The Coptic Museum in Cairo is located inside the ruins of the Roman Babylon Fort in Maser El Qadema in Coptic Cairo Center, an area which is full of Coptic Churches and chapels like the famous hanging Church and the Church of St Barbra.
Nobody would ever believe that the foundation of the Coptic Museum goes back to the era of the Persians and a lot of items were added afterwards by the Roman emperors August and Trajan. The famous French scientist Maspero played a major role in the establishment of the modern museum as he spent a long time collecting Coptic monuments from all around Egypt and preserving it.
The founder of the Museum in modern times is Smeka Pasha who requested that the items in the museum to be added to the Egyptian Committee for preserving antiquities and art. This man exerted huge efforts to found the building of the museum that is present right now and which was opened to the public in 1901 with Smeka as the first head of the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
The Coptic Museum today consists mainly of two major sections: the old section established by Smeka Pasha and the new the section that consists of two floors which was opened for the public in 2006 by the president Hosni Mubarak after a huge renovation and restoration period that its cost reached more than 30 million pounds because the museum was affected badly by the earth quake that struck Egypt in 1992. The museum now displays around 1600 items collected from various regions around Egypt and go back to different century in the Coptic history of Egypt and the Coptic Museum is considered to be a complete illustration of the Coptic history in Egypt
The first section of the old museum the visitor goes to is the Ahnasya section, Alnasya is a town that is near Beni Sweif to the South of Cairo and some Coptic Items were discovered in the area that go back to the third and forth century AD.
The second section is the Saqqara section where the ruins of the Monastery of St Armeia is located with a lot of rock structures and a lot of other items gathered from Monasteries from the Fayoum and Upper Egypt.
The new two stories museum consists of eight sections:
The Stone and portraits section:
There are is the stones collection which contains a lot of Tempra style stone drawings. The second part of this section contains a huge collection of beautifully decorated stone capitals that were collected from monasteries and churches from all over Egypt. These stone capitals were brought from the Copts from different regions around Egypt and then it was reused in building Coptic structures.
There are also a lot of portraits that are gathered from ancient monasteries.
A portrait of the Christ with his face inside a circle of light carried by angels found in the monastery of Apollo
The cross found on the walls of the Jeremiah Monastery
This section also includes:
1- Patriarchal Throne made of bronze and copper from the 10 century
2- Portrait of a young man enclosed in a double medallion 5-6 section
3- A collection of stone capitals from the monastery of Saint Jeremias
4- A ceiling portrait of Adam and Eve in the Tempra style found in Fyoum in the 11th century 2
The metals section:
It contains a large collection of silver and golden Coptic coins. Most of these coins were brought from the White Monastery in Sohag. There are also a lot of drawings that were carved on silver and other precious metals like
1- A silver piece of the Virgin holding Jesus.
2- Patriarchal Throne made of bronze and copper from the 10 century
Other items included:
1- Bronze dish with Coptic inscriptions from the 10 century
2- Censer, Ethiopian, with perforated base and dome made of bronze 18 century
3- Crosses from the Byzantine period
4- Different keys from the 13 century
5- The Cross made of Bronze
The wood section:
The lack of good wood was always the biggest obstacle that faced wooden crafting in Egypt. However, the Egyptian imported wood since the days of the Pharos and the Copt artists used different kinds of woods like tamarisk, acacia, sycamore, and lebbakh to produce their art.
The museum hosts a big collection of these wooden items that includes:
1- A wooden box with ivory or in bone inlays that was originally intended to store clerical vestments 17-19 century
2- A wooden door that has many different decoration brought from Marcus church in Rosetta
3- A wooden piece showing people playing music dates back to the 5-6 century
4- Door decorated with geometric designs and bone inlays from the Mamluk period
5- Wooden chair from the 18th century made out of Arabisc
6- Broken Pediment of the two nude erodes and the cross 4rth century
The ivory section:
During the Greek period of the Egyptian history, Alexandria was a major trade point of ivory in the whole world. However, by the times of the Roman rule in Egypt Persia became the most important trade focal point for ivory.
