Immersive exhibition in SF lets visitors experience ancient Egypt

SAN FRANCISCO – He is deemed the pharaoh of pharaohs, known for his ruthless military might, advance construction campaign and his leadership that brought ancient Egypt into its notorious golden age: Ramses II, otherwise known as Ramses the Great. And the dazzling treasures and artifacts that surrounded his life have found themselves in San Francisco.

Through Feb. 2023, the deYoung museum will host an international touring exhibition that pairs ancient objects with cutting-edge technology, labeled “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs.”

It’s the only museum on the West Coast to feature the collection before it returns to museums in Egypt, likely not to travel again for decades, said Thomas Campbell, director and CEO of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“With the many travel fiascos we’ve all been reading about lately, it’s a treat to skip the plane ride and transport yourself to Egypt, right here in the museum and, indeed, even into the feeling of the ancient Egyptian tombs,” Campbell said at a press conference on Thursday.

Ramses VR
VR museum installation for “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Paraohs”


Visitors can parade through a trove of sarcophagi, masks, ornate tomb treasures and mummified animals, while also being submerged into highlights of Ramses’ life – like his monumental win in the Battle of Kadesh – via immersive multimedia displays.

Not only known for his impressive leadership, Ramses also lived for an impressive amount of time — he’s said to have died at around age 90 in an era where most were lucky if they lived through their 30s or 40s. The exhibition features objects from various royal tombs throughout Egypt to paint a picture of what Ramses’ tomb must have held, said Renee Dreyfus, an ancient art curator.

“In the six decades of his reign, Egyptian empire flourished, prospered and Ramses secured and expanded the country’s borders,” Dreyfus said.

One of the exhibition’s organizers, John Norman, CEO of the World Heritage Exhibition, said the team wanted to blend several presentation techniques to deliver a special, entertaining experience that’s more of a story than a history lecture. There’s cinematic video, theatrical lighting, automated show controls and even specially composed music for each gallery, he said.

“These are elements that you don’t typically see in an art museum,” Norman said.

And for an extra price, museum-goers can also enter a virtual reality tour, guided by the spirit of Ramses’ beloved wife, Nefertari. In the virtual tour, the queen floats through Ramses’ iconic temple Abu Simbel, as well as an animated version of her tomb.

“In an age of so many immersive experiences, there’s a lot of rubbish out there. This is truly an immersive experience that engages all the senses but with real muscle,” Campbell said.

The exhibit will be open from Aug. 20 to Feb. 12, 2023. Tickets cost $35 on weekdays or $40 on weekends for adults. More information on discounted rates for children, seniors and students can be found at

Portions of ticket sales will go to preservation and excavation efforts for ancient artifacts in Egypt, said Egyptian archeologist and exhibition’s curator Zahi Hawas, who’s also spearheading efforts to restore Ramses’ tomb.

“I really enjoy seeing this exhibition. The technology, the lighting, the beauty, the art… it’s a message from us in Egypt that we are safe and to come and visit us,” Hawas said.

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