Our stereotypes of ancient Egyptian dance involve awkward-looking poses with right-angle positions of the elbow and wrist. People assume that such images appeared on temple and tomb walls. But, did they? Here’s a look at dance scenes appearing at two temples in Luxor, Egypt.
At the Luxor Temple
The dancers in the photo at the top of this page appear on the west wall of the Luxor temple. If you look left to right, you’ll see that each image is bending back a little further. Think of these as individual frames in a movie, showing the motion of doing a backbend into a yoga wheel pose, or maybe doing the first half of a back handspring. Off to the right [not shown in this picture] there is a group of women playing sistrums (a type of rattle).
This scene is part of a larger mural showing a joyous religious celebration, the Opet festival where the god and goddess are united for conjugal fun. This dance, though, is not considered a ritual religious dance (although those did exist in ancient Egypt). Instead, it’s more of an entertainment spectacle that was being performed for the pleasure of those who saw it.
The Luxor Temple was built around 1,400 BCE, which means these images of dancers are about 3,400 years old.
These dancers are not priestesses worshiping a goddess, but rather secular people who are participating joyously in the annual event. I kind of think of this as being like Christmas in our North America culture – there ARE sacred events related to celebrating Christmas such as church services and pageants, but there are also many secular celebratory activities such as children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap to pose for photos.
Ostracon from Deir el-Medina
This ostracon (piece of limestone painted with an image) was found at the Worker’s Village near Luxor, also known as Deir el-Medina. Archaeologists believe it was created between 1292 and 1076 BCE. Today, it resides in Italy, at the museum in Turin. It bears a strong resemblance to the dancers on the west wall of the Luxor temple. For more information about Deir el-Medina, the site where this was found, see my post about Deir el-Medina.
The Red Chapel of Hatshepsut at Karnak Temple
Inside the grounds of the Karnak temple near Luxor, there is a chapel known as the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut. It features images resembling those of the Luxor Temple’s west wall.
The top row shows the backbends. Off to the right is a harpist playing for them. The bottom row shows men dancing on the left, and women playing sistrums (a type of rattle) on the right.
Archaeologists estimate this chapel may have been built around 1,400 BCE.
One of the most popular images sold on papyrus at souvenir shops in Cairo is that of the Three Musicians. The original scene appears in the Tomb of Nakht. Most organized tours won’t take you there, because it lies in the Valley of the Nobles where the tombs are generally small and less impressive than the Valley of the Kings.
The tomb of Nakht is small, too small for most tour groups to cram everyone in. If a group of more than a handful of people goes, chances are they will need to take turns going in while the others wait outside. Because the tomb is small, there aren’t many scenes to view inside. Most tourists would rather see the spectacular tombs found in Valley of the Kings.
Nakht lived under the reign of Tuthmoses IV, around 1401-1391 BCE. He was a scribe and a temple star watcher.
However, I’m a different type of tourist. I enjoy seeing the things that the big tours don’t go to see. I have visited this tomb several times because I like this scene so much, I enjoy going back to see it again.
Here’s the image on a papyrus one I bought in Cairo in 1999:
I asked my guide to tell me about the overall scene. In particular, I asked him if this was a temple performance done by priestesses. He emphatically said NO. He pointed off to the right a section of the scene that doesn’t appear in this photograph which showed Nakht and his wife watching, and he said that this was merely entertainment for the pleasure of Nakht and his family.
Music and dance in ancient times were NOT always about religion. Sometimes they were, but not always.
Another part of the artwork inside this tomb features a cat, curled up in a ball. We hear so much about the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet, but I find this image charming because it looks like a family pet snuggling up for a nap.
Egyptologists call this Theban Tomb TT52. They believe it’s from around 1400 BCE, which means it’s about 3,400 years old.
A Nile cruise provides opportunities to stop and tour several beautiful temples, including those at Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae. Each of these contains scenes that honor women. Some temples from ancient Egypt feature scenes of the goddesses Hathor and Isis as madonna figures, an idea expressed in ancient Egyptian art long before Christianity existed.
