Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass will officially inaugurate the Suez National Museum this Thursday. Built over three years with a budget of LE 42 million, the museum is 5950 square meters in size and displays 1500 artefacts that tell the story of the city of Suez from prehistoric to modern times.
Hawass says construction of the museum is part of a plan by the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) to establish national museums in cities throughout Egypt. The Suez museum displays archaeological artefacts, illustrations and maps that reveal the history of the Suez Canal beginning with the time of the canal’s ancient forerunner, the Sesostris Canal. This ancient canal was built during the reign of King Senusret III (1878-1840 BC) to link the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea via the River Nile. A colossus statue of the king is on show.
Attiya Radwan, Head of the Museums Sector at the MSA, explains that the port of Suez was an important trade centre throughout the Pharaonic period and continued to grow in importance through history into the modern era. After completion of the Suez Canal, the city became the most important navigational link between East and West. The museum reveals the impact this had on Egypt’s development, its trade relations with its neighbours to the east and north of the Mediterranean Sea, and Suez’s role in pilgrimages to the Holy Land in Mecca and Medina.
According to Major General Mohammed Sheikha, Head of the Projects Sector at the MSA, the museum is a two story building separated by an open hall displaying a set of Greco-Roman columns (332 BC-364 AD). The 2500-square meter first level includes the main display hall, a VIP lounge, 100-seat auditorium and cafeteria. The second floor houses six display halls dedicated to the Sesostris Canal, trading, mining, the Mahmal (the delegation who travelled from Egypt to Mecca every year to offer a new cover for the Kaaba) and the Suez Canal.
MSA Advisor for Museums Mahmoud Mabrouk, also involved in the museum’s design, says the Sesostris Canal displays feature a collection of artefacts and statues of ancient Egyptian kings who helped establish and protect the canal. They also include several texts from the reign of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC) showing the return of her fleet from the land of Punt. A head of Hatshepsut is exhibited as well as a set of blocks inscribed with the god Hapi, a symbol of the Nile. Mr. Mabrouk says these blocks were discovered at the Awlad Moussa area in the Gulf of Suez and are evidence of Nile contact with a distant region at the time. A collection of boats, statues of sailors, local and foreign pottery, and a relief of Merneptah (1213-1203 BC) defending the Egyptian coast against the Sea Peoples are also displayed.
Ahmad Sharaf, General Manager of Regional Museums, believes that the most important hall is the one dedicated to the Mahmal. Suez was at one time the most important stop for pilgrims to the Holy Land and the Mahmal were the people who carried the Kaaba cover from Cairo where it was made to Mecca once a year. Three pieces of the Kaaba’s cover are displayed, including the curtain of the Door of Forgiveness.
The museum’s mining display shows all of Egypt’s industrial achievements that relied on mining since the pre-Dynastic to the Islamic periods. These include the mining of gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, and precious stones such as turquoise, emeralds and garnets.
Salah Sayed, Director General of the Suez National Museum, said the visitors’ tour will end at the Hall of the Suez Canal. The hall displays documents and paintings of Khedive Saeed, who issued the decree to dig the Canal, and Khedive Ismail, who inaugurated the canal. It also holds a medallion with the face of Ferdinand Delyecebs on one wall and the royal vehicle used during the canal’s inauguration on the other. Bronze and gold medallions issued for the occasion and a set of decorations and awards distributed at it are also on show.