WATANI International 4 October 2009
The countdown has begun for the opening of Suez Museum this month. The town’s ancient and modern history are to be displayed in a brand new museum which took three years to establish over 6,000 square metres and at the cost of EGP30 million, it is the first to be set up by the Culture Ministry among its plan to establish 16 regional museums in various Egyptian governorates. The Suez Museum includes some 5,000 pieces of antiquity that go back to Pharaonic, Coptic, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, and Islamic eras. It also chronicles the coastal townspeople’s resistance against the Israelis during the Suez War in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967, and the October War in 1973.
In ancient times Suez, then called Seecot, was capital of the eighth nome of Lower Egypt. The Greeks named the town Heroopolis, or City of Heroes, and later Cleopatris after Queen Cleopatra VII. In the seventh century the Arabs called it Qalzam.
A presentation screened in the museum tells the story of the legendary canal built by the pharaoh Sesostris of the Twelfth Dynasty (1991 – 1802BC) to join the Nile and the Red Sea. Back then Egypt had a thriving trade with East African countries overlooking what is today the Indian Ocean. The Sesostris Canal allowed goods to be shipped through the waterway directly to and from Memphis instead of travelling part of the way by caravan. The canal went into disuse and was filled with silt but the 5th-century historian Herodotus wrote of attempts by the Pharaoh Necho II (c. 600BC) and later by the Persian king Darius I in the fifth century BC, and again in 270BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus to re-dig it. As late as the seventh century, it is reported that the Arab conqueror Amr Ibn al-Ass re-dug it. The Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur in the eighth century is said to have ordered this canal closed so as to prevent supplies from reaching Arabian detractors.
The Suez National Museum will contain antiquities that show statues and paintings of all the ancient Egyptian rulers who constructed and maintained the canal. It will also give historical information on Egypt’s commercial ventures, on pilgrimages to holy lands, and the digging of the modern Suez Canal in the 19th century.
The museum is located in Port Tawfiq near the southern entrance of Suez Canal.
The museum will have five main galleries. The first includes a statue of Senusert III, a head of Queen Hatshepsut, portraits and vessels from different times. The second gallery houses a number of wooden boats with models of sailors, a statue of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III and rock inscriptions representing ships.
In the third gallery visitors can see statues of deities and models of weapons from different ages, as well as unique bronze vessels and a history of mining. The fourth one includes a royal carriage and medals dating back to the days of the opening of the Suez Canal. The last gallery, named Qalzam, contains Greek and Roman antiquities together with some others discovered in the area. It also houses the curtains of the Kaaba (a cubical building in Saudi Arabia and the most sacred site in Islam), the door of the Kaaba and some rare Islamic books.
Fakher Fakher, head of construction administration, describes the building’s three floors. The first floor includes a gallery for VIP visitors, a large lecture hall, a cafeteria, library, temporary presentation hall, administration and human resources offices, secretarial office, a store room and some essential departments such as restoration and photography departments. It also contains a souvenir and gift shop, Tourist Police office and a spacious reception area.
The well-designed open air gallery on the second floor occupies 2,200 square metres. The third floor includes several galleries named respectively the Greek Hall, the Islamic Hall, and the Qalzam Hall
All necessary preparations are now complete including the air-conditioning, lifts, fire extinguishers, fire prevention and a security system against theft, and vocal and visual networks that show the most important contents of the museum. The new museum will be open to the public during the celebrations to mark the 6 October victory.