Edda Bresciani and Egypt unveiled

The discoveries, the studies and the life of the illustrious archeologist who brought to light the greatest works of Egyptian civilization.

Franca Severini

Professor Edda Bresciani is among the most authoritative figures in the world on Egyptology; a scholar who, with independence and strong willpower has marked the history of this ancient culture, still today fascinating and rich in mysteries to be revealed. From Lucca, the city where she was born and where she currently resides, she studied in the nearby University of Pisa, where today she is Professor Emeritus of Egyptology. And in collaboration with the university, she directed and developed, in the course of the years, the “ISSEM” project, culminating with the extraordinary opening in 2011 of the Medinet Madi Archaeological Park and Visitor Center in the region of Fayoum.

And many are the findings she has brought to light in the course of her long career as archeologist, so much so that a temple was dedi-cated to her because of the importance of her work, and one of her findings – the exquisite painted funeral shroud from the Roman epoch of Saqqara – is on show at the Cairo Museum. Among the great many objects discovered: the series of splendid ceramic pieces dating back to the Middle Kingdom from the Gurna excavation site, the set of clay cookware from the “House with three ovens” of the New Kingdom in Gurna and the beautiful treasures from the tomb of the Vizier Bakenrenef in Saqqara, wood statues, amulets, band-ages inscribed with texts and scenes from the Book of the Dead, and much more.

THE HISTORY OF EDDA BRESCIANI EMBODIES THE FASCINATION OF A HEROINE FROM THE PAST, although the scientific and meticulous character of the true scholar strongly prevails over the shroud of legend that envelops her. She was the first person to graduate in Egyptology in Italy, in 1955, hence the very first woman, as well as the first female teacher of this discipline, a faculty created expressly for her.

Her career begins in Egypt, mainly in the region of Fayoum, where in the mid-1970s she was director of the archaeological mission at Medinet Madi and also in Saqqara and Gurna in Thebes. In those years, an archaeological mission directed by a woman was a great novelty and professor Bresciani fondly remembers the fact that in Arab there was no word for “female director”, but only “director” in the masculine: for her, the title mudira was created, from the masculine mudir.

MEDINET MADI, UP TO KOM MADI, WADI EL RAYAN AND WADI EL HITAN, is the place where Edda Bresciani brought to light renowned treasures and architecture that since 2011 – year of the Park’s inauguration – can be seen by all and where a large number of finds and novelties, above all architectural, contribute to the knowledge of Egyptian history, from the Middle Kingdom to Greek and Roman times.

For example, the discovery of a third temple to Sobek, the Egyptian Nile god and god of crocodiles, in addition to the two discovered by Achille Vogliano in the 1930s, represents an astounding success due to its extraordinary structure dating to the Tolomean age and designated as an egg nursery – with eggs found in situ – and the connected breeding of crocodiles destined for mummification and as an offering to the deity.

In addition to this, there is the important finding of ten churches dating back to the 7th-11th centuries, an important contribution to the knowledge of Christianity in Fayoum, that was the object of exhibitions throughout the world.

IN MEDINET MADI, BRESCIANI’S DISCOVERIES BROADENED, covering a vast area previously outlined by Vogliano, where, from the sand, two lion statues emerge bearing two identical Greek inscriptions that date the pieces to the era of Cleopatra and Ptolemy VIII. The Shrine of Isis is another outstanding find, restored as part of the above-mentioned ISSEM Project in Medinet Madi, with the large square and portico, the houses along the dromoi, and with the exceptional discovery of a large sacred well for temple rituals. 

And for the most complete enjoyment of these discoveries, fully open to the public, with the help of architect Antonio Giammarusti of the University of Pisa, professor Bresciani conceived the panoramic road that crosses the desert and leads from Medinet Madi to the protected naturalist area of Wadi Al-Rayan, adjacent to Wadi Al-Hitan, the area of the fossil remains of whales.

From the most exciting discoveries of antiquity to modern prospects, professor Edda Bresciani continues to mark the times of history, for a future still to be deciphered. *


Edda Bresciani is an archaeologist, historian, philologist, professor emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Pisa and director of the university’s archaeological missions in Egypt. Founder of the magazine Egitto e Vicino Oriente, honored with numerous recognitions such as the “Medaglia d’Oro ai Benemeriti della Scienza e della Cultura” (Gold Medal for Science and Culture) and the “Premio Firenze Donna 2004 per le Professioni e la Ricerca” prize. She is member of the “Accademia dei Lincei” and of the “Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres” in France; author of several publications such as “Lettera-tura e Poesia dell’Antico Egitto” for Einaudi and “Nine Pharaohs” for ETS Pisa, “Ramesse II” for Giunti, “La porta dei sogni. Interpreti e sognatori nell’Egitto antico” for Einaudi that won her the “Premio Nazionale Letterario Pisa” National Literary Award, “Medinet Madi. Venti anni di esplorazione archeologica (1984-2005)”, and many others. She holds many conferences both at Italian and international museums and institutions.

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