The Edfu temple honors Horus the Elder and his wife, Hathor. Some of its walls feature scenes of Hathor nursing her infant, Horus the Younger. Some of these scenes were damaged by early Christians during the Roman era, in an attempt to obliterate the earlier Pagan beliefs.
The Edfu temple that stands today is relatively young, though it was built on the site of a much older temple. It was built after the conquest of Alexander the Great, when the Greek Pharoahs were ruling Egypt. The first stone of today’s temple was laid in 237 BCE, and it was consecrated in 142 BCE. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt due to having been buried for centuries under sand and river silt deposited by the Nile inundations.
The temple at Kom Ombo, Egypt is unique because it honors two different gods – Sobek (with a crocodile head) and Horus the Elder (with a falcon head). It’s a fascinating temple to visit, with many interesting images on its walls.
A unique segment of wall that is popular with many of the tourists who visit Kom Ombo is the scene showing two women using birthing chairs to give birth. The wall to the right of them features images of surgical tools.
The throne-shaped object on the head of the lower woman is a nod to the goddess Isis and her role as a patron of fertility and motherhood.
One of the tour guides I’ve worked with, Abdul Aly, has proudly pointed out that ancient Egyptians have known about the benefits of delivering babies while sitting up in birthing chairs for at least 2,000 years. In contrast, modern Western medicine only started to embrace birthing chairs and the upright posture since about the 1980’s.
Like Edfu, Kom Ombo was built during the period of the Greek Pharaohs, on top of an older temple site. Construction lasted from 180 BCE to 47 BCE. In addition to the birthing chair scene, I was very fond of the on-site museum featuring crocodile mummies. Another of my blog posts shows the Nilometer at this temple.
Philae Island at Aswan hosts the beautiful Nubian temple of Isis. Construction began around 690 BCE, on a site that had hosted an older structure. In the 1960’s, the island was flooded by the rising waters of the Nile caused by the Aswan High Dam, and Philae was one of the temples moved to a new site on higher ground funded by UNESCO.
There are several images of Isis nursing the baby Horus in this temple. These resemble the madonna-style images of Hathor with Horus at Edfu. There is some overlap of the stories regarding Hathor (which were earlier) and Isis (who came later.) Unfortunately, many of the images of Isis with Horus at Philae were vandalized during the Roman era by early Christians who were trying to obliterate the earlier Pagan religion.
I’ve featured highlights of how ancient Egypt honored motherhood by selecting three must-see images to watch for that are easy to find if taking a Nile cruise or a Luxor-to-Aswan tour. But these are just a few examples. Keep looking on your own, and you’re sure to discover more of them in statues (in museums), tombs, and other temples.
There’s an historic street in Cairo’s Khan al Khalili district known as the Sharia al-Khayamiya (Tentmaker’s Street). Along this street, vendors sell a uniquely Egyptian handcrafted textile known as khayamiya. You might also see it spelled as “khayamia”, “khyamiya”, “khayameya”, and other variations of that. The word is derived from Khayma, which is the Arabic word for “tent”. You may have heard of Omar Khayyam, whose name means “Omar the Tent Maker”.
Although it’s possible to purchase khayamiya in places other than this street, you’ll find the best selection here. I find it captivating to explore the shops and admire the many tapestries available there.
What Is Khayamiya?
Khayamiya artisans create the pieces using applique techniques to make designs. The fabric is a type of canvas. Historically in the Middle East, such appliques were used to decorate the interior of tents. As the photo at the top of this article shows, some khayamiya pieces are small enough to be used as a cover for a throw pillow, while others are large enough to cover a large section of a wall, similar to the sizes often used in the U.S. for quilted wall hangings. As a textile artist myself, I’m very fond of the khayamiya technique, and it’s always a treat when I go to Cairo to visit the Sharia al-Khayamiya.
In 2012, the quilt shows presented by the American Quilter’s Society featured a khayamiya artist from Egypt touring throughout the U.S.
Types of Designs
The majority of khayamiya designs that I’ve seen fit into these categories:
Geometric designs similar to those typical of Islamic art
Images inspired by Pharaonic art from tombs and temple walls, especially birds
Scenes depicting Egyptian life, such as Saidi musicians or men playing the tahtib martial art. See the photo below showing two different views of Saidi musicians, one in which the musicians wear burgundy galabeyat, and the other in which the musicians wear navy blue.
