After the success of the Pharaohs Golden Parade, when a collection of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies were transported in early April from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to their final destination at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, the world’s attention turned to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), with high expectations of being entertained for its grand opening.
Although a date for the GEM opening had not yet been decided, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said that work at the GEM is to be completed in October according to schedule and promised that the GEM’s opening ceremony will be as impressive as the parade and dazzle the world as befits such a prestigious museum.
“Determining the date of the opening ceremony will be related to the global health situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than just the situation in Egypt. It will be chosen according to the most appropriate time for everyone, as presidents, kings and queens, and prominent figures from across the world will be among the invitees,” El-Enany said.
Work at the GEM is in full swing, and the Museum is a hive of activity. Armoured with white helmets and yellow vests, engineers and workers are completing the final touches on the building, while restorers and Egyptologists in white gowns and gloves are installing the Museum’s treasured collection in showcases or restoring the gigantic artefacts erected on the grand staircase.
“They are like surgeons repairing the priceless ancient Egyptian treasures,” El-Enany said, explaining that all the artefacts are installed in their permanent locations in the atrium and grand staircase and more than 65 per cent of the treasures of Tutankhamun are on display in their showcases in the golden boy king’s galleries.
All the 107 showcases have been installed in place, and 65 of them have been filled with artefacts from the collection. They are equipped with state-of-the-art display technology with environmental control of temperature, humidity, and lighting, in addition to labels with graphics and explanatory texts for each piece.
Upon completion, El-Enany said, the Tutankhamun galleries will be the most impressive of any museum across the world.
Al-Tayeb Abbas, assistant for archaeological affairs at the GEM, told Al-Ahram Weekly that most of the golden king’s treasures had arrived safely at the GEM except those exhibited in the Tutankhamun gallery at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and the 20 objects temporarily on display in the Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada museums.
Among the transferred objects are those that have never been on display before, as they were kept in the storehouse of the Egyptian Museum after the discovery of the king’s tomb in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The king’s fourth and third shrines, chariot, beds, musical instruments and other artefacts are now on display, he said.
Director of restoration and the transfer of antiquities at the GEM Eissa Zidan said that prior to the packing and transfer, all the objects had been carefully examined and detailed reports made to document their condition. The transfers were carried out according to the highest scientific standards, he said, and each object was carefully wrapped using special materials and then put inside an inner box and another external box using acid-free materials.
Work is also underway to transfer the Pharaoh Khufu’s first boat, now on display at a small museum on the Giza Plateau, to the museum, while all the beams of the second boat have been taken from its original pit discovered along the eastern side of the Khufu Pyramid on the Plateau. Both boats will be displayed in a special building now under construction inside the GEM.
The packing of the first boat’s structure is being carried out before it is placed inside an iron cage for transportation. To guarantee its safety, a rehearsal with a non-authentic object of the same weight was made before the actual transportation of the boat. The trial was successful.
Major General Atef Moftah, general supervisor of the GEM and the surrounding area, explained that the trial was the first in a series that will be conducted to guarantee a safe journey for the boat.
He explained a remote-control smart vehicle, imported from Belgium, completed the transfer successfully. The vehicle was loaded with stone blocks of the same size, weight, and height of the boat and embarked on the journey from the plateau to GEM using the same route, slopes and ramps that will be used with the authentic boat.
Abbas said the archaeological work related to dismantling, preserving, and packing the boat’s delicate parts has also been completed.
Eissa said that an Egyptian-Japanese archaeological mission headed by Sakuji Yoshimura and funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had completed the excavation of the second boat and nearly 1,700 wooden pieces had been extracted from 13 layers inside its pit. The registration and documentation of all the pieces was nearly complete, he said, as was their initial restoration.
He added that so far 1,175 pieces had been transferred to the GEM, where preparations are underway for starting the second phase that includes the final restoration work, as well as conducting studies for re-assembling and re-installing the exhibition.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has signed a contract with the Hassan Allam Consortium to provide and operate services at the GEM. The Consortium comprises Egyptian, British, French, and Emirati companies specialising in business administration, marketing, hospitality, promotions, quality control, and health and safety.
The selection of the consortium was based on the outcomes of a Panel of Experts formed by cabinet decree. The contract was awarded through a tender that saw a short list of five compete for the GEM’s facilities management and was finally wrapped up in March following over two years of negotiations.
THE GEM: Progress has been quick at the GEM, and 98 per cent of the construction work has now been completed.
Built on 500,000 square metres and bigger than the Vatican City, the museum’s trapezoidal architectural design and distinguished external wall offers an enormous panoramic view of the Giza Plateau. It will house over 100,000 objects from ancient Egypt, beginning with prehistory and going up to the early Roman period. Among the objects on display will be the unique treasures of the boy king Tutankhamun, some of which will see the light for the first time ever.
