Downstairs at Downton: Tutankhamun exhibition goes on show at Highclere Castle
The popular ITV drama Downton Abbey has made Highclere Castle a hit with tourists. But now the stately home is hoping to attract visitors for a very different reason.
This grand 19th century mansion, so familiar to TV viewers, is the real-life ancestral seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. And almost a century ago, the fifth Earl was part of a significant find.
Ninety years ago, in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, he helped the fabled archaeologist Howard Carter to discover a wall of gold within the Shrine Room of the tomb of the ‘boy pharaoh’ Tutankhamun.
To mark the anniversary of the discovery, a visitor attraction has been created in the cellars of Highclere Castle - to give an impression of what was uncovered in November 1922.
The Egyptian Exhibition contains replicas of items from the tombs, including the pharaoh’s middle coffin and his death mask.
She went on: “The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is the greatest archaeological discovery ever.
‘I want people to feel they’re inside the tomb, and they have a sense of history.’
Ashraf El Kholy, the Egyptian ambassador to the UK, has described the exhibition as a beautiful piece of art and culture.
‘This exhibition is different to any other museum,’ he says. ‘It’s educational. It shows you how people worked hard to discover something, and it gives you a feeling of the history and the process of discovery.
‘It reflects the great interest British people have in Egypt.’
Mr El Kholy says his favourite piece was a wooden sculpture of Tutankhamun’s head.
‘They look to the very smallest details of the human face,’ he says
“The eyes and head are very well drawn. I think this was the magic of the Egyptians, they worked hard to create the reality and they gave part of their feelings to what they were capturing.”
The Countess said that some members of the cast of Downton Abbey have already seen the exhibition, but many did not have enough spare time to enjoy Highclere Castle during filming.
‘They are in such a beautiful place and they sort of don’t know it,’ she said.
But she added that the show was helping to support the exhibition as well as the house.
‘In 100 years’ time, people are still going to be wondering and admiring the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and Downton will have helped us keep going,” she said.
The Egyptian Exhibition opens to the public during the Easter period.
Tutankhamun’s burial chamber is a highlight of any trip to Luxor’s famous Valley of the Kings, but it could soon be closed to the public forever.
Up to a thousand tourists visit the tomb every day and the constant flow of people is slowly taking its toll on its intricately painted plasterwork.
An exact replica of the tomb has now been made in a bid to protect the original - and will be installed in the Valley of the Kings later this year.
Tourists will be able to visit both tombs for a period of time, but the original tomb is expected to be closed for good in 2014.