The Pharaonic Village began with a dream. Already famous for his rediscovery of the ancient techniques for making papyrus, Dr. Hassan Ragab had begun to ponder the possibility of a living museum with real people, actors in costume and in a realistic locale, taking the place of static exhibits. It was after a visit to Disney World's EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida, that his idea took root. Dr. Ragab believed EPCOT "was too computerized -- there was nothing human about it. I began to think, 'Dare I have real, live people in my village, dressed in the manner of three or four thousand years ago?'"
And so in 1974, Dr. Ragab reinvested the profits from his papyrus rediscoveries and began converting Jacob Island into a detailed replica of ancient Egyptian life. His first step was the planting of five thousand trees to block the view of modern Cairo that surrounded the island. The first trees planted were weeping willows, sycamores, and date palms; trees easily identified in tomb paintings as a part of ancient Egyptian life. But many more plants, flowers, animals and birds also depicted in the paintings could no longer be found in Egypt, and some were extinct. Yet Dr. Ragab was not discouraged. He was already familiar with traveling great distances to find what he needed. Years before, he had traveled to the Sudan and Ethiopia to find papyrus roots for his earlier projects, and now he went out once again to seek plants and animals for the Pharaonic Village. He returned to Cairo with seeds, cuttings, and roots of plants that had flourished in Egypt thousands of years ago, and a special surprise, the famed Meidum Geese so often depicted in ancient Egyptian art, but long thought extinct by the modern world. He went everywhere in his quest, from the mouth of the Atbara River to Ethiopia, and in each place found something new and wonderful to bring back. Little by little, a collection of plants and animals not seen in Egypt in centuries was assembled on Jacob Island. For the next six years, Dr. Ragab worked to get his finds to live and grow in Egyptian soil, soil that thousands of years ago, had been their home.
One quest just about over, another one was beginning; this time for detailed knowledge about the daily life of ancient Egyptians from all walks of life. Dr. Ragab began questioning Egyptologists at museums and universities all over the world, searching for the knowledge that would make the Pharaonic Village a complete replica of an ancient Egyptian village. Not satisfied with information simply on the lives of the rulers and upper class, Dr. Ragab was interested in even the most trivial aspects of Egyptian life. "Often, what I wanted to know, even they could not tell me," says Dr. Ragab. "How did the king live? What did they have on their bedroom dressers? What did their doors and windows look like?" Dr. Ragab wanted every detail, every aspect of the village exactly right before he began building.
And build he did. A nobleman's house and garden, a market, a field for planting and harvesting, a shipyard, other buildings, roads, farms, and at the centerpiece, the gigantic temple of white stone that has become the symbol for the Pharaonic Village. Ten years of work and over six million dollars went into the building of the village. In 1984, Dr. Ragab's Pharaonic Village formally opened to the public.
Dr. Abdelsalam, Dr. Hassan Ragab's son, joined his father in administrating the Village in 1989. He insists that it was not finished, more like a work in progress. Some years ago, work was completed on an exacting construction of a life-size replica of Tutankhamen's tomb, just as it appeared in 1922 when Howard Carter opened it. Since the real tomb in the Valley of the Kings had been closed to the public for sometime, this replica became the only place to view the tomb, or for visitors who were unable to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. In addition, Dr. Abdelsalam oversaw the opening of several new exhibits (13) that have gone beyond ancient Egypt recounting various phases of modern Egyptian history. And so, The Pharaonic Village continues to grow and transform itself, making it a wondrous and exciting place, a place whose history is almost as colorful as the one it recreates.