Slowed, but still on track
Two great new museums in the heart of Egypt, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), are a few steps closer to completion.
The GEM overlooking the Giza Plateau will house antiquities from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman eras, while the NME in Old Cairo will showcase the history of Egyptian civilisation up to the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt in 2011 and 2013.
Grand Egyptian Museum
At a recent meeting with an official delegation from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) led by Hideki Matsunaga, the chief representative in its Egypt office, Minister of State for Antiquities Muhammad Ibrahim affirmed that the Egyptian government would pay its share of EGP100 million towards construction work. Dr Ibrahim and the Japanese delegation discussed the work needed to complete the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in 2015. Under the original schedule, opening was planned for 2012, but work was delayed due to the country’s political upheaval.
The minister said that some USD150 million had been spent of the USD300-million loan granted to Egypt by Japan.
The biggest and the best
The GEM will be home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world. Sited on 117 acres of land approximately two kilometres from the Giza Pyramids, it will contain 25 acres of service buildings, gardens and promotional areas that will be open 24 hours a day. Part of the museum has been built underground in order to provide natural protection for buildings and displays.
The museum will include 100,000 pieces that represent 3500 years of ancient Egyptian history. Half of these objects will put on display, while the others will be available to researchers and scholars.
A restoration centre with specialised laboratories equipped for restoring stone, leather, metal and wood has been built under ground to help maintain the optimum environmental conditions for the artefacts. The laboratories and warehouses will be secured and will connect to the main museum by means of three tunnels.
Construction work still remaining includes the museum building itself and the conference centre. This will contain a main auditorium with a 1,000-seat capacity and equipped for theatrical performances, concerts, conferences and business meetings. There will also be seminar rooms, meeting spaces, a multi-purpose hall and an open plan gallery for accompanying exhibitions.
The GEM will be home to some of Egypt’s most cherished artefacts. Top of the attractions will be the entire funerary collection of King Tutankhamun, which alone contains more than 4,000 items. There will also be objects relating to Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), as well as the Old Kingdom solar boats which will be transferred from beside Khufu’s Great Pyramid. The statue of Pharaoh Ramesses which formerly stood outside Cairo’s main train station in Ramesses Square will take pride of place at the GEM entrance.
A special section for children and those with special needs will be created in order to encourage young people to learn about and cherish Egypt’s unique heritage, civilisation and monuments.
NMEC suffers delay
The NMEC will be the first museum devoted to the entirety of the Egyptian history from pre-historic times to the present day. Its progress has not been smooth however, and plans have suffered delay after delay.
UNESCO launched a broad international fundraising campaign to help continue and finalise the delayed project. The UN organisation has provided long-term collaboration on the museum, including technical support, consultancy and fundraising.
It was as far back as 1978 that the Egyptian government announced its intention to build a new museum in collaboration with UNESCO. In 2002 Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the former president, laid the first foundation stone. Construction began in 2004, but it is still not finished.
About 60 per cent of the second phase, which includes the preparation of laboratories, renovation workshops, storage areas, unloading areas and the reception building, is now completed. The third phase of the overall finishing and the internal and external museum display are still not finished.
Egypt to the core
The NMEC’s archaeology displays will be exhibited in three areas. The first will be the main gallery at the heart of the museum, and highlights the most important achievements of Egyptian civilisation in chronological order.
The museum will have generous temporary exhibition spaces, an auditorium and an education and research centre, as well as a permanent exhibition on the development of the modern city of Cairo. It will act as a venue for a variety of events, including film screenings, conferences, lectures and cultural activities, and will target broad local, national and international audiences.
The visitor will be able to identify detailed aspects of the Egyptian civilisation in ages past, and the great transformation that occurred with the shift from hunting to a settled life of agriculture on the banks of the Nile. This led to stability and an administrative development that finally led to a central government.
Some of the displays show how the River Nile has been the backbone of Egypt’s civilisation and its stability; Egyptians exploited it for agriculture, fishing and transportation, and founded their great civilisation on its banks.
The exhibition also highlights the most important social customs such as festivals and events, as well as the education, judiciary and taxation systems, and the army, the police and other Egyptian institutions throughout the ages. It also features the customs and folk art of Egypt from earliest times, and presents and analyses Egyptian spiritual beliefs.
Throughout all subsequent stages of the displays, the fact that Egypt was always a pioneer in upholding moral values, philosophical ideas and artistic as well as civil achievements is well maintained.
The NMEC’s location on the site of Fustat in Old Cairo, overlooking Lake Ain al-Sira, is especially auspicious. It is geographically connected to one of the various civilisations in the history of Egypt. The two civilisations to the south, Maadi and Helwan, represent prehistory; the Pyramids in the west showcase the Pharaonic civilisation; the Babylon fort to the east embodies the Roman civilisation in Egypt, the adjacent churches of Old Cairo remind of Coptic Egypt; and the Citadel represents Islamic Egypt.
18 May 2014