Egyptian Museum of Antiquities gets a facelift to aid tourists

Along with the Grand Egyptian Museum, the highly anticipated new Egyptian Antiquities Museum is set to open to visitors before the end of the year, many are wondering what will happen to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which has been one of the main tourist attractions of the country.

Located in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is an impressive Fine Arts building dating from the early 20th century. Despite its popularity with tourists and Egyptian museum enthusiasts, the museum has come under criticism due to multiple shortcomings, including its cramped exhibition space, which contributes to overcrowding.

This has led some critics to equate it with a “storehouse” of Egyptian treasures. The limited space also meant that many antiques unearthed in recent years had to be stored in the museum’s basement, often exposing them to conservation threats.

Poor acoustics is another of the museum’s weaknesses. Although visually appealing, its high ceiling and large atriums undermined the museum’s acoustic environment by amplifying noise in the exhibition halls, causing excessive echo and reverberation. Also, reaching the museum is in itself a challenge as visitors have to battle the notorious traffic from central Cairo to get there.

In contrast, the new state-of-the-art, $ 1 billion Grand Egyptian Museum was built as a multi-purpose space. Located on a site of approximately 500,000 square meters (approximately 120 acres), it is touted by the media as the largest antique museum in the world. The building measures approximately 60,000 square meters (645,000 square feet).

Not only is the new museum much larger than the old one, it is also better equipped to house and store the treasures of Egypt in a safe environment. The impressive array of artifacts it will exhibit adds to its appeal: no less than 50,000 antiques will be on display in the new facility, according to Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany.

Many antiques from the Grand Egyptian Museum have been transferred from the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities and other museums across the country. These include the treasures of Tutankhamun, long a magnet for tourists visiting the ancient Tahrir museum. Popularly known as King Tut and the Boy King, Tutankhamun is perhaps the best known of all Pharaoh’s kings due to the wealth of treasures found in his tomb but also, in part, due to the mystery surrounding his death. around 1324 BC.

Tut died at the age of 19 (apparently from an infected fractured thigh) 10 years after taking the throne. Its treasures, which will be on display over an area of ​​over 7,000 square meters (75,000 square feet), will include its funeral bed, its famous golden chariot and its solid gold death mask.

More than half of the artifacts in the new museum have never been on display before. Tourism officials hope the facility, with its unparalleled location, modern design and spatial arrangement, will attract at least 5 million visitors a year to Egypt when it opens later this year, reviving the tourism industry, who has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conveniently located on the Giza Plateau, the new museum overlooks the Pyramids of Giza and is close to the new Sphinx International Airport, which opened in early 2019. The short drive from the airport to the Grand Egyptian Museum means that tourists and businessmen coming to Egypt on short trips would have the opportunity to visit both the museum and the pyramids without wasting time getting stuck in traffic jams.

Still, efforts are underway to transform the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities and ensure it receives its fair share of visitors when the largest and most spectacular museum opens. Thanks to two cultural heritage preservation projects funded by the European Union, “the Egyptian museum is being restored to its original glorious state and will serve as a sustainable educational and cultural center,” said Mostafa El Sayyed, supervisor of the revival of the Egyptian museum. Initiative. The initiative is one of two museum projects carried out with the advice and assistance of the Egyptian consultancy firm Environmental Quality International.

“Coats of paint were scraped from the walls, floors and ceilings using medical scissors to reveal the museum’s original colors – burgundy and beige,” El Sayyed told Al-Monitor. “We found decorative patterns on the walls that we didn’t know existed,” he noted.

“We worked while visitors were visiting the museum as the facility had to remain open to accommodate tourists,” he said.

“Another challenge facing restoration experts was that objects had to stay in their place throughout the restoration process,” he added.

As part of the project, walking tours and educational activities for children are organized in and around the museum to educate local residents about their rich cultural heritage.

There is also the EU-funded Transforming the Egyptian Museum project. He developed new labels and banners to give detailed information about the artifacts and “improve the visitor experience”, according to curator Ilona Regulski, who is the project coordinator.

“This project consists of rethinking the exhibition of the Egyptian museum in Cairo after many objects have been transferred to other museums,” Belgian Regulski told Al-Monitor. “We are basically trying to do more with fewer items.”

Earlier this year, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities lost one of its main attractions when 22 royal mummies that had previously been displayed in the museum’s mummy gallery were transported in a glamorous parade to their new resting place at the Museum. national of Egyptian civilization in Fustat. Cairo district. But Regulski said that even without these royal mummies, the old museum “is still worth a visit because it houses one of the most important collections in the world.”

“Having fewer objects gives us the opportunity to shine a light on them, tell interesting stories about them and give them the attention they deserve,” she said.

The current phase of the project, carried out in collaboration with a consortium of five leading European museums (the Louvre, the British Museum, the Turin Museum in Italy, the Museo Egizio and the Agyptisches Museum and Papyrussammlung in Berlin), focuses on the entrance galleries housing artefacts from the Predynastic periods (5500 to 3100 BC) and the first dynastic periods as well as antiquities from the Old Kingdom (2700 to 2000 BC) and of the Ptolemaic dynasty (305 to 30 BC).

“We are adding new labels that tell visitors when and how antiques were discovered; we are also adding photos of the excavations as well as archive photos of the museum, ”museum director Sabah Abdel Razek told Al-Monitor.

The new additions are made with the aim of “improving the visitor experience and attracting more visitors to the museum,” Regulski said.

New signs are also installed to guide visitors through their visit to the museum, letting them know what they can expect to see in each room. “The entrance galleries on the left and right represent two very different periods of Egyptian history – the Old Kingdom and the Greco-Roman period – but both galleries feature massive stone sarcophagi, which shows that despite the many changes over the course of Egyptian history, culture, and in particular burial traditions, have remained unchanged, ”Regulski said.

Another notable change the museum is undergoing is the special attention given to the way of life of the ancient Egyptians. “As part of the transformation, visitors can now expect to see not only colossal statues of ancient kings and queens, but also smaller statues and papyri representing those from the lower strata of ancient Egyptian society such as the workers, farmers, fishermen and pottery makers, “said Heba Abdel Gawad, scientific coordinator at the Turin Museum.

Another highlight is the precious Tanis collection, which replaced the Tutankhamun collection after the latter moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum. Some say the royal treasures of Tanis – discovered by French Egyptologist Pierre Montet in the ancient city of the same name in the Nile Delta, northeast of Cairo in the late 1930s and early 1940s – are as spectacular as those of Tut, although less well known. The Tanis collection includes gold masks, jewelry and solid silver coffins.

“Even after the departure of certain objects, the Egyptian museum is still a treasure trove of antiquities; visitors – foreigners and Egyptians alike – will always find something new to see here, ”Regulski said.

It is therefore not surprising that the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities has been added in recent months to the indicative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites (a list of sites proposed by countries as having significant cultural and national heritage value). ). Both Regulski and Abdel Razek have said they believe that once the transformation is complete, the museum will “rightly” become a World Heritage Site.

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