Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Louvre Features the Ancient Black Capital of Meroë

Catalog cover
Meroë - An Empire on the Nile

This February, my husband and I took a long awaited cruise on Lake Nassar in Egypt.  We visited several of the temples that were preserved in the face of the creation of the lake, including Ramses II's famous Abu Simbel.  We even attended the sunrise ceremony on February 22, one of two days of the year when the sun fully illuminates the statues of the four gods that sit at the rear of the inner sanctuary.

The temples on Lake Nassar lie in an area that is known as Nubia, a land that begins at the level of the city of Aswan in southern Egypt and extends south to the area near the Sudanese city of Debba.  In ancient times, Nubia extended past the Sixth Cataract to the location of the modern city of Khartoum and beyond.  Powerful civilizations developed at Napata and Meroë during the first millennium B.C.E. in what is now Sudan.  During the cruise, I saw remnants of temples that were controlled by both Roman Egypt and the kingdom of Meroë during a war that was initiated by the Meroitic queen (Kandake, or Candice) Amanirenas.

Upon returning to Paris, I was delighted to discover that the Louvre is now presenting the first ever exposition devoted entirely to the kingdom of Meroë. Roughly 200 works are on display, including fine jewelry found in the tomb of Kandake Amanishakheto, stone tablets bearing the hieroglyphs and cursive script of Meroë (which have not been completely deciphered), and exquisite carvings of the ram-headed god Amon (who was also worshiped in Egypt).

The exhibit is located in the entresol of the Richelieu Pavilion.  It opened on March 26, and will remain open to the public until September 6, 2010.

Pavillon Richelieu
© Discover Paris!

I visited the exposition a few weeks ago.  It is small, but packed with information and artifacts.  The didactic panel copy (the large panel of text that gives the visitor an overview of the works in an exposition) is presented in French and in English.  No photos are allowed, so I purchased the catalog for the expo before leaving the museum.  It is completely in French, and costs 39 euros, but it is well worth the price if you can read French.

 Entrance to the Meroë exhibit
© Discover Paris!

For me, the most impressive works were the statue of the archer king, located at the far end of the exposition, and the stele (stone tablet) displaying Kandake Amanishakheto receiving the breath of life from the goddess Amesemi.  The Louvre selected the archer king as the symbol for the exposition—you see its image on the posters and billboards that announce the expo. There is a section of the exhibit to the right of the archer king display that provides information about an archaeological excavation that a team from the Louvre is currently undertaking at the ancient city of Mouweis.

There is also a small, permanent exposition of artifacts from the kingdom of Napata at the Louvre.  This is located on the landing of the Escalier du Midi outside the Egyptian exhibit on the first floor of the Sully Pavilion.

Relics from the Napata kingdom
© Discover Paris!

Napata is the kingdom that produced the Black Pharaohs of Egypt's 25th Dynasty.  The Louvre borrowed one of its own works, that of Pharaoh Taharqa kneeling before the falcon god Hemen, to complete the collection that is displayed in the Meroë exposition.  This, along with other works from the 25th Dynasty, have a permanent home in Room 29.

 Taharqa kneeling before Hemen
 © Discover Paris!

You may wish to see these works to complement your visit to the Meroë exposition.

There are only a few weeks left to see Meroë – An Empire on the Nile. There is no special fee—you may access this exhibit along with the rest of the museum's collections for a standard fee of 9.50 euros (6 euros if you enter after 6 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays). Entry to the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of each month, so there is still one chance (September 5th) to see the Meroë exhibit at no charge!

If you arrive at the Louvre at opening time, head for the Meroë exhibit first. Very few people will be there for the first half-hour or so, which will give you time to see a good part of the exhibit without having to compete with a crowd.


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