19 September 2010
Assiut’s new museum is taking shape. The governorate recently announced that all the financial and legal procedures to acquire the palace of Alexan Pasha and use it to house the city’s first museum have been completed. A budget of EGP18 million has been allocated to convert the 7,000-square-metre into a museum.
A museum committee will steer the plans through red tape and bureaucratic procedures. This committee includes deputy ministers from the ministries of tourism, residential planning, and State property.
Assiut Governor Nabil al-Ezabi says the palace will be divided into two parts: interior galleries for antiquities and an open-air garden section.
“Alexan Palace will house all Assiut’s predynastic, Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic antiquities for the last seven thousand years,” says Mohamed Rashad, the general manager of antiquities in Assiut.
“The governorate is contacting museums and archaeological storehouses all over the country to collate Assiut’s antiquities from,” Dr Rashad says.
Fortunately, the palace does not need restoration. All that is necessary is some preparation to bring it into accordance with the latest international museum systems.
Dr Rashad affirmed that the palace is one of the most luxurious monumental palaces in Egypt, surrounded by magnificent gardens.
“The palace was built at the end of the 19th century by Italian, French and British artists, and that’s why its style is unique,” Dr Rashad says. It has two floors, each decorated with distinctive inscriptions and ornamentation. The façade is beautifully ornamented with Greek inscriptions—sure to draw people to view the treasures within.
Around 3100BC—in what is known as the protodynastic period in ancient Egypt, before Egypt was united in one State under a single king—ancient Assuit was the capital of the Thirteenth Nome of Upper Egypt (Lycopolites Nome), seated on the western bank of the Nile. The two most prominent gods of pre-Christian Assuit were Anubis and Wepwawet, both funerary deities.
The name of the city is derived from early Egyptian Zawty, later the Coptic Syowt. In Graeco-Roman Egypt, it was called Lycopolis or Lykopolis Lycon, or Lyco.
Of ancient interest is the Necropolis of Assiut where tombs of many regional leaders may be found, which document the area’s historical significance.
During the First Intermediate Period (2180 – 2052BC), the rulers of Zawty; Khety I, Itefibi, and Khety II were supporters of the Herakleopolitan kings, of whose domain the Nome formed the southern limits. The conflict between this Nome and the southern Nomes under the rule of the Eleventh Dynasty (2134 – 1999BC) ended with the victory of Thebes and the decline of Assuit’s importance.
Lycopolis has no remarkable ruins, but in the excavated chambers of the adjacent rocks are found mummies of wolves, confirming the origin of a tradition to the effect that an Ethiopian army invading Egypt was repelled beyond the city of Elephantine by herds of wolves. Osiris was worshipped under the symbol of a wolf at Lycopolis, he had, according to a myth, come “from the shades [the Underworld, of which he was king]” under that form, to aid Isis and Horus in their combat with Typhon.
Other Ancient Egyptian monuments discovered in Assiut include tombs which date to Ninth, Tenth and Twelfh dynasties, and Ramessid (1192 – 1075BC) tombs of Siese and Amenhotep.
In Graeco-Roman and Coptic times, there was a distinct dialect of Coptic spoken in Assuit, known as “Lycopolitan”, after the Greek name for the city. Lesser-used names for this dialect are “Sub-Akhmimic” and “Assiutic”.