The Professor Kazimierz Michałowski Faras Gallery is the only permanent exhibition in Europe featuring Medieval Nubian paintings from the Nile River Valley south of the First Cataract. The collection of over 60 paintings from the 8th to 14th centuries came from the cathedral in the city of Faras, a large urban centre in the Medieval kingdom of Nobadia, in present-day Sudan. Nobadian rulers controlling the Nile Valley from the first to the third cataracts converted to Christianity around 548 AD influenced by missionaries sent from Constantinople by the Empress Theodora. The first cathedral was erected in the 7th century, when the city was still known as Pachoras, and likely stood at the exact site where Polish archaeologists taking part in the Nubia Campaign discovered the subsequent 8th century cathedral.
The Nubia Campaign was an extensive international mission to preserve ancient legacies threatened by flooding from the imminent construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the resulting formation of the artificial reservoir, Lake Nasser. The paintings discovered by the Polish archaeological team working in Faras were executed on the plaster walls of the cathedral with tempera paint. After their discovery, they were painstakingly removed from the cathedral walls and since 1972 have been on display along with decorative architectural elements from the cathedral and churches and structures in Faras. Epitaphs of local clergymen and other priceless artefacts from the area, including ceramic pottery produced in local workshops, are also displayed.
In the gallery’s new layout, artefacts from the original church, erected in the 1st quarter of the 7th century at the site where the future cathedral would be built one hundred years later, will be on view in the first section of the exhibition space, near the entrance. This is also where a scale model of the cathedral will allow visitors to become familiar with the architecture and the topographical arrangement of the paintings residing in the museum’s collection. In a separate space, visitors will be able to watch a 3D film with digital reconstruction of the cathedral and other films on the personage of Kazimierz Michałowski, the celebrated Polish archaeologist who discovered the Faras cathedral and created the Faras Gallery. The screening room will also offer further insight on Nubia – the cathedral, the wall paintings and their iconography, as well as the Polish excavation works in Faras.
Continuing on through the gallery, visitors will see wall paintings from the cathedral’s stairwells and outer walls, including depictions of St. Mercurius killing the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate or the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, as well as decorative architectural elements from Meroe and Post-Meroe structures and from Faras cathedral itself. A display case near the passage to the main room will present artefacts found in the tombs of bishops – a unique set of objects connected with the burial practices of high-ranking Nubian clergy. The next room is made to resemble the interior of the Faras cathedral and will house nearly all of the wall paintings from the cathedral’s nave and chapels, displayed in an arrangement that closely reflects their original placement within the church. Also replicated will be the cathedral’s narthex, where the majority of the Museum’s collection was discovered. The north nave reveals its exquisite image of St. Anne. Two chapels on the south end of the church hold the portrait of the Hermit Ammonios and images of the Nubian bishops Petros and Marianos .
Complementing the exhibition of the wall paintings will be display cases holding ceramic pottery produced in Nubia or imported from Coptic Egypt as well as small artefacts found during excavations in Faras, Old Dongola and the vicinity of the Fourth Cataract. These areas were also in danger of flooding from a different man-made reservoir built in that stretch of the Nile.
A portion of the main room will also be dedicated to a collection of crucifixes: Ethiopian, Egyptian, Ruthenian and Russian, Hutsulian and Ukrainian. The pieces here represent the vast formal and ornamental diversity of the crucifix as an object used in liturgical worship and private piety by Christians in various corners of the world.
The Opening of the Faras Gallery
The Faras Gallery is home to Europe’s only display of cultural artefacts and artworks from the Christian period in Lower Nubia. These works now reside in the National Museum in Warsaw thanks to the efforts of Polish archaeologists who took part in the massive UNESCO-led international campaign to preserve the remnants of cultures once occupying the Nile River Valley south of the First Cataract. Archaeological research in the area of the ancient city of Faras, near the present-day Sudanese-Egyptian border, unearthed the well-preserved ruins of an 8th century cathedral whose walls were adorned with religious-themed paintings created in the 8th to 14th centuries. Today, 67 of the paintings reside in the National Museum in Warsaw alongside other fascinating artefacts from Faras, making up the largest and most valuable collection of archaeological artefacts from foreign excavation sites thus far acquired by a Polish museum. In the autumn of 2014, the Faras Gallery will be re-opened to the public in an all-new configuration. A room designed to recreate the mood of the historical sacral interior will present the wall paintings in a way that reflects their original placement, with the sound of authentic Coptic liturgical chanting heightening the experience for visitors. In a dedicated space, with special consideration for handicapped patrons, multimedia presentations will allow viewers to learn about Christian Nubia’s history and architecture, the Faras wall paintings and their compelling iconography. Visitors will also enjoy a 3D video reconstruction of the cathedral interior with all of the wall paintings shown in their original locations, including those residing today in the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum. Further supplementing the exhibition will be a selection of archaeological films and archival photography.
The Opening of the Faras Gallery is under UNESCO’s honorary patronage.