I went to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) at Giza on Tuesday to review the progress being made there. It was a very successful trip. I have always dreamed of this museum being Egypt’s answer to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the best and biggest museum in the world. I saw that its staff are working hard to realize this dream and that it is a successful example of international cooperation.
In 2002 we held an international architecture competition with UNESCO and the International Union of Architects to choose the winning design for the GEM. This new museum was planned from the start to be the biggest museum of Egyptology in the world. Architects from 83 different countries entered the competition with 1557 designs. 20 were short-listed by the committee, but Heneghan Peng Architects from Ireland were unanimously chosen as the winner in July 2003. Joining them is an international team of 300 engineers representing Egypt, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Canada.
Building work started in May 2005, concentrating first on a new conservation center, conservation energy center, fire station and an artifact tunnel to allow safe transfer of objects from the conservation center and the main body of the museum. The buildings are 10m below street level for security reasons and to cause the minimum impact on the view of the surrounding desert landscape. In July 2008 work started on the main museum building and museum site. These too have been carefully designed to not be any higher than the Giza plateau, allowing an uninterrupted view of the pyramids. Achieving this involved moving 2.25 million cubic meters of sand, which took 7 months of continuous work!
On Tuesday I listened to presentations given by senior staff members on the state of work. Everything is going well. After the interruption caused by the Revolution, everything is progressing again as planned. I then toured the facilities at the conservation center. They are secure, climate controlled and contain state of the art equipment. I watched the conservators and researchers conserving and studying a number of artifacts, and was very impressed by the young Egyptians there. I spoke to some of them and feel positive that the Museum is drawing on the best talent from here and abroad. I also visited the artifact stores and was pleased to see so many beautiful objects in safe storage ready for future display.
When this amazing project is finished, the Grand Egyptian Museum will be a true gem with its large galleries; study and education center; library; children’s museum and school; recreational areas and play parks; 3D cinema; theatre; arts and craft workshops for adults and children; shops and cafes. The Tutankhamun displays will comprise 30% of the gallery space, around five times as much as can currently be dedicated to them in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. His famous mask will be a final highlight of the visitors’ trip.
I also had a meeting with the directors of what will be the three biggest museums in Egypt; the Egyptian Museum, the GEM and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC). During this meeting, we discussed various issues, including their future cooperation, the importance of allocating unique artifacts fairly between them all, the benefit of having a shared database and joint training of curators. It is my hope that the GEM and the NMEC will be independent with their own museum boards for administrative matters.
Afterwards, I was speaking to members of the press and I made several important announcements, including that we will celebrate the opening of the GEM in March 2015. We will soon be moving the solar boat of Khufu from its current location in a small museum next to the Great Pyramid of Giza to a new, special museum next to the GEM too. A tender for this job will be put out later this month. I also announced that the sales of two statues stolen from Kom el-Khamsin are being investigated, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be returning some artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb and my efforts to repatriate the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin will be renewed again very soon.
Posted By: Mohamed Mokhtar