In 1817 the Italian treasure-hunter, Giovanni Belzoni, discovered the largest and most completely decorated tomb in the Valley of the Kings: the tomb of King Seti I (KV 17). Deep within the tomb was a stunning prize: the king's magnificent, translucent sarcophagus.
Naturally, the royal sarcophagus was first offered to the British Museum, which baulked at the £2,000 price tag.
For the wealthy London architect, Sir John Soane, however, Seti's sarcophagus was just the thing he needed for his growing collection of ancient curios in his Lincoln’s Inn Fields house.
To celebrate the arrival of the sarcophagus, in March 1825, Soane held a three-day party, attended by London's who's who, including the Prime Minister and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
In his will, Soane bequeathed his wonderfully chaotic home/office/museum to the British Public; forever to be enjoyed free of charge. Soane's museum has recently undergone a renovation to restore it back to its 19th-century appearance.
This engraving was made in 1864, some 30 years after Sir Soane's death. The "Sarcophagus Room” was still a popular attraction—as it is today.
The full story of Belzoni's discovery of the tomb of King Seti I is in the current issue of Nile Magazine.