Current Affairs - Museums

 

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A Boost for GEM

The new Grand Egyptian Museum got a welcome boost on the 1st May, for they received notice of the hoped for $300,000,000 loan from the Japanese Government. This will enable them to continue to the next stage of the project's development. In the courtyard of the Prince Taz Palace in Mediaeval Cairo, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul- Naga met the Japanese Ambassador to Egypt to exchange notes on a long-term loan offered by the Japanese government to help in the construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). The loan of $300 million provides 70% of the total budget projected at $550 million. The loan will be due after a 10-year grace period, to be settled in instalments through another 30 years with an interest rate of 1.5 per cent

President Hosni Mubarak laid the foundation stone for GEM on the 4th February 2002. It is set to be the world's largest museum - larger than the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the Louvre in Paris. A board of trustees headed by First Lady Mrs Suzanne Mubarak will be set up in an attempt to put into effect the previously launched fund-raising campaign in Egypt and abroad. A Web site calling for Egyptians and foreigners to shoulder part of the burden of bringing the GEM into light will also be launched.

The project of the millennium, as it has been described, will provide 5,000 new job opportunities for Egyptians with differing levels of education, as well as providing them with technical support through periodical training courses in different museological fields. The museum will be equipped to cope with an estimated three million visitors annually. It will also house a fully-computerised information centre for Egyptologists and a training centre where short courses on Egyptology will be given to museum curators and conservators. Specialised courses for IT specialists will also be held. A special section for children will be created in order to help youngsters learn about their heritage. The mission of the museum is to preserve, document, conserve, research and exhibit collections, as well as to educate and entertain visitors. A separate building will house the conservatory, library, mediatheque and other resources. The GEM will not, however, replace the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Tahrir Square altgether, as the latter will continue to house 10,000 masterpieces of Pharaonic art and sculpture from different historical periods.

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News on the Grand Egyptian and Other Museums

In November 2005, the Minister of Culture - Farouk Hosni said that the first two sites in the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which the ministry has established at Cairo, Alexandria Desert Road will be inaugurated early next year. The two sites are the power station and the World Center of Restoration, which represent the beginning of the $500 million giant museum, which is considered the largest in the entire world. The museum will be built on an area of 117 feddans (just over 100 acres), and will embrace more that 100,000 antiquities that tell the various stages of Pharaonic civilization. The museum will be implemented over the coming five years, and will provide more than 3,000 job opportunities to distinguished graduates. The Minister added that President Hosni Mubarak is closely following the progress of the various stages of the project and contributes by effectively surmounting any difficulties or obstacles that delay the construction of the museum. However, the results of the ‘archaeological survey' and ‘watching brief' that should have been conducted in this archaeologically rich area before the building project started and as the construction continues has not yet been made public.

The GEM masterplan, unveiled on 22 June, is impressive. The façade will be constructed of translucent alabaster, allowing the day-light to penetrate inside the museum's halls. An enormous main courtyard will extend toward the Pyramids like five fingers, each facilitating alternate tours through the 24-square-kilometer permanent exhibition space. The museum's grand staircase will follow a chronological route through the collections, culminating in a view of the Pyramids from the uppermost floor. The museum complex will centre on the Dunal Eye, an area containing the main exhibition spaces around which will spread a network of streets, piazzas and bridges, linking together the museum's many sections. Around the Dunal Eye gardens will be landscaped according to the topography of the site, in a pattern of spirals. Objects are to be arranged in both chronological and thematic order. In each of the chronological epochs: Predynastic. Early Dynastic, Old Kingdom, First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, New Kingdom, Late Period, Ptolemaic Period, Roman Period, certain key events will be highlighted as distinguishing historical milestones. The various (chronological) topics and themes proposed are for conceptual clarity divided into five main categories:

  • I. Kingship & Social Organisation (including demonstration)
  • II. Religion, Ideology and Afterlife
  • III. Knowledge, Arts and Crafts, Science and Technology
  • IV. Nile, Agriculture and Economy
  • V. Domestic life.

