Philadelphia’s Great Museums – and their Ancient Egypt Connections

Four amazing places to experience Ancient Egypt in Philadelphia

By Laura Ranieri

What do you think of when you think Philadelphia? Philly steak? Ben Franklin? Rocky climbing those steps? Sure – but I bet you didn’t know that Franklin was not just a founding father of America, but also the founder of one of America’s very first museums in 1743: The American Philosophical Society which still exists. Bet you also didn’t know that Philadelphia is also a great destination for those interested in Ancient Near Eastern history – and Ancient Egypt! But it is! Oh – and those Rocky steps actually belong to the stunning Philadelphia Fine Arts Museum in the heart of the cultural district. Though Balboa was not likely to have been a culture vulture, those of you who are will especially love this city. Philly is a mecca for museum geeks.

Recently named the first and only World Heritage City in the United States and Lonely Planet’s “Best in the U.S.” destination for 2016, there are so many reasons to visit Philly. Setting aside the Liberty Bell, scrumptious food, colourful neighbourhoods, famous towers and glorious green spaces, its abundance of eclectic and exquisite museums is an irresistible draw. A few of them have collections and/or architectural elements that will especially delight any Ancient Egyptophile.

Here are four museum jewels in historic Philly’s crown – each with an Ancient Egypt connection:

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

One of the world’s finest archaeology museums, founded in 1887, the University of Pennsylvania Museum is home to nearly one million objects, largely through its own field excavations and research. Three floors of jaw-dropping galleries await – including materials from ancient Egypt and the Near Middle East, Asia and the ancient Mediterranean World, as well as artifacts from the native Americas, Africa, and Polynesia. Take note: this is one of the very largest and most impressive collections of Ancient Egyptian and Nubian material in the United States – including the soaring columns of Merenptah’s palace, many excellent mummies – and a 15-ton red granite Sphinx of Ramses the Great.

The Masonic Temple, Library and Museum 

A showcase of grand, almost mythical, architecture and design. The  Masonic Temple (built in 1873) has been called one of the great “wonders” of the Masonic world. Adorned with some of the finest artifacts of Freemasonry and magnificent Lodge rooms based on themes of the ancient architectural world, the Masonic Temple connects us with our past by outwardly displaying our Masonic traditions and values. The Temple is one of the more magnificent buildings in the city from the outside, it's Norman cathedral-like exterior rising wondrously across the street from City Hall. But its interior architecture is amazing and varied. Oriental Hall, for instance, replicates part of the Alhambra, with its Moorish grille-like features. Gothic Hall has royal high-backed 19th Century hand-carved oak chairs and is a grand homage to the European Knights Templar. Its Egyptian hall is also a dazzling centrepiece – and its 100-year-old museum features include Masonic Brother George Washington’s Masonic Apron, embroidered by Madame Lafayette. What’s more, its exterior stone is Cape Ann Syenite from Syne in Upper Egypt

Laurel Hill Cemetery 

The first architecturally designed cemetery in the country.  Laurel Hill is more than just a cemetery. It is an outdoor sculptural garden, a horticultural gem and a truly unique historical resource. It’s also one of the few cemeteries in the United States to be honored with the designation of National Historic Landmark. Visiting evokes a time a century ago when cemeteries were built intentionally in scenic areas, and visitors would come to walk the grounds, not in mourning but to see the wondrous architecture and peaceful landscapes. High above the Schuylkill River, the original Laurel Hill Cemetery calls itself “a landscape of local heroes,” with a slew of famous folks buried there who prospered from Revolutionary times through the Civil War to the late 20th century. The Egyptian and Ancient Greek architecture inspiration of the monuments is another of its many delights to behold.

Glencairn Castle Museum

Centuries of religious artifacts in a modern castle. Glencairn is a neo-Romanesque castle situated amid the rolling hills of Montgomery County. Today, the former home of Raymond Pitcairn and his family – dating back to 1928 – serves as a museum of religious art and history. It’s an enchanting place where you can explore beliefs and practices through renowned art collections, including those from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as from medieval Christian, Islamic, Asian and American Indian backgrounds. Pitcairn possessed a large body of medieval stained glass and sculpture, a collection that’s considered to be one of the country’s finest.

Visit all these Philadelphia museums with us June 9-11, 2017!

Love to explore museum cities in the company of a few experts and cultured travelers? Here’s a rare opportunity: June 9-11, a special small group museum tour to Philadelphia (8-12 people) will feature visits to all four of the above museums-cultural centres – with private expert tours at each!. At its apex will be a special tour of the University of Pennsylvania archaeology and anthropology Museum – with a special tour of its Egypt collection by a noted archaeologist & Mummy expert Dr. Stephen Phillips – who still works at the Giza Pyramids!

Our Ancient Egypt in Philadelphia weekend still has a few seats available. Cost is $575USD per person including two nights in the Courtyard by Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, right downtown. For details visit – Or contact Anna MacKay at Your Journey Travel to reserve your spot. 1-800-978-0544

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