Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Museums under attack

Al-Arish Museum was partially destroyed in last week’s attacks in Sinai, but its collection was in storage and escaped damage, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

The two-storey Al-Arish Museum in North Sinai is the third antiquities museum in Egypt to be damaged in an attack since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The first was the Malawi Museum in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya. It was looted in August 2013 during clashes between protestors supporting the deposed former president and security forces. The violence followed security operations that broke up the sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares in Cairo.

The second was the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, when a car bomb exploded at the Cairo Security Directorate across the street in January 2014. The blast blew a six-metre crater in Port Said Street, killing at least four people and ripping into the façade of the two-storey museum, damaging and destroying a large number of antiquities.

Last Thursday, it was the turn of Al-Arish Museum, which was partially destroyed during a series of coordinated attacks by militants at sites in and around Al-Arish. Those surveying the site following a return to calm found the museum’s marble façade collapsed, the entrance damaged and windows and doors shattered.

Inside, the false ceiling used to conceal the electricity and security systems of the museum had fallen down, glass was scattered throughout the galleries, and walls surrounding the patio had collapsed. The floor was covered with pieces of broken glass, stone blocks, metal and wooden beams.

“Thankfully, the museum had been emptied of its treasured collection,” the head of the museums section at the Ministry of Antiquities told the Weekly. The 1,500 artefacts normally on display at the museum were removed and transported to a secure location at the start of the attacks in North Sinai, in July 2013, and the museum had closed its doors to visitors.

He said that mortar rounds used in the attacks destroyed the rear of the museum and damaged a number of showcases within the building, as well as the security, lighting and ventilation systems. Some of the monitoring cameras were damaged, but the air-conditioning is still in good condition.

“I am pretty sure the damage is reparable,” he said, adding that an estimate of losses and the cost of restoration work required will be determined when the relevant committee submits its report on the museum’s condition at the end of this week.

“Although the museum was partially damaged, the condition of the building is strong,” Mohamed Al-Sheikha, head of the projects section at the Ministry of Antiquities, told the Weekly.

He said that no objects from the museum’s collection were in the building at the time of the attacks. There had been rumours that Bedouin objects and pieces of the embroidered cloth used to cover the Kaaba in Mecca were in the museum at the time, but these were false, he said.

Al-Arish Museum was officially inaugurated in 2007 with a budget of LE50 million. Although plans for the museum were drawn up in 1994, shortly after the return of the Sinai archaeological collection taken by Israel during the occupation of the Peninsula, the foundation stone was laid only in 1998.

Lack of funds subsequently placed the project on hold for nearly four years. However, in 2002 the Ministry of Culture put museums at the top of its priority list to preserve the country’s priceless treasures, both stored and newly discovered. The idea was to create optimum environments to display artefacts and release the pressure on overstuffed major museums. Steps were then taken towards the museum’s completion.

The 2,500-square-metre museum tells the history of Sinai from the pre-dynastic to the Islamic eras, displaying objects selected from eight museums in Egypt: the Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic museums in Cairo, Recovered Antiquities Museum at the Citadel, Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Sinai Historical Museum in Taba, Port Said Museum and Beni Sweif museological storehouses in Ashmounein.

Artefacts unearthed at excavation sites in Sinai, such as the Horus military road in Qantara East, and Tel Basta in the Nile Delta are also on display.

The museum stands opposite Al-Arish Ethnographic Centre at the town’s eastern end, on the spot where the Egyptian flag was raised after the Israeli withdrawal from this part of Sinai in 1979. It is set in a 16,000-square-metre garden.

The museum’s foyer displays Al-Arish’s important military history via a model of the Horus Road, the vital commercial and military link between ancient Egypt and Asia, and its military fortresses.

Moving from the west, the pharaohs Thutmose III and Ramses II once crossed Sinai with their military forces. From east to west came the Hyksos, the Assyrian hordes, the Persian army of Cambyses, Alexander the Great with his mercenaries, Antiochus and the Roman legions and the Arabs led by Amr Ibn Al-Aas.

The museum also houses three-dimensional maps of ancient Sinai, panels illustrating scenes of battles that once took place on the Horus Road, and the road itself as shown on a wall painting at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.

The central hall opens onto four other halls displaying other eras in Sinai’s history, each in a separate section. The first is an introductory section showing Sinai during the pre-dynastic and Pharaonic eras. This part displays a collection of ancient weapons: wooden arrows, knives and boomerangs made of bone, as well as a collection of early Egyptian swords, military costumes and models of fortresses.

The second section is devoted to the Hyksos, enemies of Egypt who invaded the country from the east. It shows paintings, cartouches and pots bearing the names of Hyksos kings, as well as the oldest mummy of a horse ever found.

Monolithic statues of pharaohs who played a major role in ancient Egypt’s military history, such as Ramses II, Ramses III, Thutmoses III and Nektanebo, are also among the objects on display.

There is also a fine relief showing queen Ahmose Nefertari, whose lifelong aim was to liberate Egypt from the Hyksos, and images of ancient Egyptian deities like Sekhmet and Osiris who protected the ruler in wartime.

The Graeco-Roman section has a collection of gilded war masks, statues of black bulls and statuettes of warriors. The Coptic section contains icons and reliefs featuring the Holy Family on its journey through Egypt and the Virgin Mary cradling the child Jesus. Ivory and textile items can also be seen.

Al-Arish was on the ancient pilgrimage road from Egypt to Mecca, and the Islamic section displays a black cover for the Kaaba embroidered with gold and silver thread and sent by Egypt to Mecca during the reign of King Fouad. Pieces of mashrabiyya (latticed woodwork), coloured glass lamps and silver and copper swords are also exhibited.

The second floor is devoted to Sinai trade and handicrafts and a number of pots and coins. The pottery collection features various stages in the manufacture of clay pots and pans in Egypt, as well as similar items imported from Syria and Palestine. A library and a 50-seat cinema are located on the second floor of the museum.

add comment

  • follow us on