Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The scene at the NMEC

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her21
Al-Ahram Weekly

The 33-feddan site of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake in the heart of Egypt’s first Islamic Capital, Al-Fustat, has remained almost unchanged since October 2010.

The NMEC’s main building is nearing completion, including galleries, corridors and exhibition sections. Despite still showing some concrete underlay, floors and staircases are encased in grey marble and the lighting and security systems are all installed.

The work is not proceeding according to the schedule drawn up in with UNESCO, however, as construction was put on hold after the January 2011 Revolution.

The museum was originally to be opened in July 2011. Owing to the revolution and funding problems, the opening has been delayed until 2015, and may well not occur for some time after that.

Plans for the NMEC were drawn up in 1990. The space allocated for it is now the parking area of the Cairo Opera House in Al-Gezirah.

Since the area proved too small for the planned museum, the idea remained dormant until 1997 when, during an iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fast) with the minister of interior, former minister of culture Farouk Hosni was so impressed by the panoramic view at the edge of the Ain Al-Sira Lake that he suggested to archaeologists and experts from UNESCO that it might make a suitable location for the museum.

All the authorities concerned agreed, describing it as the perfect site not only because of its attractive backdrop but also for its distinguished history.

In addition to being at the centre of the former city of Al-Fustat and near to Old Cairo, with its Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, Hanging Church and Ben Ezra synagogue, the site is close to Maadi, an important area in the pre-dynastic epoch, as well as to the Citadel of Salaheddin.

Selection of the site for the NMEC was formalised in 2000. The Cairo governorate removed all encroachments on the property and offered the Ministry of Culture the requested 33 feddans.

In 2002 the pyramid-shaped foundation stone of the building was laid, and in 2004 the first phase of the project was completed. An extensive pre-building inspection was carried out to determine if any ruins or antiquities lay buried below ground. An up-to-date storage space, similar to that at the Louvre Museum in Paris and the British Museum in London, was built on the site. This is the first time that such a storage facility has been built in Egypt and includes a high-tech security system that is directly connected to the police commissariat.

To access the storage space, magnetic cards from two inspectors are required. To tighten security measures further and prevent theft, each showcase has its own code connected to a special device, which in turn registers the time and the ID code of the curator who opened it. A laboratory to restore pieces in the museum’s collection is also among the achievements of the first phase.

The second phase started in 2007 but has not yet been completed. Tarek Al-Nagaawy, the NMEC project’s engineer, told the Weekly that work at the museum has been slow, but the team has completed the building’s commercial and cultural section, including a cafeteria, restaurants, cinema, theatre and 42 souvenir and handicrafts shops.

The museum’s glass pyramid-shaped roof will display a multimedia show of the different Egyptian civilisations. Escalators and elevators have been installed, as have the offices of the administrative staff.

Mahrous Mohamed, director of engineering at the NMEC, told the Weekly that there were attempts to loot the museum in the aftermath of the revolution. “Thanks to the workers of the Hassan Allam Construction firm, who were on the site, a human shield was formed against the thugs and vandals who attempted but failed to enter the museum,” he said.

The museum will display 150,000 artefacts from the principal museums in Egypt: the Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic Museums in Cairo; Graeco-Roman and Alexandria National Museums in Alexandria; and Luxor Museum. Items will also come from major archaeological storehouses, including those on the Giza Plateau and at Saqqara.

The NMEC will also house monuments, including the Seboua Temple of Ramses II, now on Lake Nasser; an entire façade of a Fatimid sabil; two columns from Djoser’s temple at Saqqara; a collection of royal mummies; and the mummy of the ancient Egyptian artist Sanejem, which is currently displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

The royal mummies will be exhibited in such a way as to show their different personalities and achievements within a social context, including models of relevant temples, tombs and obelisks.

The River Nile, handwriting, handicrafts, society and faith are the five main themes of the new museum. As Egypt’s source of life and stability, the Nile effectively gave birth to ancient Egyptian civilisation, which was based on agriculture. In the Nile pavilion, visitors will be able to traverse the various epochs, beginning with pre-history and continuing to the Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern periods.

One of the most important components will be the section providing the history of Lake Nasser — its creation and role in changing Egypt’s irrigation system and agricultural methods.

The exhibition will start with the reign of Pharaoh Mena, founder of the First Dynasty, and continue until the time of Senusert III of the Middle Kingdom. In this pavilion, a section will be dedicated to Egypt’s flora and fauna. In the handwriting section, visitors will see the scientific aspects of the nation’s evolution in science through astrology, mathematics and medicine.

Various kinds of handicrafts relating to copper and other metals will be on display, as well as sculpting, carving and architecture. Egyptian society and its system of rule will be explained in the ethnographical section, along with the different faiths.

There will also be outdoor exhibits, which will include several of the discoveries made on the site before the museum’s foundation stone was laid. Among these were a Fatimid laundry found in the 1960s by a French team; the oldest existing plan of an Islamic house, dating back to 75 AH; and blocks bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions. These blocks were eventually used in the construction buildings on the site.

The oldest dyeing factory ever discovered, with more than 100 clay dyeing pots, will be displayed in the outdoor exhibition. Ancient Egyptian artefacts found in the debris, including the udjet (eye of Horus) and scarab amulets, will be placed in a special showcase displaying objects recovered from the area.

To attract more Egyptian visitors, a commercial zone, including a cafeteria, restaurants, a cinema and a theatre, will be created in the museum garden. Bazaars and shops are also to be built.

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