“Opening the Museum of Islamic Art after two years of restoration represents a great triumph for Egypt against terrorism,” Khaled Enany, Minister of Antiquities, said after the recent opening of the museum by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
First opened in 1903, the museum was closed in January 2014 after a bomb attack on the Cairo Security headquarters across the street damaged both the museum’s exterior and interior.
The 2014 bombing, which involved half-a-ton of explosive material, caused grave damage to the security building but also damaged nearby buildings. The magnificent 110-year-old Islamic-style building which houses both the Museum of Islamic Art and Dar al-Kutub (the National Library) and which lies across the street from the Cairo Security headquarters suffered badly. [http://en.wataninet.com/culture/museums/appalling-loss/530/]
The splendid stone façade and Islamic ornamentation were shattered, as was some 90 per cent of the Islamic style windows some of which are 7 metres high, and all the glass display cases. The galleries, wiring, audio visual and lighting systems, digital display and microfilm, water pipes, firefighting system, and central air conditioning were ruined. A unique collection of Islamic-style lanterns was shattered, lost to humanity.
To celebrate its reopening, the museum was open free of charge for a week from 20 to 28 January.
Restoration experts were able to salvage all but 19 of the 179 damaged pieces. Now, more than 4,400 exhibits are on display, including about 400 that are being shown for the first time.
Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art houses more than 100,000 artefacts that chart more than 1,300 years of Muslim civilisation in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world, reportedly hosting the largest collection of Islamic art in the world. It boasts a collection of rare wooden, metal, ceramic, glass, rock crystal and textile objects from across the Islamic world at large. There are also samples of calligraphy among which is one that goes back to the 7th century and is scripted on deerskin, as well as manuscripts and a collection of magnificently decorated copies of the Qur’an from various Islamic eras. Among the museum collection are unique ceramics some of them coming from China made by Chinese Muslim artists and carrying Arabic script, mosaics, coins, woodwork, textiles, tombstones, mashrabiya (lattice woodwork), metal and glass vessels, incense burners, pottery, metalwork and glass lanterns dating from different periods in Islamic history.
Elham Salah, head of the museums sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, explained that: “During restoration, experts were careful to correct any museulogical flaws that had existed previously. They relocated the gifts’ house to the museum’s garden, and added a number of halls: one for currencies and weapons and another spanning articles for everyday use. The design of the main hall was changed to reflect the vision of the museum to shed the light on Islamic civilization. New showcases were allocated for displaying the era of Muhammad Ali, who ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848. Showcases with open-tops are now closed since the displayed antiquities are vulnerable to damage by dust and humidity. Moreover, new types of glass used for the new showcases were used to reduce any possible damage due to sunlight. The restored objects on display carry special golden labels.
According to Ahmed al-Shouki, curator of the museum, three museum guides are available in Arabic and English, one of them published expressly for children. A website is being launched in both languages, and there will also be a mobile phone application.
The museum reopening mirrors the deep ties between Egypt and various countries in the world. The United Arab Emirates funded the renovation of the museum interior to the tune of EGP50 million, and UNESCO paid some USD200,000 for developing the restoration laboratories. Switzerland and the United States offered EGP1.2 million to restore the museum façade, and Italy allocated Euro800,000 to train restorers and provide new display cases.
8 February 2017