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Lighthouse on the Mediterranean
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 03 - 2008

The new Arish National Museum was opened last Sunday by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak. Nevine El-Aref reports on the event and its significance
Five years after building started and many more years since its inception, the temple- shaped, honey-coloured Arish National Museum stood poised last Sunday for its official inauguration by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak. The long-awaited museum has been erected on the very spot at the eastern end of Arish where the Egyptian flag was raised following the Israeli withdrawal from this part of Sinai in 1979.
Mrs Mubarak expressed her pleasure at sharing the inauguration with the women of Arish as they celebrated Egyptian Women's Day.
Upon her arrival Mrs Mubarak, along with Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), embarked on a tour of the museum's sections relating to the history of Arish from predynastic to the Islamic eras. More than 2,000 objects are on display, carefully selected from eight major collections in Egypt: the Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic museums in Cairo, the Recovered Antiquities Museum at the Citadel, the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, the Sinai Historical Museum in Taba, the Port Said Museum, and the Beni Sweif museological storehouses in Ashmounein. Artefacts unearthed at excavation sites in North Sinai such as the Horus military road site in Qantara East and Tel Basta in the Nile Delta are also on display.
During his inaugural address, Hosni described the museum as a "cultural lighthouse" in North Sinai. "It is unlike any other regional museum in Egypt," Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that Arish, once Egypt's eastern gate to Asia on the one side and the Nile Delta on the other, had witnessed important historical events through the ages. It was the stage for several military attacks by and against Egypt as well as an important artery for trade.
"The museum's interior design and display scenario have been planned in such a way as to make visitors feel as if they are spanning North Sinai's various eras through Egypt's many gates of history," Hosni added.
Visitors must reach the museum's entrance hall along a marble ramp lined with ancient Egyptian statues, where they will be greeted by a gigantic replica statue of Ramses II. Stepping inside the foyer, the visitor can view Arish's important military history via a model of the Horus Road, the vital commercial and military link between ancient Egypt and Asia, and its military fortresses. This road felt the marching feet of no fewer than 50 armies. From west to east, the Pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Ramses II crossed Sinai with their military forces. From east to west came the Hyksos, the Assyrian hordes, the Persian army of Cambyses, Alexander the Great with his mercenaries, Antiochus and the Roman legions, and the Arabs led by Amr Ibn Al-Aas.
There are also three-dimensional maps of ancient Sinai, panels illustrating scenes of battles that once took place on the road, and the Horus Road itself as shown on a wall painting at Karnak Temple in Luxor.
Hawass explained that visitors would first be guided to the museum through an introductory section showing Sinai during the pre-dynastic and Pharaonic eras. This part displays a collection of ancient weapons: wooden arrows, knives and boomerangs made of bone, as well as a collection of early Egyptian swords, military costumes and authentic models of fortresses and walls.
The second section, Hawass continued, was devoted to the Hyksos, who invaded the country from the east and are credited with bringing the horse to Egypt. This section shows paintings, cartouches and pots bearing the names of Hyksos kings, as well as the oldest mummy of a horse ever found in the country. Gigantic statues of the Pharaohs who played a major role in Egypt's military history to expel invaders or build up the country's strong army, such as Ramses II and Ramses III, Tuthmosis III and Nektanebo I, are also among the objects on display. A fine relief showing Ahmose Nefertari and his family, who made it their lifelong aim to rid Egypt of the hated Hyksos, is also exhibited along with images of ancient Egyptian deities such as Sekhmet and Osiris who protected their rulers in times of war.
According to Mahmoud Mabrouk, the artist responsible for the museum's décor, "Egypt is a country of war and peace." The third section reflects this contradiction by displaying the busts of famous Pharaohs who signed peace treaties with their neighbours. Among these were Ramses II -- who signed a treaty with the Hittites -- Amenhotep III and Horemheb. To embody this idea are three statues featuring Hathor, goddess of war and peace, in various poses.
The Graeco-Roman section has a collection of gilded war masks, statues of black bulls and statuettes of warriors. The Coptic section shows icons and reliefs featuring the Holy Family on their journey through Egypt and the Virgin Mary cradling the child Jesus. Golden crosses, ivory and textile items can also be seen.
Arish was on the pilgrimage road from Egypt to Mecca, and the Islamic section displays a black cover for the Holy Kaaba embroidered with gold and silver thread and sent by Egypt to Mecca in the reign of King Fouad. Pieces of mashrabiya (latticed woodwork), coloured glass lamps, silver and copper swords are also exhibited.
Sinai trade and handicrafts and a number of pots and coins are also on display. The pots are exhibited in an artistic style as if they are below water: almost a dozen pots are shown standing or lying amidst a shipwreck resting in the sea floor. The pottery collection is one of the most important in the exhibition, and features various stages of development in the manufacture of clay pots and pans produced in Egypt, as well as similar items imported from Syria and Palestine.
The second floor contains a library and a 50-seat cinema, while the garden has an outdoor theatre with a seating capacity for 250, an open-air coffee shop and a parking area for cars and 15 tour coaches. Ali Helal, head of the SCA's project department, pointed out the high-tech laboratory for restoring textiles, stone, metal and photographic development.
The museum basement is devoted to Sinai's ethnographic heritage and contains a variety of Bedouin handicrafts such as traditional costumes, women's jewellery, a coloured tent, bamboo baskets and plates.
Mohamed Abdel-Fatah, head of the SCA's museum department, told the Weekly that the opening of the museum falls within the framework of the plan by the SCA and the Ministry of Culture to build a number of national museums throughout Egypt.
Abdel-Fatah said that although plans of the Arish museum were drawn up in 1994, shortly after the return of Sinai's archaeological treasures, appropriated by Israel during their occupation, the foundation stone was only laid in 1998. Lack of funds subsequently placed the project on hold for nearly four years. However, in 2002 the Ministry of Culture put Egypt's museums at the top of its priority list in an attempt to preserve the country's priceless wealth, which included pieces both stored and newly-discovered. The plan was to create the optimum environment to display the treasures and thus release the pressure on the overstuffed major museums. Steps were thus taken to complete the museum in line with the ministry's plan.


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