THE COMMERCIAL areas and atrium of the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) were the venues for special cultural events this week before the date of the museum’s official opening has been decided.
The GEM, overlooking the Giza Plateau, will be the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single civilisation, the ancient Egyptian civilisation, and the home of the complete collection of the golden boy-king Tutankhamun, displayed as a whole for the first time since the discovery of his tomb in 1922.
More than two decades since laying its foundation stone in 2002, the GEM will open to the public soon. In the meantime, various events are being held at the museum in preparation as work at the museum and surrounding area continues at full swing to prepare for the grand opening. The opening date will be announced six months beforehand in order to ensure that heads of state, leading politicians, and top officials from countries worldwide are able to attend the gala ceremony.
The GEM Authority has decided to host selected private events and a limited number of visits and guided tours in areas ready to receive visitors. The decision came with the approval of the GEM Authority’s Board of Directors.
The tours will enable visitors to enjoy the outdoor gardens and the commercial areas including restaurants, cafés, and shops hosting leading Egyptian brands as well as the gift shop. Visitors will also have access to the Hanging Obelisk, the Grand Hall, and the Glass Hall. In the atrium, visitors will be able to see the colossal statue of King Ramses II transported to the museum in 2018 and the victory column of King Meneptah, in addition to two statues of a Ptolemaic king and queen found submerged in the Mediterranean Sea.
Other interior spaces of the museum including the main galleries, the two galleries of Tutankhamun, the Grand Staircase, the immersive exhibition hall, and the Khufu Boat Museum will remain closed to visitors until the official opening of the GEM.
Starting in November last year, the GEM has seen increased activity and public engagement in a test phase. In December, French fashion house Dior was granted exclusive access to showcase the Dior Tears Capsule Collection designed in collaboration with Denim Tears creative director Tremaine Emory. A month later, the internationally famous Egyptian soprano Fatma Said accompanied by the United Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Nader Abbassi preformed below the Ramses II colossus in the Atrium. The Art Cairo exhibition is holding its fourth edition in the GEM temporary exhibition hall.
Some Egyptologists and museum professionals have questioned the idea behind the events. “Why are we having these events at the museum,” one museologist asked, adding that they could spoil the grand opening as some visitors would already have seen part of the inside of the museum.
Others support the idea of opening the commercial areas and the atrium, however, seeing it as an opportunity to test the visitor experience inside the museum and check whether the shops and restaurants are suitable for the prestigious GEM. “It is an opportunity to check for any shortcomings before the official opening,” said Mohamed Hasaballah, a visitor to the Cairo Art exhibition.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly