CAIRO: After three years of standstill due to bureaucracy and political turmoil in the aftermath of the 2011 January 25 Revolution, the National Museum for Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), which lays claim to Egypt’s national history and by extension identity, will finally be in the limelight with a long-awaited partial opening in November.
“When completed, the NMEC will be the first comprehensive national museum of its kind in the Middle East. It’s expected to achieve a significant quantum leap in the concept of museums and in the history of Egypt’s tourism industry,” NMEC General-Supervisor Dr. Khaled Anani told The Cairo Post Sunday.
Anani is an ancient Egyptian antiquities professor at Helwan University’s Faculty of Tourism and Hotels and an archaeologist at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology. He was appointed as the general supervisor of the NMEC in August.
The NMEC is built over an area of 130 acres in the world-famous archaeological site of Fustat, the earliest Islamic capital of Egypt founded following the Arab conquest in 640. It is within walking distance from the Amr Ibn el-As Mosque—the oldest mosque in Egypt—and also just north of Coptic Cairo, which encompasses the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, the Greek Church of St. George and many other Coptic churches and historical sites.
“In regular museums, tourists view artifacts, but here, they will experience Egypt’s intangible heritage, culture and 7,000-year-old civilization through documentaries and multimedia based tools demonstrating Egyptian customs and traditions, dress, industrial and agricultural development and other aspects of daily life,” said Anani.
The NMEC is expected to be a significant tourist attraction in Cairo with its 50,000 artifacts spanning all periods of ancient Egyptian history, along with all the royal mummies currently on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, he added.
Developed with technical support from UNESCO and the Salvage Fund of Nubian Monuments, the NMEC was designed by Egyptian architect Dr. El Ghazzali Kosseiba and Japanese interior designer Arata Isozaki, Ministry of Antiquities Museums Sector head Ahmed Sharaf previously told The Cairo Post.
“Its corner stone was laid by former Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny in December 2002, and construction work started in 2004. The museum’s inauguration was scheduled for 2009 but was postponed to April 2011, and then due to the political turmoil following the 2011 uprising, the construction work at the museum was suspended for almost three years,” said Sharaf.
Phases of the project
According to Anani, the first phase of the NMEC was completed in 2011. It includes the museum’s main building, which is a “cultural center” with 3D cinemas operated by 35 millimeter movie projectors. Display rooms, a multi-story garage, cafeterias, a conference hall and public facilities are additionally part of phase one.
“It also includes a fully equipped restoration center and a carbon dating laboratory, which is the first of its kind in the Middle East,” said Anani, who added that 90 percent of the second phase has been completed.
The third and the final phase of the project, with a cost estimated at 500 million EGP ($70 million), will start immediately after the partial opening of the museum in November. It includes display equipment, showcases, surveillance cameras, audio and lighting systems, multimedia and documentation equipment and monuments transferred from museums all over Egypt, Anani said.
The NMEC has a unique architectural design with a façade made of natural materials, said Anani. The main building takes the shape of a glassy pyramid, which can be seen from a distance and has a commanding view over Cairo. It also has Ain al-Seera Lake; Cairo’s only remaining lake, which could be a point of interest for leisure and entertainment.
“Inside the glassy pyramid, a visitor can view a 360-degree presentation of the most important landmarks of Egypt, with a sound system providing a detailed description of each site,” said Anani.
It also has 42 gift shops, which will help in increasing the number of its visitors and will contribute to the museum’s revenue. One of its halls measures 200 square meters, will be dedicated to children and be equipped with five instructional classes, he added.
“The reception is connected to the main building through a glass hallway while the main exhibition hall, which is located in the main floor, will feature a full range of Egypt’s history with its Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras,” said Anani.
The NMEC’s main floor will also feature a model of an ancient Egyptian tomb where visitors can experience mummification tools, the evolution of royal tombs in ancient Egypt and the concept of the ancient Egyptian afterlife in greater depth, said Anani.
The panorama floor will relate Egyptian history through the Nile with documentaries about each ancient Egyptian archaeological site along the Nile Valley and the Delta, with historical background about the development of sculpture, mathematics, mummification and other sciences.
According to Anani, the upper floor will feature the masterpieces of Egyptian civilization, a documentation center and a training center on the restoration and storage of mummies for archaeology students. It will also include a royal mummies’ room offering visitors a unique opportunity to view burial customs and the mummification process.
The NMEC is a scientific and cultural complex that encompasses a unique museum along with a 468-seat theater, cinema, lecture halls, internationally recognized research and conservation center, print house with the latest printing machines, photography laboratories and the largest antiquities laboratory in the region.
Its archaeology storerooms will be the central storerooms operated by the Antiquities Ministry and are designed to house over 250,000 artifacts with the latest storage technologies, said Anani.
These technologies include fingerprint scan security access, night vision surveillance cameras and advanced firefighting systems.
“The NMEC will have an important role in raising awareness of modern and contemporary Egyptian history and society, hosting events and temporary displays and exhibitions and providing an important center for the country’s young people,” said Anani.
When opened for the public, it will be an inclusive institution serving as a forum for open dialogue and debates, he added.
As work on the NMEC is ongoing, Egypt is simultaneously building another museum: the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). Located near the Giza Pyramids and scheduled to be inaugurated in 2019, the GEM is slated to be the largest archaeology museum in the world.
According to Anani, the GEM, which will focus on the development of art and sculpture in ancient Egypt, will house over 120,000 artifacts, including the treasures of King Tutankhamen.