The Coptic writings section:
One of the most interesting sections of the Coptic Museum as it contains bibles that were written in the 11th and the 13th century on Deer skin in the Coptic and Arabic languages. There is also a very interesting Wooden sickle cell which was used to hold the bible and which goes back to the 14th and the 15th century.
1- A manuscript by St. Mark, St. Mathew, and St. John from 11th century
2- Lectionary of the Gospels according to the Greek rite with titles and simple colors decorations 13 Century
3- Papyrus paper with Christian writings date back to 6-8 century
4- The book of the Psalms as it still has its wooden cover found in Beni Sweif dates back to 4-5 century
5- The four Ashier written in Arabic with golden writings
The pottery and glass section:
The Copts, just like any other culture that took place in the Egyptian history took advantage of the good quality of the pottery and glass in Egypt to produce their art. The museum has a lot of pottery items that goes back to the six century AD like :
1- A flask of St. Minas standing between two camels dates back to 6-7 century
2- Jar decorated with birds and saints in different posture wearing varied clothes
3- Painted bowel with a flat scalloped rim of alluvial clay with some human decorations 8 century
4- Storage jar painted in columns representing the bust of human figure and animals and birds and floral designs inside vaults 7 century
The cloth and textile section:
Includes a lot of monks clothes that are decorated with crosses, drawings of the Virgin, and the drawings of the Christ.
1- A fragment woven with woolen thread in tapestry representing a cross decorating with stylized human figures
2- A Kettan robe with ornaments in two columns one is horizontal and the other is diagonal 5-6 century
3- A part of the Coptic wool with two parallel columns of decorations date back to the 4-5th century
4- A piece of cloth showing the Virgin and Jesus dates back to the 7th century
5- A textile of a cross found in Kellia
6- Christian decorations from Michael monastery in Maser el Qadeema dates back to the 17 century
7- Fragment of a curtain or a tunic with tapestry decoration dates back to the 6-7 century
The Icons section:
The most remarkable and interesting section of the museum. It contains A wide collection of Coptic icons from different ears and with different theme and decorations. One of the styles of these icons is called Frisk which the Coptic artists were affected by the drawings of the walls of the Pharonic temples and they started drawing on the walls of Churches and monasteries. However, because of the persecution of the Romans to the Copts, they started drawing on wood and plaster which can be easily held while escaping an attack on a church or a monastery. The word “Icon” is a Greek word that means a picture and it may contain a drawing of saints or other religious scenes.
1- Icon of St. Andrews the Apostle holding the Holy Bible and a cross dates back to 17-18 century
2- Icon of the crowned Virgin holding the Infant Jesus They are between two Saints having halos around their heads. The Virgin’s crown is carried by two angles and the Holy Spirit is descending from heaven in the form of dove
3- Icon representing St .Nicolas dates back to 19 century
4- Icon representing St. Menas on horse –back holding the bridle with his left hand and piercing a dragon with a long spear with a cross fixed at the top .His crowned head is surrounded by a halo
5- Icon representing St. Victor the martyr wearing a crown on horseback. He holds a cross with his right hand. and the bridle with the left .Under the horse is a dragon representing the devil
6- Icon representing the Virgin and the Infant holding a golden roll in His hand dates back to 18 century
7- Icon representing two persons. Ahrakas and Oghani. They wear masks shaped like dog head. They look right towards a bearing fruits tree
8- This famous icon represents the visit of Saint Antony (on the left) to Saint Paul (3rd – 4th century), who lived in retreat in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea
The last and maybe most fascinating item of the museum is the a hawdage” or a cart” made out of ebony wood inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl and it was used to transfer rich ladies to Jerusalem in the Roman period.
Click on the thumbnails below for the full articles
The monastery is about 40 Km to the south of the monastery of St. Anthony
St. Barbara is one of the oldest and the most remarkable churches in Cairo
St Samaan( Simon) the Tanner Monastery(Garbage Village Churches)
is the centre of many Monasteries dating back to the fourth century AD