One million expected at blockbuster Paris Tutankhamun show
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One million expected at blockbuster Paris Tutankhamun show

Tutankhamun's treasure: gold and mystery

At least one million people are expected to flock to a "once in a generation" exhibition about the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun which opens in Paris this weekend.

More than 150 treasures from the boy king's tomb - including 60 which have never left Egypt before - have been assembled for the blockbuster show.

The Egyptian Ministry for Antiquities said this is the largest number of Tutankhamun artefacts ever to have left Cairo, and may never happen again.

Ticket sales for "Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" topped 130,000 last week as curators began the delicate task of installing the spectacular 3,400-year-old exhibits.

Almost all come from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and are never likely to leave the country again.

Its unparalleled collection is being transferred to the enormous new Grand Egyptian Museum near the pyramids at Giza, which is due to open next year.

The Louvre in Paris has also loaned one of its top Tutankhamun pieces to the show, a statue of Amon, the king of the gods, protecting the pharaoh.

Mostafa Waziry, the Egyptian ministry's secretary general, said the touring show - which will open in London in November before moving on to Sydney - will help pay for the new Giza museum.

Last trip outside Egypt 

But the global tour - which will take in six other as yet undisclosed cities - also marks "the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of the boy king" by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

"Please see them," Waziry declared. "Visit them before they return to Egypt for ever."

The Paris show at the giant la Villette arts complex opens by summoning up the Valley of the Kings near Luxor where the necropolis was found, using huge video screens and tonnes of sand.

Giant doors then open into the vast dimly-lit interior where the treasures are displayed, the most dazzling being one of the life-sized gilded black guardian statues that stood on either side of the king's burial chamber.

As well as the grand funerary objects, there are also the gloves, sandals, canes and hunting bows that the pharaoh was to use in the afterlife.

Video displays show the excavations and explain the massive influence "King Tut" has had on art, fashion and popular culture, right to down to pop star Beyonce's Egypt-influenced concerts.

Organisers said they were expecting around 1.2 million people to pass through the doors in the next six months.

'Tut-mania'

Previous exhibitions about the boy pharaoh have been record-breaking blockbusters, setting off "Tut-mania" around the globe.

More than eight million people attended a 1973 show, "The Treasures of Tutankhamun", at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Another 1.2 million people queued to see a smaller exhibition six years earlier at the Petit Palais in Paris in what was called "the show of the century".

But unlike those shows, the new exhibition will be without Tutankhamun's golden death mask.

An Egyptian now bans the mask, made from just over 10 kilos (22 pounds) of gold, from leaving the country.

Tarek El Awady, the director of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, who is also curating the Paris show, said the ancients loved gold "because it doesn't change", nor would it lose its lustre in the eternal afterlife.

"If they had thought they would be buried for ever the objects wouldn't have been so beautiful," he told AFP.

Tutankhamun's tomb is still "the only (Egyptian) tomb found intact," he added.

"It wasn't just a window for us, but an open door into this culture. For the first time we could touch something" for the country's glorious past.

Although organisers insisted that the contents of the show are priceless, they have been insured for more than €700 million.

The Paris show runs until September 15. A slightly different version of the exhibition was staged in Los Angeles last year.

The legendary treasure of ancient Egypt's boy pharaoh Tutankhamun is shrouded in richness and mystery.

Here are some facts:

Hoard uncovered intact

The tomb of Tutankhamun, who died aged 19 in 1324BC after nine years on the throne, was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor in November 1922.

The hoard of more than 4,500 objects laid out across five rooms included thrones, statues, jewels, furniture and weapons.

It is pharaonic Egypt's only mausoleum found so far with its burial artefacts intact.

Many other resting places of pharaohs and dignitaries had been pillaged by tomb robbers down the centuries.

Golden treasures

Among the discovered artefacts are a gilded bed featuring posts made of carved lion heads, a chariot, and a gold-handled dagger that experts say was forged from the iron of meteorites.

The walls of the chamber in which Tutankhamun was laid to rest were covered in gold; his coffin is a three-piece sarcophagus, the innermost 110 kilogrammes of solid gold.

His funeral mask, now one of the world's most instantly recognisable Egyptian artefacts, is made of gold inlaid with lapis lazuli and with eyes of obsidian and quartz.

The mask was damaged in 2014 when its beard, symbol of the pharaohs, was knocked off during maintenance in the Cairo Museum. It was stuck back on with epoxy glue and took a team of German experts two months of restoration work to fix the botched repair.

Enigma

Tests have established that Tutankhamun's father was the pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled between 1351 and 1334 BC.

Akhenaten was the husband of the legendary beauty Queen Nefertiti.

Another mummy has been confirmed as Tutankhamun's mother, whose name is not known. That discovery ended the theory that Tutankhamun was the son of Nefertiti.

The mother was a sister of Akhenaten, with genetic analyses showing incest between the parents.

It was at the age of nine, towards 1333 BC, that Tutankhamun is believed to have acceded to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt, although his exact age and dates vary from one expert to another.

Reign

Tutankhamun's reign coincided with a troubled time in Egyptian history known as the Amarna period, during which Akhenaten tried to radically transform religion to focus on just one god, Aton.

Tutankhamum is believed to have married his half-sister Ankhesenpaaten, with marriage between brother and sister commonplace in the Egypt of the pharaohs.

He sired two children, both girls, but they died in the womb, according to experts.

Death

The death of Tutankhamun, which ended the 18th dynasty under the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom, had been a mystery.

It was blamed variously on a chariot accident, illness or murder.

In 2010 a study of DNA tests and CT scans concluded that he suffered from an often-fatal form of malaria and a club foot that caused him to walk with a cane.

'Curse' of King Tut

Several months after the fabulous discovery, Britain's Lord Carnarvon, who financed the research, died in April 1923 of septicaemia following an infected cut.

His death fuelled speculation that the fabled "curse of the pharaohs" had struck one of those responsible for violating the tomb of "King Tut".

Archaeologist Carter himself died in 1939 without ever achieving the publication of his findings.

One explanation put forward for the deaths is the existence of poisonous fungi found on black spots within the tomb.

British crime queen Agatha Christie based one of her famous short stories, "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb", on King Tut's curse.

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