The first phase of the refurbishment of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square has been completed, and on 15 December many of the sponsors who helped to make the initiative possible gathered to celebrate—among them representatives from the German Embassy in Cairo, the German Association for International Cooperation (GTZ) and the European Union. The aim is to restore the museum to its original condition it was built in when Abbas Helmy II was Khedive of Egypt.
The ceremony, which included the opening of the second hall housing the belongings of the boy king Tutankhamun, was attended by diplomatic figures including James Moran, head of the European Union in Cairo; the Greek Ambassador Kriss Lazari, Prince Abbas Helmy, the grandson of Khedive Abbas Helmy II; Christopher Ritzalaf, foreign affairs officer at the German Embassy in Cairo; Jaromir Malek, former archiving officer at Oxford University; the Cairo governor Galal al-Saeed; Mamadouh al-Damaty, the Minister of state for Antiquities; and the head of the Egyptian Museum, Mahmoud al-Halougy.
Dr Halougy described the Egyptian Museum as one of the oldest museums in the world and the richest in terms of its collection. The present Egyptian Museum was built in 1902, first established to help prevent the widespread pillage of antiquities at a time when huge numbers of ancient Egypt objects were being openly taken abroad.
The first pieces brought to the museum were of ancient Egyptian art. These were housed in a small building in Cairo’s Azbakiya Park, and were later moved from there to the 10th century Salaheddin Citadel. In 1858 the then director of the Antiquities Authority was Auguste Mariette, who believed that Egypt’s valuable antiquities should have their own department or museum. He selected the exclusive district of Bulaq on the Nile Bank for the museum, but during a particularly high Nile flood in 1878 water got into the premises and ruined much of the collection. By 1891 all the remaining had been transferred to a temporary wooden building at the palace of Khedive Ismail Pasha in Giza, now home to the Giza Zoo. In 1892 the geologist and archeologist Jacques de Morgan, then head of antiquities authority, put forward two proposals to the antiquities committee: the first was for the rehabilitation of Giza Museum for a sum of EGP60,000, and the second was for building a new museum at a cost of EGP150,000. In 1894 the committee gave approval for a new museum and held an international architectural competition to select the best design. The winner was French designer Marcel Doron, and in 1897 in the reign of Khedive Abbas Helmy II the foundation stone was l Tahrir Square. The museum opened on 15 November 1902.
Back to original
For the refurbishment, seven coats of paint applied during earlier restoration were removed so that the original colour was exposed. The wall surfaces were treated, the missing parts restored and the ornamentation on the walls and on the tops of columns which had vanished during various renovations were replaced. The floors were restored and painted with epoxy. The windows were also restored and fitted with triplex glass to prevent ultraviolet rays from damaging the antiquities.
Dr Ritzalaf pointed out that the Egyptian Museum housed the largest variety of antiquities in the world, and said that the German government had pledged a sum in Euros towards the plan for the Egyptian Museum, and that the EU also pledged a sum on its own.
Cairo’s Governor Galal al-Saeed said the governorate was in the process of becoming a ‘Khedival Cairo’, which would apply to the area situated between the Tahrir—where the Egyptian Museum is situated, Ramses and Attaba squares and encompass 1,500 buildings that are similar to buildings in Paris and other European cities.
Prince Abbas Helmy said the idea to establish the Egyptian Museum referred back to the founder of modern Egypt, his ancestor Mohamed Ali Pasha. He thanked the German government for its efforts and said it was everyone’s duty to protect and maintain the heritage common to humanity, and that this was the best thing people could do.
In reply Dr Damati said Khedive Abbas Helmy II had played a great role in founding museums in Egypt, since the Egyptian Museum, the Graeco-Roman Museum, and the Islamic museums were founded according to a personal initiative from him.
For his part, Dr Malek paid tribute to Howard Carterand praised his work in registering the antiquities he discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. He added that it took years to complete the registration and 15 years to number them; and that up to now only 30 per cent of the pieces had undergone thorough study.
30 December 2014