Schematic plan of how the new GEM will look when it is finished.

Throughout the GEM these strands cut-across the boundaries between periods and are hence trans-temporal, historical tracks. To render this visually so that a visitor can immediately recognise the period and track, the periods may be set as tones of a hue. The hue (colour) represents the track, while the tone (value, i.e., how dark the colour is) represents the time period. A large central display of the matrix will be installed on a wall and smaller displays, or information nodes, will be visible in different parts of the museum. Pyramids located at various key points of the museum will serve as billboards for the major developments in the various cultural fields of Egyptian civilisation in each period and will serve as an orientation device in two senses; 1) to orient the visitor from one period to the next, and 2) to highlight the key features of each period facilitating a quick grasp of the vast collections exhibited. It will serve as a very brief summary to the period concerned. Running through the museum will be main thoroughfares, which pass through several plazas that serve as the transition from one period to the next. Each plaza is marked by an orientation pyramid, which will carry the basic information of the period. The plaza serves as a transitional, information, recreational, and rest area. The plaza will provide access to the internet, an electronic museum guide, and access to further information on any aspect of Egyptian civilization, site location, glossaries, etc. The main thoroughfares will go through the various periods of Egypt's history. A second order of “streets” will lead off the thoroughfares to cut through the museum to see particular aspects the visitor may wish to see. There will be two main types of museum tour, the fast and the comprehensive tracks.

The winning Henegan Ping design team looked to monuments and archaeological sites throughout Egypt for inspiration. Computer animated simulations (illustrating scenes like Carter's first glimpse of Tutankhamun's tomb), a children's learning centre and special-needs access make the museum sound futuristic compared to the century-old Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. A separate building will house the conservatory, library, mediatheque and other resources. A large piazza will separate the Eye from a series of flexible spaces, including an auditorium that can be converted into three smaller conference rooms, temporary exhibition spaces and commercial areas. The museum will be equipped to cope with an estimated three million visitors annually. It will also house a fully-computerised information centre for Egyptologists and a training centre where short courses on Egyptology will be given to museum curators and conservationists. Specialised courses for IT specialists will also be held and extensive restaurant and shopping facilities are being planned. According to officials, preserving Egypt's heritage for future generations is a top priority. Since the museum is located at a crossroads of desert plateau and habitable fertile land, agricultural themes have been integrated into the overall plan. The museum will link to the Pyramids via a tree-lined esplanade, through which tourists will be able to walk, take a shuttle bus or perhaps even negotiate a camel ride.

A review of some of the costs and benefits associated with the planned GEM: The U.S. portion of the travelling Tutankhamun Exhibition is expected to raise more than $36 million, although the money will have to go through the treasury before it gets to finance the new GEM. The tour, organised jointly with commercial entertainment companies, represents the increasing drive to use private capital to market Egypt's archaeological scene. Still, revenue from the tour falls far short of financing the new museum's huge cost. With only $100 million coming from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, Mansour hopes international cultural institutions and foreign governments will step in with the rest of the money the project requires. Negotiations are continuing between the Japanese Bank for International Development and the Egyptian government to get a low-interest loan for $300 million. While the Arab Development Fund has already donated $1 million to the project, which helped finance the international architectural competition. The main goals of the GEM are not just to reduce the crowding in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, which will retain 60,000 artefacts on display with some 5,000 masterpieces of Egyptian art, but to provide a new experience that will attract visitors and contribute both to the generation of income needed for the safekeeping of the collections and the enhancement of the visitor's understanding of Egyptian civilization.

