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Modern showcase for ancient history
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 09 - 2001

International tenders will be invited later this month to build a state-of-the-art antiquities museum overlooking the Giza pyramid necropolis. Nevine El-Aref reviews the initial plan and the objects to be exhibited in one of the world's most ambitious new museum projects
For every Pharaonic artifact displayed in overstuffed museum showcases, there is another that has barely seen the light of day since its moment of discovery. The thousands of such pieces which have spent decades languishing in storerooms waiting for museum space have constantly been joined by new discoveries from new excavations. At the end of September, the Ministry of Culture will launch an international competition to design a new museum on a new site two and a half kilometres north of the Giza plateau, near the midan at the intersection the Cairo-Fayoum and the Cairo-Alexandria roads.
The launch comes two years after completion of a US$ 1.5 million feasibility study financed by the Italian government and executed by an international team of experts. The five-year study period took into consideration every aspect of the project, from environmental impact to the museum's internal design. The antiquities to be exhibited were also taken into account.
"Building a state-of-the-art antiquities museum in this specific location, where the pyramids of Giza stand as a dramatic backdrop, will create the best environment to display our priceless treasures," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni says. "There will be more space, better lighting and more information to do justice to our priceless heritage." Hosni said such international organisations as the World Bank, the Museums International Union, the International Union for Architecture, the Arab Development Fund and the UNESCO had expressed their desire to contribute to the museum construction, which will be carried out in three phases at a cost of US$400 million.
The museum will be planned to provide all necessary facilities to cope with the large number of visitors anticipated, and to serve as a fully- computerised information centre for Egyptologists. Aside from its displays, the museum will have Internet links with other international museums. There will also be extensive restaurant and shopping facilities.
"This project is the best possible solution to preserving our artifacts," Mohamed Saleh, the new project's archaeological supervisor, said. He described the turn-of-the-last-century Cairo museum in Tahrir Square as suffering from stress both inside and out. "It stands, with its neo-classical style, in Cairo's busiest square, exposed to pollution and the vibration of Cairo's most crowded traffic zone," he said.
Gaballa Ali Gaballa, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the new museum would not be another "storehouse" but rather a "refined selection of carefully-displayed masterpieces."
The 117-feddan museum will exhibit 160,000 objects from various ancient Egyptian historical periods ranging from the prehistoric to the early Roman. Among the special items to be put on display will be selected objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun, the funerary furniture of Khufu's mother, Hetepheres -- found intact in her small pyramid at Giza -- objects belonging to Yuya and Thuya, grandparents of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and to the nobleman Senedjem, royal mummies from Thebes, and the Tanis treasures. Because the museum will be located near to the pyramid plateau, a special section will naturally be devoted to Old Kingdom artifacts.
Saleh said that major thematic display routes would be provided. The first would be the land of Egypt, showing the Nile water, earth and swamps, the desert and the oases. The second would detail kingship and the state, showing the succeeding dynasties, temple rituals, war and building activities. The third would cover the Pharaonic religion by showing the various deities, the revolutionary era of Akhenaten and the Amarna period, animal cults and funerary beliefs. The fourth and fifth themes would cover ancient society, with houses, implements of daily life, sports, music, dance, arts and crafts.
In addition to the artifacts which illustrate these themes, there will be models of tombs and temples, maps, and videos showing the Egyptian environment and location of archaeological sites. There will also be comprehensive diagrams of comparative chronology.
"The museum will have laboratories for scientific research, conservation, restoration and photography. It will establish an archaeological library where Egyptian pieces from other museum are exhibited, and there will be a publication and media centre with books, videotapes and CD ROMs," Saleh said. "Finally, one of the aims of the museum will be to raise archaeological awareness among Egyptian children by giving space to children's activities.
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