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Final home for Tutankhamun's treasure
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 24 - 01 - 2002

The new Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Pyramids is in the process of becoming a reality. Nevine El-Aref examines the prospects
For many years, newly-found antiquities and other distinguished artefacts have languished in storerooms or been crammed into overstuffed display cases in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. Now a project to build a high-tech museum to display thousands of priceless antiquities is gaining momentum.
The Ministry of Culture has launched an international architectural competition to design the Grand Egyptian Museum in a new location three kilometres north of the Giza Pyramids.
"Building a state-of-the-art antiquities museum near the Pyramids of Giza will create the best environment for the display of our priceless treasures. There will be more space, better lighting for the antiquities' display and more information available, which will do justice to our priceless heritage," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly. He described the new museum project as one of the "world's most ambitious projects."
The Arab Development Fund has offered an initial grant of $1 million, which will be used to help finance the competition. The construction and other executive requirements for completion of the project will be financed locally by the Ministry of Culture and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), while the World Bank has expressed its intention to contribute to the museum's construction with a soft-term loan with interest due 20 years after the museum's inauguration.
At a press conference on 9 January to launch the competition, Hosni said a fee of $350 would be required from each competition entrant, plus written evidence that the participant was a qualified architect practising the profession in his or her country or country of residence.
Participation will be regulated in accordance with the revised recommendations with respect to the International Competitions in Architecture and Town Planning adopted in 1978 by the UNESCO General Conference.
Once paperwork is completed and approved, participants will be expected to submit the designs by the end of April 2002. Hosni said that between May and August a jury would select 20 distinguished designs. The nine-member jury will include architects, Egyptologists, and museologists from Egypt, England, Mexico, Italy, France and Korea. From September to November, the jury will make of choice of the top three winners. The first winner will be awarded $250,000 and his design will be executed. The second will take $150,000, and the third $100,000.
The museum, which will be set in 117 feddans of grounds and have an estimated budget of $350 million, is expected to be completed in four to five years. The Italian government has already financed and carried out a feasibility study.
"The feasibility study took into consideration every aspect of the project, from the environmental impact to the museum's internal design as well as its computerised stimulation and the choice of antiquities to be exhibited," Mohamed Ghoneim, the project superviser, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Ghoneim said the design should not only envisage a luxurious structure to display 130,000 ancient Egyptian objects, but should be a museum complex to expand the knowledge of visitors and enrich the quality of their experience through the interactive use of appropriate techniques and technologies.
Through computer stimulation and illustrations, a visitor who takes a tour round the army section, for example, will not only enjoy watching the objects on display but will hear Pharaonic martial music and can visualise troops mobilised for war.
According to SCA Secretary-General Gaballah Ali Gaballah, the museum is expected to provide all necessary facilities to cope with a large number of visitors, which experts say could be three million annually. It would also serve as a fully- computerised information centre for Egyptologists, and have Internet links with other international museums. There would also be extensive restaurant and shopping facilities.
"The new museum is the best solution to the problem of preserving our artefacts, which are overstuffed in the Egyptian museum or stored at various archaeological sites," the project's archaeological supervisor, Mohamed Saleh, said. He described the 100-year-old building in Tahrir Square as "suffering inside and outside." It stands in neo- classical style in Cairo's busiest square, exposed to the pollution and vibration of Cairo's most crowded traffic zone, Owing to the abundance of findings from archaeological sites all over the country, the number of artefacts exhibited has made the 1,500-square-metre museum very crowded. Many more objects are stored in the museum's off-limits basement.
"That does not mean we will shut down the Egyptian Museum, which will still house masterpieces of Pharaonic art such as the collection of Pharaoh Khufu, builder of the great Pyramid of Giza; art from the time of Hatchepsut; and sarcophagi and wall reliefs from various ages," Saleh said. In all, 10,000 pieces will remain in the Tahrir Square building.
The new museum will house objects from Ancient Egypt beginning with prehistory and going up to the early Roman period. On display will be the unique funerary objects of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun; Hetepheres, mother of the Pharaoh Khufu; Yuya and Thuya, the grandfathers of Pharaoh Akhnaten; Senedjem, the principal artist of Pharaoh Ramses II; the royal mummies and the treasures of Tanis.
Funerary objects of Mekete-Re, a high-ranking official of the 11th dynasty, part of whose treasure is exhibited in New York's Metropolitan Museum, will also be among the items transferred.
"To provide a complete view of what was in Mekete-Re's tomb when it was discovered in 1924, photographs of those of his artefacts exhibited in the Met will be displayed," Saleh told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said this system would be followed for all the ancient Egyptian treasures exhibited abroad.
The new museum will pay homage to Pharaoh Tutankhamun by housing his 3,500-piece treasure in splendour. Computers, Saleh said, would be used in the rearrangement of the objects inside the tomb. This would allow visitors to relive Howard Carter's emotions at the time of the 1922 discovery.
Major thematic display routes will be provided. The first will be the country of Egypt, showing the River Nile, the land and the swamps, the desert and the oases. The second will be kingship and the state, showing the ancient dynasties, their rituals, wars and building activities. The third will be the Pharaonic religion, displaying the various deities, the revolutionary religious regime of the Amarna period, temples, animal cults and funerary beliefs. The fourth and fifth themes will display Ancient Egyptian society with its dwellings, instruments of daily life, sports, games, music, dance, arts and crafts.
In addition to actual artefacts to illustrate these themes, a few models of tombs and temples will be presented. Spaces for maps and videos showing the Egyptian environment and location of archaeological sites, as well as diagrams of comparative chronology, will be featured in the new museum.
"The museum will be an intelligent building with advanced information systems," Gaballah said. He said the museum would contain proper laboratories for scientific research, conservation, restoration and photography according to the latest of technology. It would also hold an Egyptological library for the study of Egyptian artefacts exhibited in museums outside Egypt in order to meet the needs of researchers, as well as a publication and media centre for books, videotapes and CD-ROMs. To raise archaeological awareness among Egyptian children, space would be available for children's activities.
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