Words written in Arabic calligraphy. Most of these that I’ve seen translate into Allah’s name, or praises to him.
The photo below shows several khayamiya pieces displayed on the wall of one of the shops on Sharia el-Khayamiya. The owner of this shop gave me permission to take this photo, as well as the others shown in this blog post.
About the Khayamiya Street
Sharia el-Khayamiya is one of the last Medieval covered streets remaining in Cairo, and is worth a visit just to take in the history it represents. The street lies immediately south of the historic city gate known as Bab Zuweyla. It was built in the 1600’s.
Historically, when Egypt was the hub of the Islamic world, every year the artisans of the Tentmakers’ Street would craft a massive tapestry to cover the kaaba stone in Mecca for the annual hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). When the time came to transport the tapestry to Mecca, it would be carried through the Bab Zuweyla and placed on the camel caravan that would transport it there. The departure of the caravan to Mecca was occasion for the people of Cairo to celebrate.
In recent decades, since the discovery of oil on the Arabian peninsula, the Saudis purchase their tapestry for the annual hajj from other sources. Egypt no longer provides it.
If you stand outside a shop in Sharia el-Khayamiya, you may need to dodge cars and motorcycles, since it still is a functional street. I find it best to quickly move inside a shop displaying designs that appeal to me, rather than linger out in the street area.
The khayamiya textiles come in many sizes. Prices vary according to the size of the piece and the intricacy of the design. Sometimes when I visit these shops, I sit down on a bench, pick up a large pile of textiles, and start looking through it in search of something to catch my eye. For me, it is a pleasure even just to look through them. The vendors are always very willing to help me find specific pieces if I tell them what sort of design or size I’m looking for.
Although some of the vendors don’t speak much English, they can typically recruit someone nearby to translate. I’ve never had a communication problem, and I enjoy seeing their faces show their pride in their work as they answer my questions about certain items.
I have purchased many khayamiya pieces to use as gifts for friends and family members.
It can be a challenge figuring out what gifts to buy when visiting Egypt. I have given several pieces to people in my life who appreciate handcrafted textiles. The diverse selection of color combinations and designs offers options that could appeal to a variety of tastes.
I also have several pieces for my own home, and when I look at them, they bring back memories of my visits to Egypt.
Nearly everybody has heard of the 3 great Pyramids of Giza. In fact, the Great Pyramid of Giza was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Many have also heard about the pyramids just south of Giza: the Bent Pyramid, the Step Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid. But comparatively few have heard of the pyramids in Deir el-Medina, the Valley of the Workers. There are 3 there, each marking a tomb. In the past, there were more such pyramids, but they have not survived through the ages.
Deir el-Medina is near Luxor, on the West Bank near the Valley of the Kings. Some people call it the Workers Village, the Valley of the Workers, or the Valley of the Artisans. Archaeologists estimate that this community was active between 1550 and 1080 BCE.
After seeing the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings and the temples, Deir el-Medina offers an entirely different perspective on life in Pharaonic times because of the insight it gives into how regular people lived, as opposed to the kings and nobles. It is unique in that there is no other archaeological site that provides such extensive information to scholars about the daily life of ancient society, including living conditions, social interactions, and community life.
Deir el-Medina was a village where the people who built the famous tombs and temples on Luxor’s West Bank lived. These were the people who carved the great columns out of rock, created the bas-relief art work on temple walls, painted the tomb ceilings and walls, carved the alabaster canopic jars and other treasures for the tombs, and more. Many historians believe that Deir el-Medina was founded by the Pharaoh Amenhotep I and his mother, Ahmose-Nefertari. Today, the village has been awarded status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, it is possible to visit the site and see what remains of the homes. An experienced guide can point out which room was probably the kitchen (based on remains of cooking fires and food found there), which was probably the toilet, etc.
These pyramids are small, maybe about 10 feet tall, at most. It is possible to walk up close to them, but not to go inside.
