The solar boats of ancient Egyptians were large ships that were made out of cedar wood. They were used in religious rituals during Pharaonic times. Historians and archeologists have had long debates about the exact historical name and the purpose of these boats. However, most likely these boats were manufactured to be used in the funerary rituals of the King and maybe some of his royal family members.
The Solar Boat that was put on display in the Solar Boat Museum next to the Great Pyramid of Cheops was constructed around the 1985. to house the boat that was placed in there when King Cheops passed away and his body was mummified, the priests placed his body in this solar boat to go on a journey to visit Heliopolis and other cities before they land in his royal necropolis in Giza. Afterward, the priests dissembled the solar boat into smaller pieces before they buried these pieces near the pyramids and titled it the Boat of Cheops.
How Were Solar Boats Discovered?
When the Egyptian antiquities inspector responsible for the area of Giza, Mohamed Zaki Nour, the civil engineer who was in charge of cleaning up the area of the Pyramids of Giza, Kamal Al Malakh, and the supervisor of the cleaning process of the area, Doctor Abdel Men’em Abu Bakr were finishing their work at the pyramids, they found out what seemed to be a wall made out of limestone. After a lot of digging in the ground, they reached the bottom of the wall and found 42 pieces of rock that were divided into two groups to protect them against any outer dangers or harm. On the 26th of May 1954, the nozzle of the hole where the pieces of the solar boat were opened and everybody who was there smelled the distinctive scent of the cedar wood.
Doctor Al Malakh was the first one to view this great archeological finding when he reflected the rays of the sun inside the hole. He was the first one to view the solar boat and smell its cedar wood after more than 5,000 years of it being buried under the sand. This was why Doctor Al Malakh has been credited to be the discoverer of the solar boat. However, many Egyptian archeologists have asserted in different occasions that the discovery took place due to the regular cleaning processes of the area of the Pyramids in Giza that have started in 1946 as some preparations for the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdel Aziz Al Seoud. The first time King Al Seoud has visited the area of the Pyramids of Giza, he viewed the sand mound located around the Southern side of the Great Pyramid, estimated to be 18 meters high, and it used to stand as an obstacle in the face of the visitors of the pyramids. The King has advised the Egyptian authorities to remove this mound to facilitate the visits to the pyramids.
King Farouk, the ruler of Egypt at the time and the last king of the land of the Nile, issued a decree to remove this huge mound of sand and to clean the whole area periodically. The first time this process took place was in the year 1964 before the solar boat was discovered in 1954. This proves that the discovery of the solar boat occurred by coincidence and without preset plans.
The Description of the Solar Boat
Soon after the discovery of the solar boat, a certain structure was built to preserve and laboratories to handle the pieces of the boat. The ancient Egyptians were skillful workers and clever builders. They had the exact location of each piece of wood carved on it and this was of course written in the Hieroglyphic language. The different pieces of the solar boat were put in 14 layers with a layer of rocks in the very bottom to prevent humidity to affect the wooden parts of the boat. These rocks have also protected the pieces of wood against wind and water leakage for more than 24 centuries. The solar boat that was discovered in the year 1954 near the Great Pyramid of Giza consists of 1224 pieces of wood. The boat is 44 meters long and around 5.9 meters wide and it has 12 paddles. A compartment that stands upon three circular columns is located at the stern of the solar boat. This compartment has a double ceiling based upon some pillars that were made in the shape of the papyrus plants. The function of this compartment was to protect the captain of the boat against the sun’s rays.
Some modern scientific studies that were recently carried out on the wood that was used to make the solar boat noted that this wood must have been 7,000 years old before being cut and used in the boat. Therefore, some scientific theories assert that the age of the solar boat is not less than 1,2000 years.
The boat has twelve paddles. Five of them were used for rowing from each side with four of these five paddles made in the shape of a bayonet that was used by the unseen sailors to protect the boat in its journey to the other word according to ancient Egyptian mythodology. This is beside two paddles that were used to correct the path of the boat the same way the rudder functions.
Moreover, the boat had a primitive yet intelligent tool to examine the depths were the boat is sailing to prevent it from hitting any sand islands or beaches. This tool was manufactured in the shape of the two most important plants for the ancient Egyptians; the Lotus and the Papyrus. This tool was actually guided towards the western direction to unify with the sun rays before it vanishes at the time of the sunset. Scientific studies are still carried out until today to be certain if the solar boats were only used as a symbol of the journey of the god Ra, the god of the sun, in his day and night journeys. The sun god Ra, according to the ancient Egyptian methodology, used to benefit from the stars and their position to row and to travel from one place to another. In these journeys Ra used to go on, he used to purify the world from wicked souls and the people used to worship him and present him with offerings.
The Museum of the Solar Boat of Cheops
After the discovery of the first solar boat of Cheops, it was necessary to establish the museum over the hole where the boat was first found. In the same time, the museum had to fit with the large size of the solar boat. The museum furthermore had to be equipped with most modern techniques and technologies in order to preserve the solar boat for many generations to come and view the greatness of the ancient Egyptians. This was why a complete air conditioning system was added to the museum to always keep the right temperature and the right degree of humidity.
The museum was constructed to contain three floors to enable the visitors to view the boat from three different levels. The solar boat was put on display in the center of the main hall of the museum on the first floor. The boat was placed on a base that was around 8 meters higher than the floor. In the ground or lower floor of the museum, the guests who come from all over the world to view this magnificent piece of ancient architectural art can view the bottom of the boat.
Relocation of the Solar Boat
During the past few years, the Egyptian Antiquities Association has decided to carry out a project to protect the solar boat museum in Giza and preserve it.
Zahi Hawas, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, has said that all the different museums in the world contain small narrow windows to prevent the harmful sun rays from entering the museums. However, Hawas added that the idea is different for the Solar Boat Museum as it only hosts one exhibit which is the boat and that the museum consists of a panoramic view of the boat that is made out of huge boards of glass, the fact that exposes the boat to many factors that might harm it.
This was why the Egyptian authorities insisted on transfering the solar boat from its original location inside its museum in the area of the Pyramids of Giza to the location of new Egyptian Museum of Antiquities near Al Remaya Square in Giza. This process was carried out with the help of UNESCO. Zahi Hawas has announced that the idea behind the relocation of the solar boat was because the boat was exposed to many types of pollutions. This is in addition to the fact that the importance and significance of the solar boat would increase if it became part of the New Grand Museum of Egyptian Antiquities that will be opened in a few years. Hawas has added that the solar boat will have a large hall in the New Grand Museum of Egyptian Antiquities that would be specifically built for it. This matter would certainly magnify the importance of the solar boat that is considered to be one of the rare examples of this ancient Egyptian type of architecture that remained until today.