Follow us:

Ich mache mir die (ägyptische) Welt, wie sie mir gefällt!
Image Alt

Ancient Egypt and Amusement Parks, by Julia Troche

Ancient Egypt and Amusement Parks, by Julia Troche

No trip to the regional fair, carnival, or major theme park would be complete without a trip on a thrilling ride that promises to transport you to ancient Egypt where you survive a supernatural threat before exiting through the gift shop. Rides of this sort abound; some are simple swinging pendulum boat rides that can be part of traveling carnivals—such as “Pharaoh’s Fury” which was erected for Hawai’i’s 50th State Fair (2023), while others are profoundly detailed and immersive. The most famous of the latter include Universal’s “The Mummy’s Revenge” trio of rides in Los Angeles, California; Orlando, Florida; and Sentosa, Singapore. Indeed, the motif of ancient Egypt and “mummies” (referred to as such in their fetishized form—more appropriately they should be referred to as “mummified human remains”) is a common visual employed in amusement parks and their rides. But why? And how might this form of re-use be different from other forms of so-called Egyptomania in literary or visual arts?

Before I list a few examples of ancient Egypt-inspired rides or theme park “lands”, I want to note that I love riding these kitschy rides. As an Egyptologist I find the theming, tacky and garish, as it might be, fun. As an Egyptologist who has spent a lot of time in Egypt as an archaeologist, historian, non-profit Board member, and tourist, I also recognize the potential harm. Let me explain by example: the Busch Gardens “Dark Continent” park in Tampa Bay, Florida. This park was one of the first in Florida, opening in 1959 (it was not until 1971 that Disney World’s Orlando park opened). Busch Gardens originated as an Anheuser-Busch brewery and garden, adding animals and other attractions in the 1970’s. From 1976 to the 1990’s the park was called “Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent.” This framing was a colonialist, racist, and xenophobic reference to Africa that perpetuated the idea that Africa was a “backwards” continent full of “uncivilized” people built upon the rhetoric of British and European imperialism at the turn of the 20th century (the so-called fin de siècle). The theme park was later, from 2006-2008, re-named Busch Gardens Africa; thereafter, it was simply known as “Busch Gardens Tampa Bay”. 

Today, despite the name changes, the park still holds to its original theming with “lands” called Congo, Morocco, Edge of Africa, Egypt, and Sesame Street Safari of Fun. The Egypt land, which opened in 1996, is home to rides called Cheetah Hunt, Cobra’s Curse, and Montu. This land, however, collapses the boundaries between ancient and modern. While Cobra’s Curse and Montu are both ancient Egypt themed, Cheetah Hunt invokes the Serengeti (a region of Tanzania characterized by its unique ecosystem), and straddles the park lands of Egypt and Edge of Africa. The land includes a mix of architecture inspired by ancient Egyptian temples and more modern souq-like shops that evoke a stroll through contemporary Luxor more than they transplant visitors to antiquity. This conflation of the ancient and modern contributes to the collapse of ancient and modern in the minds of visitors, incorrectly presenting Egypt as though it remains “ancient” and “primitive.” 

The most famous ancient Egypt themed rides are, probably, “The Mummy’s Revenge” rides at Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Singapore, which are based on the sequel (The Mummy Returns, 2001) to the Stephen Sommers’ 1999 remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, The Mummy. The Universal rides are immersive and themed with movie-quality set pieces. This realism makes the rides particularly impactful. 

Fig. 1: Busch Gardens Dark Continent (copyright free).

The theme park context is a unique vehicle to experience ancient Egypt. Distinct from other literary and visual arts (such as Gothic literature or film), the immersive and embodied nature of theme parks and roller coasters contributes to heightened learning and remembering. Pedagogical studies—that are, studies concerned with best practices for teaching and learning—affirm that immersive environments benefit both student learning and longevity of retention. This means people remember things better and remember them for longer when their learning involves movement and numerous sensory triggers, such as sound, sight, and smell. Furthermore, the dopamine released during a thrill ride is important to both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory, as cognitive studies have shown. A roller coaster, then, is a particularly effective vehicle for creating lasting memories.

The spectacle of “otherness” in amusement park settings, though knowingly artificial and contrived, can still contribute to stereotyping, despite the visitor’s awareness of the contrived and artificial presentation. These rides and lands can also foster a love for antiquity, ancient Egypt, and archaeology that leads people to invest in protecting Egyptian cultural heritage or donating to museums or archaeological projects. It thus seems as though such rides and lands are not inherently bad or good. However, there does seem to be a lack of appreciation for amusement parks and rides as powerful teaching tools. Perhaps awareness of this could encourage those involved in theme park design to think critically about the implications of design choices, and/or encourage amusement parks to offer guests tours with local historians who can provide some context for the real and imagined histories told through their rides. 

Fig. 2: Boarding area, showing immersive theming, at Revenge of the Mummy, Universal Studios Hollywood (Photo by the author).

Here is a preliminary list of current rides and theme park lands that explicitly call up ancient Egypt or ancient Egyptian motifs. Please let me know if you know of others by submitting them to this crowdsourcing file (https://forms.gle/rAb6gypauaYxGwqt6). 

  • BelAntis (Leipzig, Germany): Cobra des Amun Ra
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (Florida, USA): Cobra’s Curse, Montu, “Egypt” land. 
  • Legoland California (USA): Adventurer’s Club, Beetle Bounce, Lost Kingdom Adventure, Pharaoh’s Revenge, “Adventure” [ancient Egypt] themed hotel rooms
  • Legoland Florida (USA): Beetle Bounce, Lost Kingdom Adventure, Pharaoh’s Revenge
  • Legoland Windsor: “Kingdom of the Pharaoh’s” Land, Laser Raiders, Aero Nomad, Desert Chase, Thunder Blazer, Scarab Bouncers
  • Parc Astérix (Plailly, France): Oziris
  • Universal Studios Orlando (Florida, USA): The Mummy Returns 
  • Universal Studios Hollywood (California, USA): The Mummy Returns 
  • Universal Studios Singapore (Sentosa, Singapore): The Mummy Returns 
  • Terra Mítica (Benidorm, Spain): “Egypt” land, “Grand Luxor Village” Hotel

Author: Julia Troche, Associate Professor of History, Missouri State University (Springfield, MO USA).

Featured image: Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy (Source: Spectrum News 13

Write a Comment


Project Manager

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Researchers

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel - Rogério Sousa - Eleanor Dobson - Filip Taterka - Guillermo Juberías Gracia - José das Candeias Sales
Nuno Simões Rodrigues - Samuel Fernández-Pichel - Sara Woodward - Tara Sewell-Lasater - Thomas Gamelin – Leire Olabarría
Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio - Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier - Marc Orriols-Llonch


egypopcult.lisboa@gmail.com

Total Visitors: 19574
Today Visitors: 1

Visitors online:

The Egypopcult Project is hosted by the Center for History of the University of Lisbon.