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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » December 1, 2014
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Treasures of Nubian Art
December 1, 2014   
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Following extensive redevelopment, Warsaw’s National Museum reopened its gallery of Nubian art to the public Oct. 18.

The gallery, named after eminent Polish archeologist and Egyptologist Prof. Kazimierz Michałowski, is home to Europe’s only display of Nubian art and cultural artifacts from the Christian period—from the mid-6th to the 14th centuries. Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. The name Nubia is derived from that of the Noba people, nomads who settled the area in the 4th century.

Using multimedia presentations, including 3D film, the modern gallery showcases the most exquisite treasures of a civilization that developed some 1,500 years ago.

This is one of Europe’s most interesting and unique permanent exhibitions and the only place in the world outside the Sudanese capital Khartoum where paintings of Christian-era Nubian art are on display. The depictions of saints, archangels and Nubian bishops are originally from a cathedral church in Faras (formerly Pachoras), a city that was an important administrative and cultural center of the medieval African kingdom of Nobadia in Lower Nubia.

These works now reside in the National Museum in Warsaw thanks to the efforts of Polish archaeologists who took part in a massive international campaign—led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—to preserve the remnants of cultures once occupying the Nile River Valley south of the First Cataract. In the 1960s, working under the direction of Prof. Kazimierz Michałowski in the ancient city of Faras near the present-day Sudanese-Egyptian border, the archaeologists discovered the well-preserved ruins of an 8th-century cathedral church. Its walls were decorated with magnificent mural paintings on religious themes, dating from the 8th-14th centuries.

Over 120 paintings were preserved, 67 of which are today housed at the National Museum in Warsaw. This collection is accompanied by other finds from Faras. Together they form the largest and most valuable collection of archaeological artifacts from overseas excavations that has ever been acquired by a Polish museum.

On Oct. 18, the Warsaw gallery of Nubian art reopened to the public in an all-new configuration. A room designed to evoke a temple interior presents the paintings in an arrangement similar to their original one at the Faras cathedral, with the sound of authentic Coptic liturgical chants heightening the experience for visitors. In a dedicated space, with special consideration for disabled visitors, multimedia presentations allow viewers to learn about the history of Christian Nubia, its architecture, the cathedral paintings and their iconography.

Mirosław Orzechowski and Grzegorz Rytel, the architects behind the new exhibition design, said their goal was to recreate the mood of the historical sacral interior of an early Christian temple. The architects said they were also keen to avoid literal references to the architecture of the Faras cathedral.

A digital reconstruction of the cathedral interior in 3D stereoscopy offers the first opportunity to enter a Nubian church in more than 1,000 years. State-of-the-art digital renderings show the presbytery, the aisles, the chapels and the vestibule.

The exhibition is accompanied by presentations of archaeological films and archival photographs from excavations in the 1960s.
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