An exhibit fit for a king

Tutankhamun treasures make final stop in Philadelphia

Destination Pennsylvania

February 18, 2007|By Geoff Gehman and Mariella Savidge | Geoff Gehman and Mariella Savidge,Morning Call

PHILADELPHIA / / The boy king's burial bling is back for another fling.

Golden treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled ancient Egypt from ages 9 to 19, are touring the United States for the first time since the late 1970s, when Tut mania had visitors camping overnight outside museums and Steve Martin danced the Tut watusi on Saturday Night Live.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, an exhibition of 130 objects from the final resting places of King Tut and other royal relatives in the 18th Dynasty (1555 B.C. to 1305 B.C.), opened Feb. 3 at the Franklin Institute Science Museum, the fourth and final stop of a show that has drawn 2.8 million visitors across the nation.

The city has rolled out the gold carpet to greet the king -- and visitors -- with restaurants, spas, museums and hotels jumping on the King Tut bandwagon with activities, products and destinations designed to prolong the royal experience in the city until the boy king ships out Sept. 30.

Inside the exhibit

The show is softly lit and fairly low-key; entertaining and scholarly; plain and fancy. A shiny dog collar made of leather and gilded copper is given the same weight as a lotus-blossom cup made of glowing calcite. One room resembles a burial corridor; another simulates a temple entrance.

The exhibit is also a Tut tease. It begins with six galleries of domestic and ceremonial artifacts interred with Tut's reputed relations, rather than the boy king himself. Burial objects in ancient Egypt were intended to ensure immortality among the gods.

Among the objects in the first rooms is an impressive limestone balustrade depicting Akhenaten, the pharaoh reputed to be Tut's father. (The genealogy of ancient Egyptian royals is extremely convoluted.) Akhenaten is shown bathing in the rays of Aten, the sunlike object he established as the sole deity of his reign, in the process eliminating ancient Egypt's traditional gods.

Even more stunning is a gleaming golden, exquisitely hieroglyphed coffin made for Tjuya, who was probably Tut's great-grandmother. It calls to mind the observation made by British archaeologist Howard Carter when he discovered Tut's tomb in 1922: "Everywhere the glint of gold."

Moving on to the five Tut galleries, there are 50 of the nearly 5,000 artifacts that Carter uncovered in the pharaoh's tomb.

A golden coffinette portraying Tut as Osiris, god of the dead, contained his mummified liver. A golden funerary mask protected the face of a fetus, perhaps the stillborn child of Tut's wife, Ankhesenamun. A golden shrine is covered in intimate scenes between Tut and his queen.

The show ends with the results of a 2005 CAT scan of Tut's mummified body. X-rays revealed that he was about 5-foot-6, had no dental cavities and wasn't -- contrary to popular belief -- murdered by a blow to the head. He might have died naturally, from an infection caused by a broken leg.

With 75 more objects from more tombs, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs is larger and richer than Treasures of Tutankhamun, the 1976-79 exhibit that attracted 8 million viewers to seven American museums.

One star artifact from the '70s, however, is noticeably absent: Tut's solid gold death mask.

Exhibit officials said the item is too fragile and too valuable to leave its Egyptian home.

Outside the exhibit

There's no need to twiddle your thumbs while you're waiting for your turn to get in to see the King, and there's no reason to turn right around to head back to Baltimore as soon as you're done.

In addition to an overnight hotel package, there are many other reasons to stay, including several activities that play off the exhibit in a fun way.

For instance, take an hour-and-a-half out of your day to visit the Rescue Rittenhouse Spa Lounge for its Cleopatra Treatment, during which an aesthetician will wrap you like a mummy.

But first, says Rescue massage therapist Michelle Irizarry, special attention is paid to your feet with milk and honey moisturizer. Next comes a sugar body scrub. Then the therapist wraps your entire body mummy-style in foil-based sheets from shoulders to feet.

While every pore soaks up the moisturizer, the aesthetician uses a milk-based cleanser on your face to hydrate, exfoliate and tone before applying a mask.

"We start the unveiling with the face before taking off the rest of the body mask with hot towels and then escorting clients to our amazing shower. They leave feeling supple and renewed," Irizarry says.

To set up an appointment, call 215-772-2766. Cost for the treatment is $160.

As if you need to treat yourself further after that, McGillin's Olde Ale House, 1310 Drury St., has concocted a special cocktail, the King Tutini, just for the occasion.

Made with vodka and Goldschlager -- a cinnamon liquor that has gold flakes in it -- the icy delicacy is served in a martini glass decorated with a gold sugar rim. It's designed to make you feel like royalty when you're holding it.

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