Edda Bresciani was an archaeologist and Egyptologist, Professor of the University of Pisa and a true “myth” of Italian Egyptology.
Born in Lucca on September 23, 1930, after classical studies she enrolled in the Faculty of Humanities in Pisa. The Faculty, as Bresciani recalls, was at the time the only one considered really suitable for a woman, because it was considered not intellectually demanding. However, the very young Edda immediately managed to subvert the established order, preparing her thesis on a subject that was almost unknown in Italy in the ’50s: Egyptology, of which at the time there were only two professorships in Italy, one in Milan, the other in Pisa, both entrusted to Sergio Donadoni.
The first Egyptologist
Edda Bresciani, in fact, was in 1955 the first Italian graduate in Egyptology. This event was followed by three years spent abroad, during which the young Egyptologist moved between Copenhagen, Paris and Cairo, to deepen her knowledge in language (demotic and hieratic), epigraphy, philology and archaeology. In fact, the Professor used to say, since graduation her approach to the subject was always been interdisciplinary. The aim was to find a synthesis between archaeology, history and philology, including, however, also civilizations geographically close to Egypt.
In 1968, with the establishment of a teaching post in Pisa, Edda Bresciani became the first female professor of Egyptology in Italy (only Sergio Donadoni in Milan and Giuseppe Botti in Rome were already tenured since 1958).
Medinet Madi and the Fayyum
The life of Edda Bresciani was not only linked to the Pisan chair of Egyptology, but also, and perhaps above all, to the Fayyum region, where she worked until 2011.
Here, from the mid-60s, excavation activities were resumed, first with the University of Milan, until 1969, then with the University of Pisa. Already in 1966 Bresciani was Director in charge of the mission in Medinet Madi, the large site of the Fayyum region, already investigated by Achille Vogliano in the ’30s.
Medinet Madi has also been protagonist of a series of international cooperation projects with Egypt for restoration and musealization. In the 2000’s, in addition to field research, two projects were launched: the creation of a large Visitors’ Centre and a restoration project aimed at the creation of the Archaeological Park (ISSEMM project, in collaboration with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Since 2011 Medinet Madi is an Archaeological Park administered by the Egyptian government.
Looking for another Egypt
In 1974 Edda obtained for the University of Pisa the concession to excavate in the area of the necropolis of Saqqara, excavating the tomb of Bakenrenef, vizier of Psamtik I – founder of the XXVI Saitic dynasty (664-624 B.C.) – which, although already plundered in 1800, returned splendid finds and wall paintings. Remarkable is the discovery of a large canvas painted in tempera, dating back to Roman times, currently on display at the Cairo Museum.
Since 1978 she also directed the excavations in Gurna, near Thebes, where the workers gave her a statuette, which depicts her as a Pharaoh, with her name written in hieroglyphs. In the same year she founded the journal Egitto e Vicino Oriente, of which she is still the director.
Her personality and the spontaneity with which she relates to colleagues and workers earned her, in the Fayyum, the nickname of Mudira (from the Arabic mudir, “boss”), a word that, in the feminine sense, did not exist until then.
Archaeology and the Arab springs
Although Edda Bresciani has never officially taken a position on the various political upheavals that followed the so-called “Arab Spring Season” from 2011 onwards, the archaeologist from Tuscany continued to manage bilateral relations in the cultural sphere by working for the conservation and protection of the archaeological heritage that she had helped to rediscover for almost half a century.
The Egyptologist has been awarded numerous honors: from the Medal given by the President of the Italian Republic to the distinguished individuals for Science and Culture in 1996, to the “Campano d’Oro” prize of the University of Pisa in 2012.
Edda Bresciani passed away on November 29, 2020. She worked to her researches until the end.