How I Learned About Valley of the Workers
I originally discovered the Valley of the Workers in 2004. Our tour guide, Mohamed, had just taken us through the Valley of the Kings, and we had been impressed with the magnificence of the tombs there. He then gave us a choice: whether to see Valley of the Queens (which was the activity that had been pre-planned for us), or whether to make a change and visit Valley of the Workers.
Mohamed explained that the only tomb at Valley of the Queens which approached the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings we’d already seen was that of Nefertari, and that one was closed to the public due to its fragile condition. He said that the tombs at Valley of the Queens that were open to the public were all smaller, less elaborate versions of what we had seen at Valley of the Kings.
Our group decided to make the change he suggested, and go to Valley of the Workers. I’m glad we did, because it was entirely different from Valley of the Kings, and gave us fascinating insight into the lives of the people who built the temples and tombs.
Many of my friends love birds, so I thought it might be fun to share photos I took of bird artwork on the walls inside the tombs at Saqqara near Cairo, Egypt.
When visiting these tombs, it is possible for tourists to purchase a camera permit allowing them to take photos inside. However, even with a camera permit, flash photography is prohibited, so it’s necessary to take either a camera that excels in low-light conditions, or a flashlight to illuminate the images while taking the pictures.
Inside the Tomb of Irukaptah
The tomb of Irukaptah dates back to approximately 2400 BCE, making this tomb over 4,400 years old. It is also known as the Tomb of the Butchers because Irukaptah was the head of the butchers at the royal palace, and therefore his tomb contains some scenes on the walls inside that depict cattle being butchered. Just inside the entrance, there is a row of statues set into the wall. So far as I know, Irukaptah’s tomb is the only one at Saqqara that contains such statues. A row of birds sits on a panel just above the heads of the statues.
Below is a closeup of the birds on the panel above the statues’ heads:
Inside the Tomb of Ty
Archaeologists estimate that the tomb of Ty was build circa 2494-2345 BCE, which would make it over 4,000 years old. An entire wall inside the tomb of Ty is covered with images of birds. This is a wide angle view of the wall. If bird lovers have time to visit only one of the tombs at Saqqara, this one could be a good choice.
Here is a close-up showing the scene of the wading birds in the tomb of Ty in more detail.
This closeup from the tomb of Ty shows the geese in more detail:
Inside the Tomb of Ka-Gemni
Ka-Gemni was the Pharaoh’s son-in-law, and therefore was able to afford an elaborate tomb. The sign on the entrance to the tomb says that it was built approximately 2340, making it over 4,000 years old. It is one of my favorites because it contains a scene on one of its walls showing a chorus line of dancers. But there is other art on its walls that’s also worth seeing. This beautiful marsh scene inside the tomb of Ka-Gemni shows several different types of birds.
Inside the Tomb of Ptahhotep
A scene inside the tomb of Ptahhotep shows several kinds of birds together. It was built approximately 2350 BCE, over 4,000 years ago. I hope to take another photo of this that’s better quality the next time I go to Egypt.
These are the only photos I’ve taken so far of birds on the tomb walls of Saqqara, but I hope to return in the future and take more!
I have visited the necropolis at Saqqara about 5 times. It’s always a pleasure to go back, because every time I go, I see something new. Even when I return to tombs I’ve seen before, I’ll often notice something that I missed on previous visits.
Also, only some of the tombs at Saqqara are open for the public to go inside. On my trips to Egypt in February 2017 and April 2018, I engaged a guide to take me inside every tomb that was open at the time. However, occasionally, Egypt will open another to attract tourists, so there’s often something new to see. For example, in September 2018 Egypt announced it would open the tomb of Mehu to the public for the first time, and I look forward to visiting it and seeing its magnificent art for the first time! I’ve heard there are images of dancers inside!
Whenever I tell friends and family that I’m planning another trip to Egypt, one of the first questions they ask is, “Is it safe to go there?” I’d like to share my thoughts on that.
