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About the exhibition Egyptian Pharaohs

Exhibition curated themes

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Divine Genesis

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the creation of the world is a fascinating founding myth that sets in motion the natural elements, embodied by the goddesses and gods. The exhibition begins by immersing visitors in Noun, a primitive subterranean ocean. From this sleeping chaos emerges Atum, the creator god, whose rays land on the first pointed stone, the ‘benben’, a symbol of which the pyramids are an illustration. Atum creates the first gods: Shu, Air, and Tefnut, Moisture. They give birth to Geb and Nut who, separated by their father, form the earth and the vault of heaven. Visitors then see the barque of Ra, god of the sun, who fights the evil serpent Apophis every day, to bring about the birth of a new day. Finally, Atum’s tears flood the earth, giving birth to the first humans.

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Life on the banks of the Nile

Egypt is a gift from the Nile, a gift from the gods. This river is a vital artery uniting the different regions of Lower and Upper Egypt, a water source on which people depend. It is also Egypt’s main traffic route, carrying both people and materials. Ancient Egypt’s seasons and food are dictated by the rhythms of the Nile, which also gives birth to majestic art, as lush as the flora and fauna it represents. Reeds, lotuses and papyrus bloom, hunters put birds to flight, farmers plough, and the whole of Egyptian society comes to life before the visitor’s eyes.

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Building the pyramids

Clouds of dust rise. First one then another colossal block of limestone falls to the ground in front of the visitor, gradually coming together to form the pyramids of Giza. Built over 4,000 years ago by Cheops, Khafre and Menkaure, these legendary monuments are above all the tombs of kings, who were buried like gods. These gigantic necropolises – the Pyramid of Cheops is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – still puzzle Egyptologists because of the complexity of the construction sites. The enigmatic Sphinx completes the panorama of the Giza plateau, a fascinating representation of a pharaoh as a recumbent lion with the head of a man. The mysteries that surround it only add to its fascination.

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The pharaohs, veritable muses of Ancient Egypt, form a fabulous frieze that tells the story of over 3,000 years of history. Pharaohs played a key role in Egyptian society, acting as a link between the earthly and divine worlds. Monumental statues of pharaohs and queens clearly convey the pharaohs’ divine nature to visitors.

Under the reign of Akhenaten, Egypt underwent a religious revolution, moving from polytheism to monotheism. The disruption in the aesthetic can be seen in the representations of the pharaoh and his wife Nefertiti depicted in their family life. The pharaoh was also a warrior king, and his power therefore lay also in maintaining Egypt’s borders. Victories over the enemy were the occasion for official narratives glorifying the sovereign, such as that of Ramses II and his legendary battle against the Hittite people at Quadesh.

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Divine Gold

Now the Nile is transformed into a river of molten gold, flowing along the walls from the deposits in Nubia (modern-day Sudan). The ancient Egyptians considered gold to be a divine metal, the flesh of the gods. Visitors can see it in the bracelets, pectorals, amulets and daggers that sparkle and shine with a thousand lights. Carnelian, turquoise, amazonite, lapis lazuli... the shimmering, semi-precious stones bear witness to rich exchanges with Iran, Afghanistan and the cities of Mesopotamia. The small, gilded wood naos found in Tutankhamun’s treasure is the perfect end to this chapter: finely carved, it depicts the royal couple formed by Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun.

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Egypt is brimming with hundreds of temples – sacred places and homes to the gods. Everything here is a symbol of the world created in the divine genesis: from the imposing surrounding walls and gates representing the Noun, to the naos, a secret sanctuary housing the divine statue.

Greeted by avenues of sphinxes, you stroll through the courtyards and colonnades of a majestic temple. The bright colours used to decorate the temples reflected Egyptian chromatic thinking. Musicians and dancers bring the processions to life.

Masterpieces of the Ramesside dynasty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temples of Abu Simbel in all their grandeur are displayed before visitors. They discover the colossal statues of Ramses II and the elaborate façade of the small temple dedicated to his wife Nefertari.

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Valley of kings and queens

The Valley of the Kings and Queens is the main necropolis of the New Kingdom, housing the tombs of the famous pharaohs. These tombs contain sublimely polychrome murals depicting the deceased’s nocturnal journey to the after life.

The valley, guarded by the Colossi of Memnon, is home to Hatshepsut’s temple and a wealth of treasures, the most famous of which is, of course, that of Tutankhamun, whose discovery in 1922 was a major event. The door opens to reveal a jumble of precious objects, furniture and jewellery, and a sarcophagus. The gold glints softly in the torchlight, to be followed by the king’s funerary mask.

A gallery of sarcophagi with painted decoration rises to the top of the walls. The exhibition then turns to the tombs of Horemheb and Ramses I, whose very similar frescoes feature magnificent representations of Anubis and Osiris. Then rays of light reveal the paintings on the tomb of Queen Nefertari, the first royal wife of Ramses II, whom he called “she for whom the sun shines”.

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The Beyond

The golden stars on Nefertari’s ceiling resemble a celestial vault. The queen appears alongside the various gods who are accompanying her to the afterlife, as the Dendera zodiac, now removed from the temple and preserved in the Louvre, swirls around the floor and walls. It illustrates the Egyptians’ perception of the sky and goes with the astronomical ceiling in the Temple of Hathor, renowned for its dazzling colours.

Paradise is also depicted in the frescoes on the tomb of the artisan Sennedjem: a luxuriant, real Eden awaits any of the dead who have successfully passed the test of weighing their souls. To the sounds of Stairway to Heaven, the nine divinities that bring together the forces of the universe welcome visitors into eternity.

Ancient Egypt, a 3000-year history

Circa 3150 BC

Ancient Egypt was born with the first dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs. It would then last more than three thousand years.

