A gem of a project
The Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking Giza plateau will be ready to open in 2015, writes Nevine El-Aref
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Virtual photos showing the interior design and the outdoor landscape of the GEM while Ibrahim signs the contract to start the construction of the museum's main building scheduled to be officially inaugurated August 2015
The roar of bulldozers, trucks and rock-crushers will soon be heard again on the Giza plateau as construction work is resumed following a year's hiatus.
On Tuesday, at a gala ceremony in the administration building of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Cairo-Alexandria road, an assembly of journalists, TV presenters, photographers, archaeologists, curators and governmental officials gathered to witness the signing of the contract for the GEM's third construction phase.
A joint venture between Egypt's Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) and the Belgium BESIX Group won the construction bid and was awarded the contract for the completion of the GEM's third phase, which entails the construction of the museum's main building and the surrounding landscaping.
The LE5 billion GEM project is 65 per cent funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is providing a $300-million soft loan to be repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Payments will be made in instalments after a 10-year grace period following the GEM's official inauguration. Another $27 million was donated by businessmen, while the Ministry of Culture in the former regime provided $150 million.
A joint venture between Hill International and EHAF consulting engineers will provide project management services during the design and construction phases of the project.
Following the contract signing ceremony, Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim described the event as "a historical momentum". He told reporters that signing the GEM third phase contract this January, to coincide with the first anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolution, showed that Egypt would always be a constructive nation and not a destructive one.
"Egyptians built an enormous civilisation that impressed the whole world, and now this nation is building a new one for future generations," Ibrahim said.
He pointed out that the GEM construction project was providing 20,000 job opportunities, 5,000 during the course of the third phase construction and the rest after completion and inauguration.
Ibrahim announced that construction would take 40 months and the museum would be officially opened on 15 August 2015. It will relate the history of the ancient Egyptian civilisation from prehistory right through to the early Graeco-Roman period.
He said the whole world was expecting the GEM project, described by Time magazine as one of the century's mega cultural projects, to play a major role in the progress of humanity.
Osama Bishai, managing director of the OCI construction Group, said his company was proud to share in one of Egypt's future landmark projects.
The first and second phases of the GEM were completed two years ago. They consisted of the construction of a power plant, fire station, fully equipped conservation centre with 12 laboratories for restoring, scanning and studying mummies as well as objects made from pottery, wood, textiles and glass. Four storage galleries were also built and filled with 10,000 objects; 6,800 of which are being restored and will be in the GEM's permanent display. The conservation centre, which was built 10 metres below ground level, is thought to be the largest such facility in the world and is intended for use not only to restore Egyptian artefacts but also as a regional conservation centre. It incorporates a documentation unit charged with creating a computerised database of all artefacts.
The storage rooms are equipped with movable units designed for secure storage and easy access. The environment is determined by the materials kept in the individual rooms, whether they are organic or non-organic, or require low temperatures to optimise preservation.
The museum complex will centre on the Dunnal Eye, an area containing the main exhibition spaces. From this central hub a network of streets, piazzas and bridges will link the museum's many sections. The design is by Shih-Fu Peng of the Dublin firm Heneghan, winners of the international architectural competition held in 2003. According to Peng the museum, which will be partly ringed by a desert wall containing half a million semi-precious stones, will act as a link between modern Cairo and the ancient Pyramids.
Emad Maklad, head of financial and administrative affairs for the GEM, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the GEM would house a conference centre with an auditorium seating 1,000 and catering to theatrical performances, concerts, conferences and business meetings. The main auditorium will be supplemented with seminar rooms, meeting rooms, a multi-purpose hall suitable for a variety of events, and an open plan gallery for accompanying exhibitions.
A 7,000-square-metre commercial area with retail shops, cafeterias, restaurants, leisure and recreational activities is planned for the ground floor level, as well as a 250-seat cinema.
Maklad said that all these facilities were expected to attract more tourists and help raise more revenue to pay the GEM's construction debits. According to feasibility studies, more than five million tourists are expected to visit the museum and the Giza plateau in its first year, Maklad said, adding that the figure is expected to increase to eight million in 2020.
Hussein Bassir, director-general of the GEM, told the Weekly that the museum would have 100,000 ancient Egyptian and early Graeco-Roman artefacts on display. Visitors will be greeted by the red granite colossus of the 19th-Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II, which was moved five years ago from Ramses Square in downtown Cairo, and the statue of his daughter Merit-Amun, now exhibited at the Sohag open air museum in Upper Egypt. The spectacle will take them back in time so that they learn more about the ancient Egyptian civilisation in situ.
Bassir said that the collection itself would be organised thematically, beginning with the physical environment of the Nile Valley and the surrounding desert and oases. Other displays will focus on kingship and the state; religious practices over the span of the ancient Egyptian era, especially Amarna period; and the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians and their sports, games, music, arts and crafts as well as their cultural and social practices.
A special section for children will be created to encourage young people to learn about their heritage.
Bassir pointed out that King Khufu's solar boats, now in the Solar Boat Museum on the Giza plateau, will be among the items on permanent display in the GEM, as would the unique funerary objects of the boy king Tutankhamun, King Khufu's mother Hetepheres and Akhenaten's grand parents Yuya and Thuya.
He said the Tutankhamun collection would be better displayed at the GEM as it would be spread over a 7,500-metre gallery, while its current space at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square is only 1,500 metres.
"The GEM display concept is totally different from that of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation [NMEC)] at Fustat," Bassir said, adding that the GEM would tell the history of ancient Egypt by displaying artefacts from the prehistoric era to the early Roman period, while the NMEC would show the different civilisations of Egypt from prehistory right up to the present. "Tutankhamun's distinguished collection will be the cr³¡me of the GEM, while the royal mummies are the focal display of the NMEC."
Bassir added that stone blocks discovered recently in the Upper Egyptian town of Sohag would join the GEM collection. The blocks reveal an unusual phase of the ancient Egyptians' writing skills.