Many years ago, in the U.S., there was a series of attacks on European tourists in Florida. Around that time, my employer was organizing a business meeting in California. My European colleagues told me that they were afraid to come to the meeting because the U.S. was unsafe for European visitors. I was shocked by this comment. Florida was 3,000 miles (4,900 km) away from California where we were planning to hold our meeting. I couldn’t understand why Europeans would think events in Florida would have any relation at all to California.
But now, I see that these fears are very common. That’s exactly the same thought process people in North America use when they say they’re afraid to go to Egypt.
When bad things happen somewhere, news media will report on them. The more dramatic or painful the story, the more likely it will be reported in news media around the world. We see the stories about the exceptions, not the normal everyday situation. Headlines such as “Another Peaceful Day in Cairo” don’t draw readers, whereas news of a violent incident does.
The Gallup Global Law and Order poll in 2018 showed that the people it surveyed ranked Egypt as the 16th safest country in the world, compared to the USA, which was ranked at 35. The poll asked whether people felt safe walking at night, and whether they had been victims of crime.
I live in a somewhat small city in the U.S., a metropolitan area of only 171,000 people. In 1991, we had an incident in which a shooter killed 5 people before killing himself. In 2018, a man kidnapped and killed Mollie Tibbetts at Brooklyn, Iowa, a town whose population is under 2,000. Clearly, staying home is no guarantee of safety.
Whenever I go anywhere as a tourist, I tend to exercise more caution than I do at home. At home, I am very familiar with what level of safety precautions are typically needed. When I travel, I’m less familiar with the area, so it seems sensible to take extra care. This is true regardless of whether I’m going to Cairo, San Francisco, or any other place.
Even though I tend to stay alert to personal safety issues and avoid taking unnecessary risks when I travel, I do feel safe when I go to Egypt. If I stayed home, there’d still be some risk of car accidents, violence, tornadoes, an unexpected health problem, and other dangers. Safety is not guaranteed anywhere. Therefore, I choose to embrace travel to Egypt, a country I have come to love.
When I originally decided to start this site, I visited some other travel blogs to see what they were like. I needed to create some kind of online journal as part of my job responsibility for the month I spent in Senegal with the IBM Corporate Service Corps. IBM lets participants decide what specific approach to take, so long as we create something. I chose to use this as a starting point for a more general travel blog that would talk about not only my month in Senegal, but also other places I visit.
I noticed that most of the blogs I looked at fell into one of these categories:
“Here’s what I did on my vacation” stories accompanied by selfies and anecdotes.
Showcase for hobbyist or professional photographers’ travel photos.
Guidebook approach: suggesting things to do and providing a little background information about the place, along with logistical information such as address, how to get there, cost to get in, hours open, etc.
Monetized blogs that promote mediocre products which will generate payouts to the blog owner via affiliate programs.
I gave some thought to where I wanted to fit in, and proceeded accordingly.
I started by posting photos of things I had seen with some narrative about the content of the photos. It was a good place to start, but it felt a bit superficial to me. I wanted to offer more of a back story that would show why I thought the topic of the photo was interesting enough to write about.
I experimented with adding my personal impressions and experiences to tell a story, but didn’t want to go too far down the path of centering myself in a story about somebody else’s homeland. Also, I want to be respectful in how I talk about the people I meet and their culture, so I think carefully before writing about my personal reactions to things. I try to imagine how one of the people I’m writing about would feel if they were to read it. Something that looks like a funny story to me might look insulting to people whose homeland I’m writing about.
At this point in time, I have not monetized my blog and I don’t have any plans to. I suppose it could happen in the future, it’s just not where my priorities lie today. I do know this – if I do monetize the blog, I will include only affiliate links for products I have personally tried and liked.
My Current Thinking
Now that I have been doing this for 8 months, I’m feeling comfortable that I have found my voice as a travel blogger.
I like taking photos and sharing them, so I’ll keep doing that. I like exploring only one topic per blog entry, featuring multiple photos related to that topic. For example, I created a post about the Agricultural Museum in Cairo specifically centered around the diorama showing a rural wedding celebration. There are many other exhibits in the museum, but I wanted to keep that post focused on the topic of the wedding. I may decide to post other photos of other exhibits from that museum in the future.