Barque sacrée, détail du Livre des Morts, peinture murale, tombe d’Inerkhau, vers 1186–1146 av. J.-C., Louxor © Hervé Champollion / akg-images

Between 2600 and 2500 BC

The Old Kingdom was shaped by the 4th dynasty of Pharaohs, especially Cheops, his son Khephren, and his grandson Mykerinos. They led the pyramids of Giza's construction as well as the Sphynx's.

Pyramides de Khéops, Khéphren et Mykérinos, entre 2600 et 2500 avant J.-C., Gizeh © Copyright 2009sculpies/Shutterstock

1550-1292 BC

Under the reign of Akhenaten, Egypt underwent a religious revolution and a disruption in the aesthetic that can be seen in the representations of the pharaoh and his wife Nefertiti depicted in their family life.


Circa 1539-1075 BC

The Valley of the Kings and Queens is the main necropolis of the New Kingdom, housing the tombs of the famous pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, whose funerary mask is one of the most emblematic works of Pharaonic art.


1478 BC

Before his death, Pharaoh Thutmose I named his daughter Hatshepsut as heir to the throne. Towards the end of his reign, however, the pharaoh changed his mind and married her to her half-brother Thutmose II. When he died, his heir was only 5 years old : Hatshepsut married him and became regent. The queen was finally crowned pharaoh around 1478 BC.

Sphinx de la reine Hatchepsout,1479,1458 av. J.-C, granit, Musée égyptien, Le Caire

Circa 1280-1212 BC

At the age of 25, Ramses II ascended the throne of Egypt around 1300 BC. During his long reign, he became one of the most famous pharaohs in history, thanks to the grandiose monuments he built to his glory and marked with his influence such as the Abu Simbel temples or the two obelisks of Luxor, one of which now stands on the Place de la Concorde.

Statues colossales de Ramsès II, entrée du temple d’Abou Simbel, vers 1260 av. J.C., Abou Simbel © akg-images / arcaid / Marcel Malherbe

1274 BC

In 1274 BC, Ramses II fought a famous battle at Qadesh, which ended without victory or defeat. In 1258 BC, the Egyptian and Hittite kingdoms signed what is considered the first peace treaty in history.

Tutankhamun on his chariot

14th century

For a long time, it was believed that one of Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers fired a cannon at the Sphinx during the Egyptian campaign. Older engravings, however, show an already broken nose. At the end of the 20th century, it was discovered, based on contemporary Arabic accounts, that the nose was damaged in the 14th century by Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr, who wanted to destroy this pagan idol, to which peasants brought offerings.

David Roberts, Le Sphinx de Gizeh, 1842-1849, lithographie colorisée, collection particulière © Bridgeman Images


In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt was accompanied by a large number of scholars: historians, botanists, geologists, and draftsmen, who discovered the remains of Ancient Egypt. The Scottish painter, David Roberts, when he travelled in Egypt in 1838, following their footsteps, wrote : "We are a people of dwarfs visiting a nation of giants".

David Roberts


In 2001, archaeologist Franck Goddio discovered the mysterious remains of the sunken city of Thônis-Héracléion, 35 km east of Alexandria. Goddio was a pioneer of underwater archaeology, and the unique images of his explorations have prompted continued research into ancient Egypt, where there are still so many treasures to discover.

Le mort Ani est présenté à Osiris, reproduction du Papyrus d’Ani, vers 1250 avant J.-C., acquis en 1913 par E. A Wallis Budge, British Museum, Londres © Mary Evans / Bridgeman Images

Key works

Click on a work to find out more.

Workers on the construction of a temple

Workers on the construction of a temple

detail from the mural fresco in the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier under Thutmose II and Amenhotep II , circa 1450-1350 BC , Valley of the Nobles, Sheikh Abd el-Gournah , © akg-images / André Held

The Pyramid of Khafre, son of Cheops

The Pyramid of Khafre, son of Cheops

built around 2570 BC , Giza , © akg-images / Bruno Barbier

Falcon with outstretched wings carrying the solar disk, pectoral jewelry

Falcon with outstretched wings carrying the solar disk, pectoral jewelry

circa 1330-1320 BC , made of gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian, and glass , 12.6 x 11.7 cm , from the treasure of Tutankhamun, Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), Cairo , © akg-images / Album / Pepe Lucas

The Narmer Palette

The Narmer Palette

circa 3100 BC , schistous sandstone , 64 x 42 cm , Egyptian Museum, Cairo , © akg / Bible Land Pictures

The Sphinx, in the background stands the Pyramid of Menkaure, son of Khafre

The Sphinx, in the background stands the Pyramid of Menkaure, son of Khafre

circa 2490 BC , Giza , © akg-images / De Agostini / V. Giannella

Entrance of the Temple of Luxor

Entrance of the Temple of Luxor

obelisk and colossal statues of Ramesses II , circa 1301-1236 BC , Luxor , © 2022 Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Funerary mask of Tutankhamun

Funerary mask of Tutankhamun

1330-1320 BC , gold, silver, copper, inlaid with quartz, obsidian, lapis lazuli, carnelian, amazonite, turquoise and glass paste, 10.32 kg , 54 x 39 x 49 cm , Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), Cairo , Photo © Andrea Jemolo / Bridgeman Images

Group of mourners

Group of mourners

detail from the mural painting in the tomb of Ramose , circa 1411-1375 BC , Valley of the Nobles, Sheikh 'Abd-el Gournah , © akg-images / Erich Lessing

The dead Ani being introduced to Osiris

The dead Ani being introduced to Osiris

reproduction of the Papyrus of Ani , circa 1295-1188 BC , 67x42cm , acquired in 1913 by E.A Wallis Budge, British Museum, London , © Mary Evans / Bridgeman Images

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