Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Happy birthday to you!

The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square celebrated its 114th birthday this week with a gala ceremony in its garden, Nevine El-Aref reports

Selim Hassan
Selim Hassan
Al-Ahram Weekly

Last Thursday, oriental music filled the evening air around the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square while the night sky played host to laser beams and trackers depicting Pharaonic patterns and hieroglyphic symbols projected onto the Museum’s deep-orange neo-classical façade.

 The garden of the Museum was converted into a large Pharaonic theatre furnished with a red carpet.

At the invitation of Minister of Antiquities Khaled ElEnany, Minister of Planning Ashraf Al-Arabi, Minister of Tourism Yehia Rashid, Minister of Higher Education Ashraf Al-Shihi and Minister of Public Sector Affairs Ashraf Al-Sharkawi, along with Cairo Governor Atef Abdel-Hamid, scores of top Egyptian and foreign officials, ambassadors to Egypt and public figures attended the celebration marking the museum’s 114th anniversary.

ElEnany accompanied the guests on a tour of the exhibition specially organised for the celebration entitled “Selim Hassan, Lighthouse of Egyptology.”

The exhibition puts on display nine artefacts discovered by Egyptologist Selim Hassan during his excavation work at the Giza Plateau and Saqqara Necropolis. A collection of photographs showing Hassan during the excavation was also on show, as well as a number of documents of his discoveries.

Some of these documents are written in Hassan’s handwriting, like the document describing the mastaba tomb of Nyankhpepi located in the area between the north and south causeway of the Unas Pyramid at Saqqara.

Director-General of the Egyptian Museum Sabah Abdel-Razek told Al-Ahram Weekly that the exhibition had been organised in collaboration with the Centre for the Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat), which had provided a 3D hologram show of some of the discoveries and a virtual visit to the archaeological sites that Hassan had excavated at the Giza Plateau and Saqqara Necropolis, such as the Unas Pyramid.

The exhibition is to last for ten days.

During the event ElEnany asked the attendees to stand in a tribute to the late former secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Abdel-Halim Noureddin who died some days ago.

ElEnany also announced the opening of the Egyptian Museum for the first time at night, twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm. He said that this had come after the completion of the museum’s new lighting system, costing LE2 million and funded by the Ministry of Tourism.

“This delivers a message to the whole world that Egypt is safe and ready to welcome visitors,” ElEnany said, adding that it was also an opportunity for all Egyptians to visit one of their landmarks where they could enjoy and admire their heritage.

The history of the 114-year-old museum passed before the attendees in a 30-minute documentary going back to 1858 when the French scholar Auguste Mariette took the initiative of establishing the Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte.

With the encouragement of the Khedive Ismail, said Elham Salah, head of the Museums Department at the ministry, Mariette acquired the former premises of the Overland Transit Company on the banks of the Nile in Boulaq for the new museum, a convenient place for off-loading cumbersome antiquities transported on barges down the Nile.

This site was near today’s Radio and Television Building, she said. Although Mariette regarded it as temporary while he planned suitably impressive and more centrally-located premises, he went to great lengths to remodel the building.

He adorned the façade in a neo-Pharaonic style and arranged the antiquities, which ranged from Pharaonic sphinxes and stelae to statues, false doors, busts and scarabs, into a chronologically disorganised collection that while appealing to the eye of the casual visitor did little to aid understanding of the artworks produced by Egypt’s long civilisation.

Greek, Roman and Christian objects were also displayed.

The museum in Boulaq opened in 1863, but a particularly high flood then flooded the basement, necessitating the rapid removal of the collection. The treasures were transferred to an annex of Ismail’s Giza Palace, now the Faculty of Engineering of Cairo University.

Due to the rapidly increasing number of discoveries resulting from excavations all over Egypt, Salah said, building a new museum became an urgent necessity. In 1896 a tender went out inviting bids for the construction of a suitable building in Tahrir Square. A year later, a design by the French architect Marcel Dourgnon was accepted, and the foundation stone of the Egyptian Museum was laid.

After four years of construction work, the museum was completed with its two storeys arranged around an atrium holding more than a hundred rooms. A vast basement housed the artefacts that continued to flow into Cairo from excavations around the country.

In November 1902, a gala opening of the new museum was held attended by the Khedive Abbas II.

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