After a DECADE leading collection on ancient world reopens to the public

An ancient Egyptian mummy, preserved in linen wrapping in which the deceased was entombed in the first century BC or first half of the first century AD. Kalbar/TFN

The ancient world of Egypt, Greece and Rome with mummies, hieroglyph-filled papyrus and ancient statues is once again available to the public as the Gallery of Ancient Art at Warsaw’s National Museum opened its doors after a break of 10 years.

Work on the new permanent exhibition was completed in December last year, but culture-starved visitors had to wait until today to see the ancient treasures, one day after the government relaxed the pandemic-related closure of museums and art galleries.

A pyramidion which capped small, black pyramids built on top of funnery chapels in Western Thebes.Kalbar/TFN

“Such an event in the history of Polish museology happens once every few decades,” said the director of the National Museum in Warsaw, Łukasz Gaweł.

The items on display come from the museum’s antiquity collection, which numbers over 18,000 items, making it the leading collection on the ancient world in this part of Europe.

The long closure of the previous gallery dedicated to them was closed in 2011 due to the poor condition of the rooms.

Kalbar/TFN

Other highlights include a portrait of an Egyptian boy painted on a wooden panel by a Roman artist in the second half of the second century.Kalbar/TFN

Work on the new exhibition was supposed to be completed in 2013, but the project turned out to be so complicated and expensive that the opening date soon fell through.

The new gallery was designed by Warsaw architect Mirosław Nizio and cost around PLN 16.2 million.

The items on display come from the museum’s antiquity collection, which numbers over 18,000 items, making it the leading collection on the ancient world in this part of Europe.Kalbar/TFN

Those who braved the early February snow today were in for a treat. Around 1,800 exhibits spread out over 700 sqm of state-of-the-art exhibition space form a virtual time machine transporting visitors back to ancient cultures.

The nine rooms show the monuments of ancient civilisations arranged by place of origin – Egypt, the Middle East, Greece and Rome.

Tricks of light and colour in each room transport visitors in time and space to Egyptian temples and tombs, ancient Babylon, a Greek theatre and inside a Roman atrium house.

Around 1,800 exhibits spread out over 700 sqm of state-of-the-art exhibition space form a virtual time machine transporting visitors back to ancient cultures.Kalbar/TFN

In the rooms associated with the symbolism of light, light stone and light plaster have been used.

In the space dedicated to Egypt, sandstone was used. White marble was used where the exhibition tells the story of Greece.

A small tablet from the time of emperor Augustus shows the scene from the Odyssey when Odysseus visits Circe. It is extremely rare and comes from a group known as the Tabulae Iliacae, only 22 of which are to have survived.Kalbar/TFN

Grey limestone appears in the section dedicated to ancient Rome. One of the rooms is entirely covered with hieroglyphs.

From bright colours that evoke the desert sand and Egyptian sun, visitors move into dark halls resembling the interiors of ancient tombs and Roman catacombs.

The gallery attempts to answer the question of what kind of people the ancients were and were they us.

Exhibition curator Monika Muszyńska told TFN: “The closer we get to everyday life, the more like us they were. Through the objects in our exhibition we can see how they lived, had fun, paid taxes, their family relations.”Kalbar/TFN

Exhibition curator Monika Muszyńska told TFN: “The closer we get to everyday life, the more like us they were. Through the objects in our exhibition we can see how they lived, had fun, paid taxes, their family relations.”

One of the most interesting exhibits is an ancient Egyptian mummy, preserved in linen wrapping in which the deceased was entombed in the first century BC or first half of the first century AD.

Other highlights include a portrait of an Egyptian boy painted on a wooden panel, a rare Greek vase depicting the poet Sappho and a 10-metre-long papyrus scroll of the Egyptian Book of the Dead from the 14th century BC. 

The nine rooms show the monuments of ancient civilisations arranged by place of origin – Egypt, the Middle East, Greece and Rome.Kalbar/TFN

Yet another highlight, this time from the room designed like a Roman atrium house, is one of the museum’s most mysterious objects.

A small tablet from the time of emperor Augustus shows the scene from the Odyssey when Odysseus visits Circe. It is extremely rare and comes from a group known as the Tabulae Iliacae, only 22 of which are to have survived.

Muszyńska said: “It is like an ancient coffee-table book, probably owned by someone wealthy who wanted to show his wealth and prestige.”

Work on the new permanent exhibition was completed in December last year, but culture-starved visitors had to wait until today to see the ancient treasures, one day after the government relaxed the pandemic-related closure of museums and art galleries.Kalbar/TFN

The small relief was discovered in the museum’s basement in the 1950s, but it is a complete mystery how it got there.

“Nobody knows how it got here. Perhaps it was part of the collection of one of the magnate families, which the museum inherited,” Muszyńska said.

Most of the objects in the exhibition belong to the National Museum in Warsaw. Some of the objects come from collections that became part of the museum's holdings after 1945, including the Radziwiłł collection from Nieborów, the Potocki family from Jabłonna and the Czartoryski family from Gołuchów.

The identity of the Egyptian mummy remains a mystery.Kalbar/TFN

Other items come from pre-war German collections, including those from Silesia, Königsberg and Braniewo, which were put together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The exhibition also includes works from the Louvre Museum's collection, some of which have been held at the Museum since 1960.

The exhibition is open Tuesday to Sunday 10.00–18.00 with pandemic restrictions on number of visitors and social distancing requirements.