Upon entering the GEM’s main external gate, visitors will be greeted by the obelisk from the San Al-Hagar archaeological site in Zagazig. This will be the first obelisk in the world to be placed in a special display, offering visitors the opportunity to walk beneath it and see the cartouche of king Ramses II engraved on the bottom. Ancient Egyptian royal figures used to engrave their cartouches on the bottoms of obelisks as a mark of ownership.
Within the building itself, the famous statue of Ramses II proudly greets visitors. The museum’s unparalleled grand staircase, spread over 6,000 metres, will carry huge ancient pieces.
The GEM is the largest and most significant cultural project in the world today and is projected to change Egypt’s tourism map. It will provide a full cultural experience for visitors, and its grounds will include a 7,000 square metre commercial area with shops, cafeterias, restaurants, leisure and recreational activities.
The latter will include a 1,000-seat conference centre, a 500-seat cinema, eight restaurants, with two overlooking the Giza Pyramids, an open-air theatre, food courts, bookshops and other retail outlets, a traditional arts and crafts centre, a spacious piazza for festivals of more than 15,000 participants and a multifunctional building.
The streets around the GEM have been developed to highlight it as the centre of attention and to facilitate arrivals to the museum, untangling the heavy traffic for which the neighbourhood was once known.
The idea of the museum dates back to 2002, and it is meant to solve the problems of the overstuffed Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and to bring together materials stored at various archaeological sites across the country. The $1 billion facility was finally made possible thanks to funding by the Egyptian government along with two soft loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) amounting to around $750 million.
But what the GEM will provide to the world is much bigger than the sum going into building it. It will be Egypt’s gift to the world and a monument for future generations. With so many efforts going into making this dream come true, it is of the utmost importance that all concerned focus on how best to promote it to the world and how best to organise an unforgettable inauguration ceremony.
The GEM is no less important to Egypt than the Suez Canal. If well managed, it will be a major source of hard currency for the country and help boost Egypt’s tourism appeal.
Meanwhile, the new museum also has state-of-the-art conservation laboratories, recording and display facilities, and security systems that protect the objects. GEM facilities and programmes already provide world-class research and conservation facilities that attract national and international experts to Egypt and strengthen existing work that is being carried out in heritage preservation.
Abbas explained that the overall theme of the museum is kingship, and different aspects of this subject, so vital to ancient Egyptian history, are explored in each separate area of the permanent exhibition.
The Grand Hall focuses on kingship and power, and colossal statues of important kings and queens welcome visitors to the building. The grand stairs are a vertical gallery and key pathway within the museum, taking visitors to different floors via steps, travellators, and elevators and ending with the panoramic view of the Giza Pyramids.
“Single large statues and other objects related to kingship will impress with their scale and magnificence. These are displayed in different but related themes including the royal image, the king and the gods, divine houses, and the journey to eternity,” Abbas said.
On the third floor is the Tutankhamun galleries, displaying for the first time all the king’s treasure of over 5,700 objects. The exhibition is divided into five themes of identity, lifestyle, funeral, rebirth and discovery. “These large galleries will display many objects that have never been seen by the public before. The king’s outermost coffin and mummified remains will also be housed at GEM, and for the first time his complete collection will be displayed together in one space,” Abbas said.
On the same floor are the main galleries showing material from the Prehistoric to the Roman periods. “We have been able to choose from almost 50,000 objects already in the GEM and from other museums, archaeological sites, and storerooms all over Egypt,” Abbas said.
He added that with over 18,000 square metres of gallery space, the exhibition is divided into three overarching themes of kingship, society and beliefs. There are also different stories within each period and each theme. These are supplemented by nine digital streams with interactive and media displays, and four caves with smaller, self-contained exhibitions.
Other attractions include the HoloLens Experience that will allow visitors to immerse themselves using mixed reality headsets to blend historic artefacts and holograms. Visitors will be taken on a journey to discover ancient Egyptian beliefs about death, burial, and rebirth, and to explore the development and history of pyramid-building.
The children’s museum will have interactive environments and dynamic programmes to help children and families interact with the museum’s content. The space is equipped with hands-on activities, workshops, laboratories, virtual galleries and games. It will include a nursery, a traditional games area, a children’s garden, and recreational areas.
The educational centre includes classrooms to provide collection-based learning and research experiences and is designed to offer interactive activities with seminars and workshops dedicated to research, training, and outreach programmes.
A gallery will be dedicated to the Al-Assasif Cachette, discovered on the West Bank at Luxor in autumn 2019. This will display a large group of beautifully decorated coffins and the mummified human remains of priests and priestesses and their families from the 22nd Dynasty dating from around 950 BCE.
Outside areas include the Temple Garden, where architectural elements from temples throughout Egypt will be displayed amongst native trees and plants. There are also the Palm Gardens, the Land of Egypt, and Desert Land, where ancient gardens and landscapes have been recreated for visitors to enjoy.
The Pyramids and Temple Garden restaurants will offer visitors inside and outside dining areas with views towards the Giza Pyramids, and both will have separate entrances and extended opening hours.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly