Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A new home for Tutankhamun

The Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau is one of the most ambitious antiquities projects ever undertaken in Egypt and part of a grand vision for the future, writes Hussein Bassir

The colossal statue of the legendary Pharaoh Ramses II moved to its final destination in the grand hall of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Giza Plateau this week, ready to receive visitors when the GEM opens its doors in the near future. But what is the story of the GEM? 

The creation of the GEM is one of the most ambitious construction and antiquities projects ever undertaken in Egypt. Intended as a new and modern home for the boy king Tutankhamun and conservation and archaeological research in Egypt, the GEM’s mission is to host research in the interconnected fields of Egyptology and Egyptian archaeology. 

The GEM will be a major museum of ancient Egyptian history and civilisation and an exemplar of Egypt’s interaction and cultural exchange with the rest of the world, both past and present. Located close to the Pyramids of Giza, the GEM symbolically links Egypt’s past with its future. The museum is part of the Ministry of Antiquities, and it focuses on displaying the diversity of the ancient Egyptian cultural heritage and preserving the fascinating legacy of Egypt.

While the primary display facilities are presently under construction, the GEM Conservation Centre was completed in 2010 and is already bustling with activity. The museum is around 500,000 square metres in size and will cost approximately $1 billion. It will cover and display the history and culture of ancient Egyptian civilisation from the earliest Predynastic evidence through the Graeco-Roman Period. Approximately 100,000 pieces will be displayed and stored at the GEM, the most famous among them being the collection of the boy king Tutankhamun. 

The colossal statue of the legendary Pharaoh Ramses II, previously displayed at Cairo’s Ramses Station, will receive visitors to the museum at the entrance. The second solar boat of the Pharaoh Khufu is planned to be restored and displayed at the GEM in a separate gallery when its restoration and conservation is complete. The GEM will have six huge galleries of thematic and chronological displays, offering thousands of job opportunities during construction and after opening. It will partially open to the public in 2018 and will be capable of receiving millions of visitors each year. 

Collaboration and international links are cornerstones of the GEM’s mission, and they include financial and technical support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). From 2008 to 2012, JICA managed the Archaeological Database Department in order to register artefacts that will be owned by the museum. JICA has also offered technical support to the GEM Conservation Centre since 2008. It has offered numerous opportunities to train GEM staff, including courses in Egypt and support for dozens of overseas trips for further training.

In order to support further interactions between GEM personnel and foreign institutions and scholars, in 2012 the GEM launched the GEM Conservation Centre Symposium. This serves as an annual meeting for conservators from the GEM, the Ministry of Antiquities, and Egyptian universities and other institutions and each year has a specific theme. Scholars and keynote speakers from Egypt and abroad are invited.

The GEM has a library containing thousands of references, old and new, printed and digital, and including audiovisual items, to assist scholars. The library focuses on the conservation and technical study of Egyptian materials. 

Through a series of internships and internationally funded initiatives, training courses are available to GEM staff in Egypt, Japan, Singapore, the US, the UK, France, Germany and other countries. During these courses of study, Egyptian staff and personnel are trained in archaeology, Egyptology, art and architecture, museology, conservation and the preservation of cultural heritage. GEM staff study Egyptology, restoration and conservation, IT management, business administration, museum studies, exhibition and design, and text-drafting.

The GEM’s director-general started a cultural seminar programme in 2012, inviting Egyptian and foreign scholars to give talks at the museum’s lecture hall. Through these lectures, GEM staff meet with and engage other scholars, who can consult and collaborate with them regarding recent trends and modern theories of Egyptology, restoration and conservation, museology and cultural heritage. 

The GEM’s director-general and his team participate in and organise archaeological congresses at home, projects to save and restore Egyptian antiquities, archaeological excavations, written and photographic guides for the public, and scientific publications of the GEM. The director-general also gives press conferences and media interviews and writes for the foreign, Arab, and Egyptian media, sharing news of the GEM. Coverage of the new museum regularly appears in Egypt and the world.

The GEM is working on numerous projects hand-in-hand with Egyptian and foreign institutions. GEM Conservation Centre staff are presently restoring the copy of the Description de l’Égypte owned by the Supreme Council of Antiquities Ancient Egyptian Documentation Centre, conserving the Abu Rawash boats recently discovered by the Institut français d’archéologie oriental, and the Khufu solar boat excavated by Waseda University in Japan.

As a leading conservation, educational, and research centre in the region, the GEM also offers assistance to foreign institutions for training conservators and curators, setting up and planning similar facilities, and creating institutional programmes for new institutions.

The grand vision is that the GEM, the Giza Pyramids and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat in Cairo will eventually form a triangle of the most-visited destinations in Cairo. They will be a must-see for any visitor to Egypt, and they will also be the home to international collaboration with modern research and conservation facilities. 

When the GEM fully opens, it is expected to be run by a private administration with only the ownership of the antiquities being retained by the state. There will be an expert board of trustees, helping to ensure that the museum runs according to its mission in perpetuity.

The writer is director of the Antiquities Museum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

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