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Basel hails success of Tutankhamun show

The mask of Tuyu was on show at the museum. Basel Museum of Antiquities

Basel’s Museum of Antiquities says 620,000 people visited its Tutankhamun exhibition, which ended on Sunday after a six-month run.

This content was published on October 1, 2004 - 18:15

“Tutankhamun – the Golden Beyond” has been hailed as the most important display of ancient Egyptian artefacts to be seen in Europe for over 20 years.

“It’s been a tremendous success. We expected 500,000 visitors. At the end of the day we had 620,000, which I would say is extraordinary, for Basel and for Switzerland,” said the museum’s director, Peter Blome.

He added that 250 people, from cloakroom attendants to security staff, had worked “to the limits” to make the exhibition a success.

The most popular day was September 25, when 4,845 people crammed into the exhibition halls. The lowest number of visitors was registered on Switzerland’s National Day on August 1, when “only” 1,730 tickets were sold.

“Rather too full”

“Of course, on some days there were too many people at the exhibition. It’s clear that when you have more than 4,500 visitors it becomes rather too full, but that was the only negative point,” said Blome.

He told swissinfo that his only worries were before the event, following years of negotiation with the Egyptian authorities about the loan of the artefacts.

“I had sleepless nights, particularly before the landing of the two special aircraft from Egypt which brought the treasures. But after that I had no problems sleeping."

A total of 2,500 guided tours were conducted through the exhibition. About 2,500 school classes from Switzerland and neighbouring France and Germany also came to take in the show.

Around 62,500 school children passed through the exhibition doors, 48,000 of whom were offered free tickets by the event’s main sponsor, Swiss bank UBS.

“You have to remember that the enthusiastic child of today is the paying visitor of the future,” said Blome.

Good for tourism

Tourism officials in Basel said the exhibition had also helped to promote the cultural life of the city both inside and outside Switzerland.

During the 180 days of the show, about 2,000 articles on the exhibition were published in newspapers and magazines around the world.

The tourist office in Basel estimates that visitors to the exhibition poured about SFr14 million ($11 million) into the city’s hotels, restaurants and other facilities.

But Blome calculates that the real figure is closer to SFr20 million, once visitors from the neighbouring Alsace region in France as well as those from southern Germany are taken into account.

Businesses in Basel were quick to cash in on the event, producing a range of goods to coincide with the show. A local brewery came up with a special beer, and Tutankhamun herbal tea was also available.

Confectioners sold a unique variety of the Basler Läckerli, a speciality biscuit, and there was even a Tutankhamun watch with a picture of the boy pharaoh on the face.

No red figures

Exhibition organisers have been tight-lipped about the financing of the event and have refused to reveal exactly how much UBS contributed to it.

Blome said only that there would be no red figures by the time the show closed on Sunday.

Around 67 per cent of visitors were from Switzerland, with the remainder coming from countries such as Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg.

Fifty per cent of ticket-holders were aged between 35 and 54.

Asked about their impressions of the show, half of all visitors to the exhibition said that they thought it was “very good”, while 43 per cent found it “good” and five per cent were “neutral”. Only two per cent felt that it was “not very good” or “bad”.

Packing up

Starting on Monday, the artefacts will be carefully packed away and transported overland to the German city of Bonn, where they will go on display from early November.

The Museum of Antiquities is to close for a few months while it is given a new lick of paint and will reopen early next year.

But the end of “Tutankhamun – the Golden Beyond” does not mean that Basel has nothing left to offer museum visitors.

The Beyeler Foundation in nearby Riehen on Sunday opened an exhibition called “ArchiSculpture”.

The show, which runs until the end of January, features sculptures by outstanding artists together with models of buildings by some of the world's most celebrated architects.

Works by Rodin, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore are among those on display.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Basel

Key facts

A total of 620,000 people visited the Tutankhamun exhibition in Basel.
There were 2,500 guided tours during the 180-day show.
62,500 schoolchildren from 2,500 classes viewed the treasures.
67 per cent of visitors came from Switzerland, 17 per cent from Germany and eight per cent from France.
A total of 30,000 catalogues were printed.

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In brief

The Tutankhamun exhibition beat all expectations, with the attendance about 20 per cent higher than the original estimate of 500,000.

It generated about SFr20 million in extra revenue for Basel’s hotels, restaurants and shops.

The exhibition treasures are now due to be transported overland to Bonn in Germany, where they will go on display from early November.

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