First opening of the GEM

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 12 Dec 2023

An immersive exhibition on Tutankhamun, the Grand Staircase, and a collection of artefacts from the main galleries are all on show at the Grand Egyptian Museum, reports Nevine El-Aref

The Grand Egyptian Museum
The Grand Egyptian Museum


The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), a beacon of cultural heritage that is poised to become a monumental bridge between antiquity and the modern world, is preparing for its grand opening and ensuring the readiness of the services it provides to test the full visitor experience. 

Work is at full swing in the museum’s main galleries showcasing a collection of artefacts from the Prehistoric to Roman times in Egypt, carefully selected from almost 50,000 objects already in the GEM and from other museums, archaeological sites, and storerooms across the country.

Al-Tayeb Abbas, assistant to the minister of tourism and antiquities for GEM affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly that with over 18,000 square metres of gallery space, the exhibitions will be divided into three overarching themes of Kingship, Society, and Beliefs with different stories within each period and theme. 

These will be supplemented by nine digital streams featuring interactive and media displays, and four niches with smaller, self-contained exhibitions.

“The artefacts have been fixed on mounts inside 123 showcases, while 93 per cent of the larger objects have been installed in their permanent locations inside the main galleries,” he said.

The GEM’s Grand Staircase, displaying a distinguished collection of large ancient Egyptian artefacts, has already seen a soft inauguration. This is a vertical gallery and key pathway within the museum, taking visitors to different floors via steps, travellators, and elevators and ending with a panoramic view of the Giza Pyramids. 

The space is approximately 6,500 square metres in size, and large statues and other objects related to kingship impress with their scale and magnificence. These are displayed under different but related themes including the Royal Image, Kings and Gods, Divine Houses, and the Journey to Eternity.

Among the most distinguished artefacts exhibited on the staircase are a red granite colossus of king Seti I, another of queen Hatshepsut, and one of the Roman emperor Caracalla, along with a series of temple pillars and columns, niches, and obelisks dedicated to ancient Egyptian royalty. 

The colossi of ancient Egyptian deities are also among the objects on display, among them those belonging to Ptah, Sekhmet, Re-Hur-Akhti, and the Greek deity Serapis.

The Grand Staircase has been added to the guided tour of the GEM launched in March this year that gives visitors access to the Hanging Obelisk at the museum’s entrance, the Glass Pyramid, and the Atrium, which houses the colossal statue of king Ramses II and the victory column of king Meneptah, in addition to two statues of a king and queen from the Ptolemaic era from the Mediterranean Sea off Alexandria.

The tour, which can only be booked online, allows visitors access to the gardens and the commercial area of the GEM, which includes restaurants, cafés, and shops. The immersive Tutankhamun exhibition is also in the accessible area. Separate individual visits are also allowed from 9am to 6pm through tickets bought at the GEM’s main gate by card.

The rest of the museum, including the main galleries, the two galleries of Tutankhamun, and the Khufu Boat Museum, will remain closed until the official opening of the GEM.

The GEM is one of Egypt’s most significant mega-projects and marks the nation’s first eco-friendly museum. It is also recognised as the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilisation.

As part of the GEM’s soft opening, a three-month immersive exhibition on the golden boy-king Tutankhamun has been set up in the Atrium of the GEM to provide a glimpse of the great ancient Egyptian civilisation and the life of this mysterious king. The discovery of his intact tomb in 1922 in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings took the world by storm, as it continues to do today. 

The digital immersive experiences brought to the GEM in collaboration between both Legacy, the facility management operator at the GEM, and Madrid Artes Digitales (MAD), a digital experiences company, have proved popular, drawing more than 300,000 visitors in eight months since their launch in Madrid in November 2022, touring several European cities.

The 30-minute exhibition, premiering at the GEM on 21 November, is presented in either English or Arabic. It unfolds 16 times daily within a dimly lit rectangular space where dynamic images illuminate all four walls and the floor. Enhanced by vivid hues and a lively soundtrack, the narrative is voiced by a fictional Tutankhamun, providing glimpses into the enigma surrounding his short life and 10-year reign.

Structured into six chapters, the immersive experience commences with the genesis of the ancient city of Heliopolis and the mythical birth of Tutankhamun, sculpted by the hands of the Egyptian ram god Khnum. Viewers are then transported along the Nile and surrounded by the luxuriant landscapes of ancient Egypt. 

The third chapter delves into the intricacies of ancient Egyptian temples, including the renowned Abu Simbel, and is adorned with vibrant depictions. The transition to black-and-white imagery signifies the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, accompanied by contemporary global newspaper headlines encapsulating the monumental archaeological discovery. 

The final chapters invite visitors into the tomb, where the captivating wall drawings and treasures come to life.

“The GEM is one of Egypt’s mega-projects, and upon its official opening it will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to the people, history and culture of ancient Egypt,” said Abbas, who pointed out that the museum’s key theme is Kingship, and different aspects of this subject, so vital to ancient Egyptian history, are explored in each area of the permanent exhibition.

The GEM complex, which covers almost 500,000 square metres, is designed to be fully accessible to all, and includes a huge range of different exhibition spaces, a Children’s Museum, educational facilities, research centre and library, conference centre and cinema, restaurants, cafés, shops, gardens and many other facilities for visitors to explore.

The GEM’s foundation stone was laid in February 2002, but the construction of the museum began in 2012.

All the construction work has now been completed except that concerning the Khufu Boat Museum as well as the installation of a few objects inside the main galleries and a few items of the boy-king’s treasure now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and the Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada museums. 

The Tutankhamun galleries will display for the first time the complete funerary collection of the boy-king, which consists of more than 5,700 object divided into five themes of Identity, Lifestyle, Funeral, Rebirth, and Discovery. These 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.

The museum has a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, recording and display facilities, and security systems that protect the objects in it. GEM facilities and programmes already provide world-class research and conservation facilities that attract national and international experts to Egypt and strengthen work that is being carried out in heritage preservation.

Atef Moftah, supervisor-general of the GEM, said that the museum houses a hanging obelisk located at its entrance where visitors can admire this huge monolith inscribed with the names and titles of Ramses II displayed on an elevated platform.

The Children’s Museum is another attraction and has interactive environments and dynamic programmes to help children and families interact with the museum’s content. It is equipped with hands-on activities, workshops, laboratories, virtual galleries and games. 

A separate building, the Khufu Boats Museum, will display the two boats of King khufu discovered in two pits next to the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau. One of these boats was transferred in 2021 from its location on the Giza Plateau to the GEM, while the second was uncovered in collaboration with a Japanese mission led by Egyptologist Sakuji Yoshimura. 

All its beams were lifted from the pit in which it was discovered, restored, and transported to the GEM for reconstruction. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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