Following almost six years of construction the long-awaited Suez National Museum had its official inauguration while the city was marking one year of Egypt’s Revolution.
While some of Suez inhabitants were protesting before the Suez governorate building, there were others at the city’s national museum celebrating its official opening.
Stretching over 6,800 square metres on the bank of the Suez Canal stands the two-story pyramid shaped building of the Suez National museum, relating the story of the city throughout the ages.
In a gala opening on Sunday evening, Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim officially inaugurated the museum. On display are 1500 artefacts from the prehistoric era to modern times.
Delighted, Ibrahim pointed out that the opening of the museum is the first archaeological event to take place in Egypt after the revolution. The memorabilia plaque at the museum was empty of any names in particular, and on it instead was engraved “In commemoration of all Suez martyrs.”
Ibrahim explained that by choosing not to feature the names of previous ministers, he was not ignoring their efforts and contributions, but rather he wanted to commemorate the Suez martyrs all over the history. Suez was the core of many straggles and wars.
He explained that the port of Suez was an important trade centre throughout the Pharaonic period and continued to grow in importance up until the contemporary period. Ibrahim spoke about Suez as a centre of copper and malachite mining, recounting that when King Sesostris III dug a canal linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean via the Nile the city became a trading hub with Suez as the starting point for exploration and commercial missions.
Turning to the modern period, Ibrahim described how after the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the city became the most important navigational link between east and west. 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 to Mecca each year from Cairo where it was made. Three pieces of the Kaaba’s cover are on display, including the curtain of the Door of Forgiveness.
“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,” he said.
Artist Mahmoud Mabrouk who was involved in the museum’s design told Ahram Online that most of the objects on display at the museum were from the original collection of the old Suez museum, destroyed during the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel. The collection was rescued by the museum curator the late Abdel Hamid Gharib who documented, packed and stored the artefacts inside sealed wooden boxes. They remained at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo until 2005 when the Ministry of State for Antiquities, which was at that time the Supreme Council of Antiquities, decided to build a new museum in Suez.
The museum is a two-storey building separated by an open hall displaying a set of Greco-Roman columns. The 2500-square metre first level includes the main display hall, a VIP lounge, a 100-seat auditorium and cafeteria, and a newly added hall displaying the mummification process. 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.
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. 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.
The museum’s mining display shows a range of Egypt’s industrial achievements that relied on mining from 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.
The hall focusing on the Suez Canal displays documents and paintings of Khedive Saeed, who issued the decree to dig the Canal, and Khedive Ismail, who inaugurated it. On one wall is a medallion with the face of Ferdinand De Lesseps, the French diplomat who played a major role in the development of the Canal, and on the other wall the royal vehicle used during the Canal’s inauguration. Bronze and gold medallions issued for the occasion and a set of decorations and awards distributed at it are also on show.
The museum was due to be opened in May of last year, but was delayed until January.