I have decided I want to try to include background about the subject of the photo that will go a little deeper than what a typical guidebook might tell you, especially with respect to history and culture. For example, when I posted my blog entry about the tannoura whirling shows in Cairo, I offered a bit of background about the history behind Sufi whirling and the form it takes in Egypt.
I grew up on a farm, and even though my life took me in a different direction, I still appreciate animals of all sizes. Therefore, whenever I go to Egypt, I enjoy seeing the camels. Here’s a gallery of my favorite photos that I have taken of camels over the years!
At Saqqara, Egypt
When I went to Saqqara, Egypt to tour the ancient tombs, I saw this playful rascal. At first, he looked bored, but when he realized I was looking at him, he started making faces for the camera. It seemed to be fun for both of us!
Later, when I came back, the camel was still there, but now he was lying down. Once again, he made faces for me.
It looks to me as though the camel is laughing in this photo. So I created a meme from it to post on social media which said, “Jewel just stepped in a pile of my poop!”
After I snapped the above photo, the camel continued to clown around for the camera, so I took another photo as well.
At the Pyramids of Giza
It’s fun to go for a camel ride at the pyramids of Giza. This camel enjoyed resting after carrying me to the pyramids, while I ran around with my camera taking photos.
Going for a camel ride is a half-day commitment. It’s a good idea to allow about 2 hours for the ride itself, and then afterward you might want to take a shower to wash off the camel smell and rest a bit. It can be very tiring to be out in the hot sun for that long. I strongly recommend wearing sunscreen for the ride.
It isn’t easy getting on a camel. The handlers make the camel kneel, but the hump is so high that you need to lift your leg high to swing it up and over. Once you’re settled in the saddle, the camel gets to its feet. The first time I experienced this, I nearly fell off! First the camel raises its back legs, causing you to pitch forward, and then it raises its front legs. Be prepared to squeeze the camel tightly with your thighs to stabilize yourself.
The last time I went for a camel ride, my camel’s saddle wasn’t cinched very well, and it kept slipping from side to side as the camel walked along. The handlers noticed, so they had the camel kneel down so I could get off, and they then tightened the saddle straps. That same day, there were several additional times that they had the camel kneel down, and then get back up, so by the end of the day I had gotten quite a bit of practice keeping my balance for all of that!
One time, after I had been to Egypt a few times, one of my brothers asked me whether I perhaps had a photo of camel poop I could send him. I was surprised by his question – partly because I didn’t know why he would want a photo of camel poop, and partly because I didn’t know why he would think I would have taken one. Therefore, the next time I went to Egypt, I remembered his request, and I took this photo for him:
In Egypt, it is common for people to decorate their camels’ harnesses and saddle blankets with tassels. This camel’s halter is plain, but his saddle blanket is quite stylish.
The camels had an opportunity to rest a bit while all of us explored the pyramids and took photos of each other.
In parts of Giza (the part of the Cairo metropolitan area where the pyramids are), you can find cars parked on one side of the street and camels parked on the other side of the street.
Camels In Upper Egypt
On the west bank of the Nile at Aswan, one of the tourist attractions is the Valley of the Nobles. Tourists who want to visit it have a choice – they can either go for a camel ride up to where the tombs are, or they can walk up the steep hillside for about 30 minutes.
When riding via bus from Luxor to Aswan, the road runs parallel to the railroad tracks. Somewhere between the towns of Edfu and Kom Ombo, I saw these camels traveling alongside the tracks.
Tributes to the legendary singer Oum Kalthoum can be found throughout Cairo. My three favorites, which I’ll highlight in this post, are:
The Oum Kalthoum Museum
The Oum Kalthoum Café along Muez Street
The Oum Kalthoum Hotel
Who Was Oum Kalthoum and Why Does She Matter?
Oum Kalthoum was a beloved singer who became known as “The Voice of Egypt”, “The Lady”, the “Star of the East”, and “The Fourth Pyramid”. When she died in 1975, over 4 million Egyptians lined the streets for her funeral cortege. Today, Oum Kalthoum’s music continues to be part of the soundtrack of modern Egyptian life, with radio and satellite television stations who play solely her music.