After the many problems that have beset the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, over the last couple of years, particularly the disappearance of valuable antiquities from the basement, the Museum Sector of the SCA, headed by Mahmoud Mabrouk has initiated plans to develop the basement of the museum to allow visitors access. With threats from the Peoples Assembly still ringing in his ears after the disappearance of the Graeco-Roman bracelets in early 2004, the Minister of Culture, Farouq Hosni promptly ordered Supreme Council for Antiquities Secretary General Zahi Hawass to make a complete inventory of every item in the museums basement after discovering that the last one took place when Egypt was still under British tutelage (71 years ago, to be precise). Therefore, 18 months ago, Hawass appointed a committee to catalogue the 110,000+ artefacts stored in the basement, as well as all those on display, in an electronic database. A contract, reportedly worth LE 12 million, had already been signed six months earlier with a state-owned company to insure and reorganise the basement. However, this "basement development company" that has been in charge of the museum for the past two years was the company at which the two culprits who stole the pieces from the Egyptian Museum were employed. The company in charge of the basement has since been relieved of its duties, and a new security company has been engaged. The new outfit is set to sign a contract with a British company, which will take over the task of registering the monuments and organising the pieces.

The cataloguing of artefacts, which has so far succeeded in registering 22,000 objects, approximately one-fifth of the pieces, is taking the form of recording each artefact's history, the material from which it is made, a detailed written description including its measurements, who found it and where, how and when it was discovered, and the historical era it belongs to. A photograph and where available a drawing of each object will be kept with the file. In addition to this, the location of each antiquity in the basement will be registered.

The basement of the museum is a maze of arched passageways and naked light bulbs hanging from decaying wires. It is packed with wooden crates, hundreds of them, sometimes piled floor to ceiling. Many of these boxes have not been opened since the museum was first built, and have been gathering dust ever since. When the clean-up first began many of the objects were caked in a thick layer of dirt, with lids and bottoms of coffins from different tombs all mixed up. Cobwebs cling to ancient pottery and stelae. Around 600 coffins and 170 mummies have been located so far. No one knows what may have been stolen over the years. Right now, it is a mess. There are human remains on shelves, human skulls sitting in crates, wooden biers, stelae, pieces of masonry, amulets, and pottery bowls and jars scattered all over the place. There are boxes of antiquities that were confiscated by the Anti-smuggling Squad, affiliated to the Interior Ministry. These boxes were placed in the basement as it was considered by these authorities as the only place safe and secure enough for storing antiquities. The contents of some of these boxes were confiscated by police more than 30 years ago, but the museum has not been allowed to open them as they have been sealed by the judicial authorities. Hawass points out that as bad as the basement is, the same applies to a number of storage areas and buildings - the Saqqara storage building, for instance, is suffering from rot and many of the pieces have turned to powder.

The processing and cataloguing of the basement will take many more months, but once it is completed modern lighting, as well as new digital lockers for storing artefacts will be installed. The basement will also have facilities and be prepared to allow archaeologists and post-graduate students conduct research on these stored antiquities. These researchers will also be allowed access to the database of the basement's contents. There are two stages to the basement development project: 1) the securing of the basement, as well as improving the lighting in all its halls, galleries and corridors; 2) cleaning, and clearing a third of the basement area for the company, which has been hired for the development project. As well as refurbishing the basement, the descriptions on the display cards of the exhibits in the galleries are being up-dated, giving more accurate information about the artefacts on display. The whole project is expected to finish sometime late in 2006.

In October 2005, the Minister of Culture - Farouq Hosni inaugurated the second Royal Mummy Room in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo. Wafaa el-Sadek, Director General of the museum was quoted as saying the new display in Room 52, costing $260,000, is fitted with state-of-the-art technology to ensure the preservation of these regal mummies. There are 12 additional mummies displayed at the museum, the majority for the first time, including mummies of Thermoses III and Amenhotep II. At present, 11 mummies from the Thebes are on display in Room 56, which was opened in 1994. The majority of the royal mummies come from the 1881 mummy cache in Tomb DB320, with additional ones coming from the 1898 cache in KV35 and a few other tombs. The Cairo Museum holds around 50+ royal mummies, not all of whom are kings; some are queens while others are princes and princesses. Although the majority date from the New Kingdom some, such as those of King Merenre, and the partial mummies of Queen Meresankh III, King Unas, Teti are from the Old Kingdom. Only one Middle Kingdom mummy is held in the museum, that of King Hor. The new showroom, which occupies an area of 170 square meters, has been designed like a tomb in order to make visitors feel like entering a real cemetery that dates back to the New Kingdom.

The European Union (EU) has just approved a grant of €75,000 to the SCA for restoring a number of antiques at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo. The project will last for three years and is expected to conserve around 10,000 antiques, according to Zahi Hawass.

October 2005 saw the AGM of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) held in Alexandria. In his speech, delivered by Sabri Abdel-Aziz, head of the Ancient Egyptian section at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass revealed the council's new philosophy "to convert Egyptian museums from large showcases for genuine artefacts to huge cultural and educational institutes". A lengthy and detailed overview of the AGM, and an important insight into ways in which Egyptian heritage is being stored and displayed. (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/763/he1.htm)

Work is continuing with the laying of foundations for the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, located in the Ain El-Sira Lake area of Fustat in the heart of Old Cairo. Construction work in the 32 feddans grounds should be completed by 2008 and will house the first heritage preservation facility as well as the first national archive. The first stage of the project - preparing the site for construction work by carrying out a routine but extensive pre-building inspection to check if any antiquities were buried below ground and the building of an up-to-date storehouse, similar to the ones at the Louvre and British Museum, has been completed. The total cost of the museum amounts to LE567 million funded wholly by the Save Nubia Fund (SNF) under the supervision of the UNESCO.

To access these new museum storage facilities magnetic cards from two inspectors will be required. To tighten security measures and abort any attempt at theft, each showcase has its own code connected to a special device which in turn registers the time and the ID code of the curator who opened it. A laboratory to restore pieces in the museum's chosen collection was also among the achievements in the first phase. The second phase of the project, the actual construction, is now in its early stages. The museum building will actually occupy only five of the 32 feddans, with the remainder being taken up by landscaping and outdoor exhibits consisting of antiquities found during the course of the pre-building inspection.

The planned four storey building -- of which the first two floors will be devoted to exhibits, the third to archival facilities and the fourth to an archaeological and historical library -- has an exceptional architectural design to integrate with its surroundings as well as symbolise the ages in Egypt's past. It is influenced by the architectural paradigms of its brilliant collection; hence the exterior features a somewhat neutral, simple look that suits its timeless quality. Its large, square shape represents the base of a pyramid, while a gallery equivalent to a pyramid ramp leads to a smaller building representing the valley temple which will encompass a 400 square metre educational institute and a conference hall. To emphasis the pyramid-shape of the complex, the building has a benben -shaped top which will house the archaeological library.

The museum will represent Egypt's diverse civilisations from the prehistoric to modern times. On display will be 150,000 artefacts carefully selected from the principal museums in Egypt: the Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic museums in Cairo, the Graeco-Roman and Alexandria National museums in Alexandria and the Luxor Museum, as well as major archaeological storehouses such those at Giza, Saqqara and Mansura. The exhibits will highlight the skills and achievements of the Egyptian people over the past 100,000 years.

The Nile, handwriting, handicrafts, society and faith are the five main component themes of the museum. As Egypt's source of life and stability, the Egyptian civilisation, essentially based on agriculture, was born on the banks of the Nile. In the Nile pavilion visitors will be able to traverse the various epochs beginning with prehistoric right through the Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic, up to the modern era. One of the most important subjects will be the section telling the history of Lake Nasser; its creation, its importance and its role in changing the irrigation system and agricultural methods of Egypt. The irrigation system exhibit will start with the reign of Narmer, founder of the First Dynasty, and continue until the time of Senusret III of the Middle Kingdom. In this pavilion, a section will be dedicated to Egypt's flora and fauna. In the handwriting section visitors will see the scientific aspects of the nation's evolution in science through astrology, mathematics and medicine. Successive eras witnessed Egypt's economic prosperity which helped expand the Egyptian market and developed industrial life in Egypt. Various kinds of handicrafts will be on show relating to copper and other metals as well as sculpting, carving and architecture. The various echelons of Egyptian society and its governmental system will be explained in the ethnographical section, along with the different faiths.

To attract more Egyptian visitors a commercial zone along with a cafeteria, restaurants, a cinema and a theatre would be installed in the museum garden. Bazaars and shops would be also built and rented out for LE2-3 million per month, an income which will serve for the museum's maintenance.

The outdoor exhibits will include several of the discoveries made during the inspection digs. Abdel- Moneim said that among these were a Fatimid laundry found during the 1960s by Le Service Egyptien des Antiquitiés, the oldest existing plan of an Islamic house dating back to the year 75 of the higra, along with blocks bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions. The oldest dyeing factory ever found with more than 100 clay dyeing pots will also be in the outdoor exhibition. As for ancient Egyptian artefacts found in the debris, such as Wadjet eye and scarab amulets, these will be placed in a special showcase as objects recovered from the sand. (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/742/hr1.htm)

Building work is well underway on the first museum in Egypt dedicated to the time before the Pharaohs – The Prehistoric Museum, which is being constructed in Qena. Located on the Nile Corniche, close to the railway bridge, the museum will cover the Palaeolithic, Epi-Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods. Until now, these periods of Egypt's history have largely been ignored by the majority of Egyptian museums. Over 3,000 artefacts have so far been allocated for this new museum, the brainchild of Dr. Mahmoud Mabrouk. These artefacts will come from various SCA magazines (storehouses) located around Egypt. A blueprint for the museum exhibition space has already been drawn up, including rooms for exhibitions about the life of during the prehistoric periods and how the first urban communities and nation state were established. There will also be displays about the agricultural work and industries during the Predynastic, as well as the ceramic vessels and other utensils used. Meanwhile, moving forward in history, there will be an exhibition about the life and times of the early kings of Egypt. The founding of this innovative new museum is sure to draw more tourists to Qena, which at present is generally overlooked by visitors. Qena is a very appropriate location, bearing in mind that the oldest skull ever found in Egypt was found here, while this Upper Egyptian Governorate is home to many ancient tombs and other structures. The importance of these periods in Egyptian state formation was recently highlighted by the well-attended international conference - Origines 2, which hosted papers on Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt (http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/Toulouse.htm). The Egyptian delegation at this conference was headed by Dr Mohammed Abdel Maksoud, Director of the Delta Region of the SCA and Mr Khaled Saad, the recently appointed Director of the new Prehistoric Department in the SCA. ECHO would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Saad on his new position. This new museum will surly be a must on the list of places to visit for all those professional archaeologists that attend the Origines and Poznan conferences and the thousands of other people that are interested in the rise of civilization in the Nile Valley.

In October, the Minister of Culture, Farouq Hosni opened the Imhotep Museum in Saqqara. Zahi Hawass said the museum is the first of its type in Egypt as it tells the life story of the 'Pharaonic Architect who built the Step Pyramid for King Djoser'. Construction of the museum took three years at a cost of LE5 million. The new museum will showcase 1,500 unique antiquities and will soon become part of the Egyptian tourist map. Mahmoud Mabrouk, Director of the Museums Sector at the Ministry of Culture said the design of the museum is in symmetry with the Saqqara Plateau and has the majestic pyramids of Saqqara in the background.

The Al-Arish Museum in Sharm el-Sheikh will soon be ready to receive tourist as 1400 antiquities have now been put on display, the majority having been moved to it from eight other museums around Egypt. The museum will also contain a Roman Theatre and a Cafeteria. The construction of the Al-Arish Museum, which covers 30 acres, took five years at a cost of LE50 million, said the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni. Celebrations marking the inauguration of Al-Arish Museum coincided with the October victory celebrations and will be open to visitors early next year. The Al-Arish museum displays the history of Sinai from the prehistoric era until the Islamic conquest.

Aiming at turning the beautiful city of Rosetta into an open-museum, the SCA has undertaken a huge project that includes the restoration of 22 Ottoman houses and a number of mosques. Hawass says the $4.5 million project will take three years to complete. One of the SCA's main challenges, however, is the problem of underground water, which is endangering the Azul Bath and the Zaghloul Mosque (see below Restoration of Islamic and Coptic Heritage).

The Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni will inaugurate the Rosetta National Museum after refurbishing works in the second half of November 2005. The rehabilitation operations of the museum took two years to be completed at a total cost of LE 4 million, said Dr Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the SCA. Hawass continued, that the rejuvenation operation of the museum came about as part of a national plan undertaken by the Ministry of Culture and the SCA with a view to creating a number of provincial and specialised museums in Egypt. The plan is aimed at shedding light on the history of Egyptian cities and their historical importance. The whole project is meant to sensitise the Egyptian people to the archaeological value of Egypt.

The Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria has closed for refurbishment. The work is expected to last for up to two years. The work will include restoration of the main building and the library. The museum's showcases are also to be upgraded so that artefacts can be kept in a better micro-climate and displayed more effectively to visitors. The Tanta Museum in the central Delta still remains closed for restoration work, a state of affairs that is likely to last for at least another year. However, papers were signed this summer for the development of a new museum in Minuf, just to the west of Tanta. This museum will house many of the artefacts from the region, including those excavated from the Graeco-Roman site of Quwaysna.

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ICOM: Egypto-Sudanese Cooperation

Egypt and Sudan are to promote cooperation in the antiquity field. In September 2005, the start of a massive Egyptian-Sudanese project in the field of antiquities was announced by Regine Schuiz, Chairperson of the International Committee of Egyptology at the International Council of Museums (ICOM). At a news conference held on the sidelines of a conference of museums at Alexandrina Bibliotheca, Schuiz told reporters the project would be held under the umbrella of ICOM and UNESCO. She said that cooperation will involve the establishment of a museum for Nubian antiquities in Sudan's Wadi Halfa near the borders with Egypt.

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Regional and National Museum News

The SCA has inaugurated a policy of opening regional museums. Although many well established regional museums are already in existence, including ones at Ismailia, Kom Aushim (Faiyum), Port Said and Aswan, more local museums are planned. The land and money have already been found for many of the new museums, and building is well underway at museums such as the National Museum of Sharm el-Sheikh, the Aten Museum in Minya, and the Aquarium Museum in Hurghada. In 2003 the Alexandria National Museum was opened, with over 1,800 objects helping to narrate the history of this famous city. Another new scheme is the creation of the Museum of Civilisation, which is to be located in the Fustat District of Cairo and built with money from the UNESCO backed Nubian Monuments Salvage Fund. This new museum will also incorporate large conservation laboratories. The Luxor Museum has also had a new annex built, amongst other exhibits of Egypt's military history it houses the mummies of two of Egypt's warrior pharaohs, those of Ahmose and Ramesses I. The Minister of Culture, the Right Honourable Farouk Hosni, announced that the first phase of the new national museum - the Grand Museum, which is estimated to cost $350,000,000 - will open in December 2004. The first phase of the Grand Museum is a conservation laboratory to facilitate the restoration of many of the artefacts to be placed on display. The building of the museum is expected to be completed in five years time, although it is not anticipated to be completely fitted out for a further seven years, 12 years in total before it is fully operational. The original Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Tahrir Square is to be modernised and will display artefacts and monuments that portray the daily life of the ancient Egyptians. However, this long-term plan will not happen in the near future, although the first ever Egyptian Museum Association has just been established, which aims at raising the cultural awareness of the Egyptian public and developing the museums facilities and services.

A happy birthday must also be said to one of Egypt's oldest museums on its centenary - The Egyptian Geological Museum. This important museum, establised in 1904, is now located on the Nile Corniche just south of Old Cairo, near Al- Zahraa metro station. The Egyptian Geological Survey, based at the museum until 1956, (now at Abbasiya) conducted much of the early work in the Faiyum bone beds, which form part of an ancient deltaic complex belonging to the late Eocene-Oligocene periods, dating from between 34 and 42 million years ago. Many of the fossils from this survey are now housed in this museum rarely visited by tourists.

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