This website requires JavaScript.


History & Heritage


The BNF celebrates the decryption of hieroglyphs

From April 12 to July 24, the Bibliothèque nationale de France invites its visitors to discover hieroglyphics. Two hundred years after the deciphering of this ancient Egyptian language, Paris celebrates the year Champollion, from his first name Jean-François, father of this dictionary of the pharaonic language to French.

While the meaning of this ancient writing had been lost for more than a millennium, in 1822, the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion finally succeeded in making sense of these drawings. And this major discovery was revealed in a letter from the philologist to M. Dacier, which is also featured at the entrance to the BnF’s exhibition on the occasion of its bicentennial.


Jean-François Champollion.

The imperial quest for hieroglyphs

At the beginning of the 19th century and following the expedition to Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte, the quest for the translation of hieroglyphs was the subject of a sensitive rivalry between the French and British empires. Thomas Young, the British competitor of Jean-François Champollion, would probably have lacked the knowledge of Coptic to decipher the Egyptian grammar, unlike the Frenchman, a confirmed polyglot.


The military expedition led by Napoleon in Egypt took place from 1798 to 1801.

A scholar and a curious explorer

The story of Jean-François Champollion will be at the heart of the Paris exhibition. Indeed, more than having elucidated a mystery that reigned for ten centuries, Champollion, known as “the Young”, was one of the most respected literary scholars of his time. Few oriental languages escaped his curiosity. He was interested in Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, Chaldean, Persian, and Sanskrit, as well as in hieroglyphics.

”He was not satisfied with simply finding a script. He revived a whole language.”

Vanessa Desclaux, curator of the exhibition..

What to see at the exhibition?

The exhibition at the BnF offers a very colorful journey, aimed at both an educated and a family audience. Playful videos will follow the path of the exhibition, and will undoubtedly be a great success with children. Historical pieces lent by the Louvre Museum, such as a sarcophagus, will also find their place in the middle of this exhibition which is visited as an adventure. The occasion will also allow visitors to admire the oldest Egyptian literary text that has come into the hands of researchers around the world: the Prisse papyrus, dating from around 1800 BC. The exhibition will not lack surprises to make you relive the time of the pharaohs!

See also

The exhibition “Algeria my love” to discover in Paris

Published on 13 April 2022