here [Cairo] and he lived most of his life here, so we thought it’s more appropriate if he is remembered in the Egyptian Museum rather than in the temple itself,” Leitner explained ,“his temple in well preserved until this day, and we invite the masses to come visit it and commemorate his life with us.”
One year before discovering one of Egypt’s most famous touristic spots, Burkhardt rediscovered the ancient city of Petra in Jordan in 1812 on the route he was taking from Syria to Cairo.
The Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burkhardt was born to a wealthy family in Basel. After he completed his studies in Germany, he was hired by an association exploring North Africa, which led him to settle down in 1802 in Aleppo to study Arabic. After he converted to Islam, he was known as Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah.