Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean

A couple of weeks ago, I took a much-needed few hours out of my hectic work schedule to go down to Oxford to meet up with my dad and sister and visit the latest exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum. I had arisen at 6.20am and done a load of work before I set out, so I was glad that our day began with coffee in the Ashmolean’s “coffee garden”, which gave us a good view of the imposing Ionic columns that flank the museum’s main entrance.


After a fortifying cup of coffee we headed into the museum. You weren’t allowed to take photographs within the Tutankhamun exhibition, but the Ashmolean has kindly given me this poster to include in my post:


I’m not going to attempt an intellectual review of the exhibition here, as this wasn’t the purpose of my post today, but a quick precis: the exhibition is all about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, which was most interesting. The money behind the discovery came from the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, owner of Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey); Howard Carter was his assistant. An insight into his involvement in the excavation came in the form of a photograph showing him and some other gentlemen enjoying a posh dinner in the tomb, of the sort that wouldn’t look amiss in Downton itself!

There were loads of fascinating photographs of all the grave goods in situ, one of the most fascinating of which showed a room full of all kinds of objects that were so well preserved that they could have been put there decades ago, not thousands of years ago. Chariots piled up in one corner, immaculately preserved wooden chests, pots and plenty more, all stuffed into this little chamber. Some of the photos were blown up to cover an entire wall, so you could stand and look at them for ages and keep spotting new things. After the stuff about the discovery and recording of the tomb, there was a section all about the influence it had on popular culture at the time.


After perusing the exhibition – the only disappointing aspect of which that there were no actual objects from the tomb on display, as these are virtually all held in Cairo – we passed the timeĀ in the Renaissance paintings gallery until our lunch reservation at the Ashmolean Dining Room.


I used to frequent this elegant restaurant back in the day when I lived in Oxford, though the food was rather out of my price range back then, so it was mainly a place to have a drink on the terrace and enjoy the view. I was pleased to find that it hadn’t changed a bit in the years since I’d been.


Here are my agreeable dining companions! As you can see, we got a nice table out on the terrace, it being warm enough to eat outside.


I’m including this one as you can see the view of the Randolph Hotel a bit better!


We had a nice bread board to start, with wonderfully gloopy balsamic vinegar the ideal accompaniment.


The set menu was inspired by the Tutankhamun exhibition, and from that we all chose the kofta tagine. It was pleasantly spicy, but not overly so, and was accompanied by a delicious flatbread.



For desert, we all chose the somewhat un-Egyptian Eton Mess. It was lovely, but I was so full from the koftas and bread that I didn’t have room to finish it all!


We finished up the day out with a walk to Port Meadow, which was glorious in the sunshine. And then I went home to do yet more work!

The Tutankhamun exhibition is on until 2 November, so there’s still plenty of time to see it if you haven’t already. With or without this particular exhibition, a visit to the Ashmolean is always worthwhile, and even after nearly a decade of living in/near Oxford, I’m still finding things there that I haven’t seen before. Do visit if you get the chance!

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