The Coptic Museum, inaugurated in 1910, houses the most extensive collection of Coptic artefacts. The museum was established through the efforts of Marcus Simaika Pasha, a prominent Coptic figure who was vested in the preservation of Coptic heritage. Simaika Pasha bought and collected Coptic antiquities and various architectural elements from older churches undergoing renovation and used them to build the museum and establish its collection.
Location of Coptic Museum
The museum stands within the walls of the fortress of Babylon, part of the old city walls built by Emperor Trajan in 98 AD, which also houses the ancient churches of Cairo: St. Sergius and St. Barbara of the 4th century and the Hanging Church “El Muallaqa” of the 6th century.
History of Coptic Museum
In 1908, Marcus Simaika Pasha, having obtained the approval of Patriarch Kyrillos V, succeeded in getting the Coptic Museum built on a plot intended for the construction of a church.
Raising funds by public subscription, Marcus Simaika Pasha built the Coptic Museum and inaugurated it on 14th March 1910. The Coptic community was generous in supporting the museum, donating many vestments, frescoes, and icons.
The museum was first inaugurated in 1910, then again in 1984 following restoration. It became a State museum in 1931, and its collections bequeathed by family legacies and donations have continued to grow.
In 1939, the Service of Antiquities decided to transfer the totality of the Christian Antiquities exhibited in the Egyptian Museum to the Coptic Museum. Since then, all findings originating in Christian sites have automatically gone to the Coptic Museum.
Because of damage, the Old Wing was closed in 1966, and the entire museum was renovated between 1983 and 1984. The foundations of the museum were strengthened and reinforced between 1986 and 1988, which helped the museum survive the 1992 earthquake. Further renovations took place in 2005–06.
President Hosni Mubarak has taken a strong interest in the Coptic Museum and came in person to inaugurate it on 26th June 2006, along with a hundred leading personalities.
The museum’s founder wished to bring together all the material necessary to study Christian history in Egypt. Thanks to his enthusiasm for Coptic antiquity, he created this museum, linking Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and Islamic antiquity.
Followers of Marcus Simaika
Marcus Simaika Pasha was followed by Dr Togo Mina and then by Dr Pahor Labib, the first to have the title of Director of the Coptic Museum. Besides the museum buildings, there are gardens and courtyards and the area is surrounded by old Coptic churches. There are six churches, some of which have origins as early as the 5th century AD. These ancient edifices include the Hanging church of the Virgin Mary and the church of St. Sergius.
The Coptic Museum’s grounds are a peaceful and tranquil place. Its airy building is paved with mosaics and decorated with old Mashrabiya screens. The museum houses an extensive collection of objects from the Christian era, linking the Pharaonic and Islamic periods. The artefacts on display illustrate a period of Egypt’s history that is often neglected. They show how the artistic development of the Coptic culture was influenced by the pharaonic, Graeco-Roman and Islamic cultures. The museum was renovated in early 1980 with two new annexes, which with the original aisles, houses the collection of 16,000 artefacts arranged in chronological order through twelve sections.
The museum occupies an area of 8,000m2, buildings and gardens included. Since the founder initiated the project, the Coptic community has filled it with precious and rare pieces. Members of the community have sent icons, cloths, manuscripts, priestly garments, frescoes, and wooden panels. Painted wooden ceilings and marble fountains were collected from old Coptic palaces.
From the 6th century onwards, reliefs inspired by scripture multiply: the three Hebrews in the furnace, the Virgin nursing the Infant Jesus, angels holding aloft a medallion displaying a bust of Christ, St. George and other saints on horseback.
A majestic ambon, known as “Jeremiah’s Pulpit”, dates from the same period, this time from the Monastery of St. Jeremiah in Saqqara.
The examples of woodwork confirm the particular mastery of the Copts in working this warm and vibrant medium: doors and iconostasis screens, panels showing episodes from the life of Christ, liturgical objects, altars, crosses and lecterns.
A wealth of clothes highlights a wide diversity of techniques and materials. They cover Biblical subjects as well as scenes from daily life.
The museum holds a collection of 16,000 works of art, of which 1,200 natural treasures are accessible to the public. It owns 6,000 papyrus manuscripts, of which the most important are the Psalms of David and the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi.
The collection represents Coptic history from its earliest beginnings in Egypt to its rise as a leading centre of Christianity globally. Coptic Christianity traces its origins to a visit by Saint Mark in Alexandria in the 1st Century AD. The artefacts on display in the museum show the merge of Coptic art with the prevailing cultures, including Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, and its evolution in developing its character and identity.
The Coptic Museum is a museum in Coptic Cairo, Egypt, with the most extensive collection of Coptic Christian artefacts. The museum traces the history of Egypt from its beginnings to the present day. Marcus Simaika founded it in 1908 to house Coptic antiquities. Simaika has established it on 8,000 square meter land offered by the Coptic Orthodox Church, under the guardianship of Pope Cyril V.
The Coptic Museum contains the world’s most extensive Coptic artefacts and artwork collection. Coptic monuments display a rich mixture of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions, linking ancient and Islamic Egypt.
Magnificently decorated manuscripts, icons, delicately carved woodwork, and elaborate frescos with religious scenes recovered from ancient monasteries and churches are among its extensive collection.
The objects are grouped into different mediums, such as stonework, woodwork, metalwork, textiles and manuscripts. The total number of entities on display is around 16,000 objects.
Nag Hammadi Library
The Coptic Museum also houses a corpus of 1,200 Nag Hammadi manuscripts in a library open to specialist researchers only.
The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of early Christian and Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.
A local farmer named Muhammed al-Samman found thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar. The writings in these codices comprised 52 mostly Gnostic treatises, including three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum and a partial translation/alteration of Plato’s Republic. In his English introduction to The Nag Hammadi Library, James Robinson suggests that these codices may have belonged to a nearby Pachomian monastery. Also, he believes that Copts buried them after Saint Athanasius condemned the use of non-canonical books in his Festal Letter of 367 AD. The discovery of these texts significantly influenced modern scholarship’s pursuit and knowledge of early Christianity and Gnosticism.
The best-known of these works is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Nag Hammadi codices contain the only complete text. The contents of the codices were written in the Coptic language. After the discovery, scholars recognised that fragments of these sayings attributed to Jesus appeared in manuscripts discovered at Oxyrhynchus in 1898 (P. Oxy. 1), and matching quotations were identified in other early Christian sources. The written text of the Gospel of Thomas is dated to the second century by most interpreters but based on much earlier origins. The buried manuscripts date from the 3rd and 4th centuries.
The Nag Hammadi codices are currently housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt.
Opening Hours of the Coptic Museum
- 09:00 am – 05:00 pm. please note that The ticket office closes at 04:00 pm.
- 09:00 am – 03:00 pm. please note that it close ealier in Ramadan
- Foreigners 40 EGP
- Foreign Students 20 EGP
- Egyptians 2 EGP
- Egyptian Students 1 EGP
Please, note that the museum does not permit photography unless visitors have written approval from the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Address of Coptic Museum
Metro Station Mar Girgis, 3 Sharia Mar Girgis, Old Cairo.