Oum Kalthoum continues to inspire listeners all over the world. Belly dancers around the world use her music for their performances. In 1978, three years after she passed, Bob Dylan told Playboy Magazine in an interview, “She’s dead now but not forgotten. She’s great. She really is. Really great.” My local Egyptian restaurant in Coralville, Iowa plays her music via satellite television for ambience. Many taxi drivers in Egypt tune their radios to stations that play her music. She was truly a great talent, and remains an important voice in world music.
Visiting the Oum Kalthoum Museum
The Oum Kalthoum Museum on Rhoda Island offers a glimpse into the life of this great artist.
As you enter the museum, it’s possible to purchase a permit for using a camera to take photos. However, flash is forbidden. Photos must use available light. Fortunately, my 35mm camera and my cell phone camera both work very well with available light.
There is a 15-minute documentary video that visitors to the museum can watch to learn a bit about Oum Kalthoum, her music, and why she was so beloved by the Egyptian people. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it, because it really helps put her life in perspective.
The first exhibit inside the entry showcases some of the dresses that Oum Kalthoum wore during her performances.
Oum Kalthoum’s iconic diamond-encrusted crescent brooch is displayed in the museum.
Several photo collages show scenes from Oum Kalthoum’s life. Each one shows photos from certain eras. My favorite is the collage of her later years, which centers around a photo of Oum Kalthoum with Badia Masabni, a legendary nightclub owner. Oum Kalthoum is the one wearing the dark glasses. In her later years, she always wore dark glasses because a thyroid condition caused her to develop bulging eyes. This condition can always cause dryness and sensitivity to light.
Several photos of Oum Kalthoum’s family life appear in the museum. This one shows her with her brother.
A variety of Oum Kalthoum’s personal possessions are on display. For example, one display cabinet shows some of her shoes and handbags.
Several pairs of her diamond-studded glasses are displayed:
The museum also features original vinyl records, sheet music, awards that Oum Kalthoum received in her lifetime, and many more mementos of her life. It’s an inspirational way to spend an hour or two, soaking up the nostalgia.
When I visit, I also enjoy walking around the grounds a bit. Rhoda Island’s landscaping is very inviting, and the island offers beautiful views of the Nile River.
Just outside the museum, an abstract statue of Oum Kalthoum captures just enough of her iconic imagery to be recognizable. On her chest is the crescent-shaped diamond brooch whose photo appeared above, and in her hand she holds a handkerchief. She always held a handkerchief when performing.
A second sculpture outside of the museum shows a musical staff with notes. I’m very fond of this one.
The museum lies within easy walking distance of the historic Nilometer, which is also worth visiting while there.
Sipping Tea at the Oum Kalthoum Café
Just off of Moez Street, near Khan al-Khalili and Bab al-Futuh, the Oum Kalthoum Café offers an opportunity to sit for a while and enjoy the ambience of Cairo.
A statue of Oum Kalthoum posing with mushrooms greets you at the entrance of the cafe. Inside, you can listen to her music continuously as you sip your tea and watch the the world go by.
Staying at the Oum Kalthoum Hotel
When Oum Kalthoum was alive, she lived in a villa along the Nile on Zamalek Island. After her death, her property was sold, the villa razed, and a hotel built on the land. The beautiful hotel that stands there today is designed to honor her life’s work.
A statue of Oum Kalthoum greeted our tour bus as we approached the hotel.
Throughout the lobby, photos of Oum Kalthoum evoke memories of the singer as the sound system continuously plays her music. I enjoy sitting in the lobby and simply listening. The furniture consists of historic pieces from the mid 20th century, aligning with the period when Oum Kalthoum rose to fame.
The hallways of the first two floors feature furniture that once belonged to Oum Kalthoum, including mirrors in elaborate wood frames, elegant upholstered chairs, and tables.
When I stayed at the hotel in April 2018, I was fortunate to receive a room with a Nile view on the second floor, where I could walk past these mementos every day. Each room of the hotel, in addition to having a room number, also bears the name of one of her songs. I hope to be assigned the room Leylet Hob the next time I stay there!