The Ambassador of Egypt to Malaysia, H.E Gamal Abdelrehim Mohamed Metwally, writes on the how the Grand Egyptian Museum will showcase the wonders of one of the world’s most fascinating civilisations in an exclusive for International Business Review.
“Economic megaprojects including a new administrative capital, the world’s largest solar park in Benban, expansion of the Suez Canal, the development of 75,000 sq km of land on either side of the Suez Canal for industry, and 1 million new affordable housing are all turning Egypt into a hive of activity. On top of it all is the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) – the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single civilisation.
The genesis of the GEM goes back to 1992, when a Presidential Decree allocated nearly 50 hectares in Giza for the facility. In 2008, a partnership between the Egyptian government – namely the Ministry of Antiquities – and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and aided by local and international donors, enabled work to start. Following a flurry of activities, the museum is now scheduled to open in 2021. And once it is, visitors from around the world will have the rare opportunity to see some of the most unique treasures of Egypt’s cultural heritage.
The GEM will transform Egypt as a tourist destination; housing more than 50 thousand artefacts with one of the star attractions being objects from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, which will be displayed in its entirety for the first time since it was emptied in the 1920s.
“The GEM will be Egypt’s gift to the world with its huge collection of antiquities including King Tut’s unique collection and tens of thousands of other rare archaeological finds. By accommodating and showcasing the huge and ever-growing collection of ancient Egyptian treasures and archaeological artefacts, it will protect a precious cultural heritage for humanity.”– H.E Gamal Abdelrehim Mohamed Metwally,
Ambassador of Egypt
A US$1 billion state-of-the-art, glass and concrete display space, the GEM leads guests through a journey similar to Howard Carter’s when he discovered the Golden Boy King’s tomb a century ago. The museum is expected to attract 5 million visitors a year initially and, shortly after, surpass the 7 million visitors a year to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Wonder of the Main Galleries
Adding to the GEM’s atmosphere is its location – outside central Cairo, on the Giza plateau on the edge of the Western Desert – which looks out at the famous pyramids. It is being built on a slope and straddles the 162 feet difference in level between the Nile Valley, where visitors enter, and the Giza plateau, where the main galleries are situated.
Its façade, designed by Ireland’s Heneghan Peng, mimics the nearby Giza pyramids that rise out of the desert above the Nile. There are sculpture gardens in the museum park, while a massive statue of Ramesses II greets visitors upon entering the main atrium. The Grand Staircase, which leads from valley level to the plateau, will be lined with 87 statues of kings and gods. The main galleries are situated left from the Staircase and are divided into four eras.
These are pre-dynastic (up to 3100 B.C.) and Old Kingdom (the pyramid builders), Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom (Tutankhamun, Ramesses and Co) and Greco-Roman. These chronological galleries are then organised according to themes: Beliefs and Eternity (religion), Kingship and Power (rulers), and Society (the rest of us).
Each of the dazzling main galleries have enough original and restored works to keep visitors intrigued for the better part of a day. The pre-dynastic collection, which was limited to just a few items in the old Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is finally being given some prominence. These include gilded elongated figures, while the 140-foot-long solar boat, buried beside the Great Pyramid, has been worked into the new displays.
And we might finally see the glory of the little-known Middle Kingdom, which kicked off around 2050 B.C. Considered by some to be a high point in ancient art, it has been poorly presented until now. A point I would like to focus on is the massive restoration effort from the 17 dedicated on-site labs that went into preserving and restoring these relics, many of which are nearly 5000 years old.
Two other important artefacts that the GEM is receiving are two pink granite columns belonging to King Ramesses II, measuring six metres in height and weighing 13 tons. These granite columns will be placed on the museum’s stairs as a huge architectural element.
At the end, visitors are led right back to tall glass windows, which look out toward the pyramids and drive home the magnificence of Ancient Egypt—the grand finale of a chronological show celebrating one of the world’s greatest civilisations.
Treasures of the Boy King
If I were to be asked which of the galleries visitors should focus on, should they only have a day to explore all the GEM’s marvels, my answer would be the Tutankhamun gallery, which is located to the right of the Grand Staircase.
Previously, there were about 1,500 items from the Boy King’s tomb in the old Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, and this has increased to 5,400 in the GEM. And unlike in the old museum, which simply displayed the treasures, here entire narratives have been developed to demonstrate King Tut’s lifestyle, including what and when he ate, and what he might have been wearing (keep an eye out for Tut’s colorful, 3500-year-old bejewelled sandals).
Granted that visitors may not have the time to see the entire collection, I urge anyone who visits to at least look out for the gold mask and sarcophagus, the jewels, throne and chariots, which are the stand-out pieces. An especially interesting note about the Tutankhamun gallery is that the relics are displayed in the exact order that Carter came across them in the tomb.
All in all, the GEM has received 54,000 artefacts, including those found at the desert necropolis of Saqqara, which were discovered in October this year. In addition to artefacts from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the GEM has also received 2,000 objects of various sizes from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir and Tel El-Yahoudeya, which were brought there amid tight security measures from the Tourism and Antiquities Police.”
It is estimated that from 2011 to 2018, Egypt lost more than US$3 billion worth of artefacts as a result of theft and smuggling, and definitely much more over the course of history. While the monetary value is great, the greater loss for Egypt has been the violation of its cultural and historical heritage. With the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, Egypt can show off the wonders of its rich civilisation one of the grandest in history – in the place where they belong. At home among the Sphinx and the pyramids.