Egypt in California: Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum San Jose
Are you a fan of Egyptian art and culture with no immediate plans to travel to Egypt? If you're visiting Northern California, allow me to introduce you to Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, it houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts "west of the Mississippi" in the United States.
Maybe it's the influence of Indiana Jones, Star Gate, and MacGyver, I was obsessed with everything Egyptian like many other preteen kids back then. I looked forward to trips to museums that had mummies, I built paper pyramids at home, I had a small Nefertiti bust on my shelf, I tried to learn hieroglyphics, and I even had a mummy pencil case for school. Egypt as portrayed by Hollywood had an amazing allure that was hard to resist.
Fast forward a few years, after the Mummy Trilogy officially ruined it for me by focusing too much on the action instead of the discovery, I took the kids to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose for a little cultural field trip. Fine, they're toddlers, they don't even get scared when they see mummies. I'll be honest, the trip is for mom's inner child.
The museum features four main exhibitions: Kings and Pharaohs, Gods and Religion, Daily Life, and Burial Practices. Guess which one gets crowded? Hint: the one that has mummies.
You guessed it. It's the Burial Practices, Afterlife, and Mummies exhibit. A replica of King Tutankhamun's golden coffin greets you at the entrance.
You can see authentic coffins and mummies of noble Egyptians here, as well as other burial objects and papyrus scroll fragments.
You will also find animal mummies, for example, these bottle-shaped cat mummies. Considering cats were first domesticated in ancient Egypt, these mummified cats were probably rather wild back then!
There is also a mummified head of an Apis bull. Not just any ordinary bull, but an important figure throughout Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Biblical history.
But the most interesting mummy exhibit has to be the one of a four-year-old girl. Because of the high costs of mummification, even if a high percentage of children in ancient Egypt died before the age of five, it's rare to find child mummies.
Thanks to modern technology, this little girl was brought back to life in 2005! With the help of Stanford University Hospital's CT scan and cross-section X-ray images, the researchers were able to construct a 3D model to give a face to the mummy and to create a life-like bust statue of her. Two thousand years later, this little girl is now living a virtual second life in the Silicon Valley!
Another exhibit that was particularly interesting was the recreation of an ancient rock-cut tomb. For a brief moment, you can imagine that you're an archaeologist/Egyptologist entering a newly-excavated tomb, beating the bad guys to this secret location, tumbling through spiderwebs and skeletons of past explorers...
You walk through that narrow door, take a deep breath, and take careful steps down the stairs...
...and finally see the colorfully painted interiors for the very first time since three thousand years!
What do you find inside the open sarcophagus? I can't tell you, you have to go see it for yourself or it will forever remain a mystery.
Speaking of mystery, there is a temporary exhibit on Alchemy on the second floor, as the museum is still fund-raising to build the world's largest Alchemy Museum in the adjacent Rosicrucian Park. There is a reproduction of an alchemist's workshop in the exhibit, it strangely reminds me of the perfume workshops I've seen in Grasse...
After the visit inside the museum, it's time to head out for some light. We walked by some fascinating trees and the museum's Planetarium, and entered the Rosicrucian Park with lovely rose bushes, fountains, and more symbols than one can handle.
Further down the path, we entered the Peace Garden, a true oasis in the arid desert land of... San Jose. The garden is modeled after an authentic 18th dynasty ancient Egyptian garden. Walking around the garden with toddlers definitely brought me peace, as they could run around freely, and I didn't have to yell "use your library voice" every 5 minutes.
At the papyrus-lined pond, they watched the fish and were refreshed by the tranquility of this environment. I'm not sure how ancient Egyptians entertained their children, but this garden definitely does the trick for us.
As for me, I was content to have stepped into this little pocket of Egypt in the middle of the Silicon Valley, California, an ocean away from that alluring land of an enchanting civilization.
I wish for peace, indeed, in the Peace Garden at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose.
1660 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95191, United States
* Free Admission for adults Wednesday - Friday 4-5PM! (Always free for children under 5)