Grand Museum to Showcase Egypt's Ancient Culture (But Hebrew Slaves will Not :-) be Used This Time).
The angular steel and concrete skeleton of Egypt's huge new museum rises up on the Giza plains, in sight of the pyramids that inspired it. When it opens next year, visitors to the Grand Egyptian Museum will be able to see the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Menkaure through the glass wall that fronts the galleries. The back wall will be made partly of alabaster, meant to glow like a jewel in the setting sun.
Like the pyramids on the horizon, there is nothing modest about this museum. At almost 650,000 square feet, the complex on the outskirts of Cairo will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization -- ancient Egypt, which, for almost 3,000 years starting at about 3,000 BCE, produced some of the world's richest treasures.
More than 3,000 Egyptian laborers are working in shifts, 24 hours a day, ahead of a planned partial opening late next year, showcasing the mummy of King Tutankhamen and the treasures of his tomb. The young pharaoh, more commonly known as King Tut, died at the age of 19 in the year 1323 BCE. His tomb, filled with objects including an elaborate funeral mask and a coffin made of more than 240 pounds of solid gold, was discovered essentially intact in 1922.
"It will open with a fantastic bang, because for the first time, we will be presenting the complete Tutankhamen," says Tarek Tawfik, director of the new museum. "Imagine being able to see this remarkable collection and the pyramids of Giza in the same place." Tawfik says the new museum is designed to make visitors feel as if they are actually at the pharaoh's funeral procession. The museum hopes to attract more than 10,000 people a day -- five times as many as those currently visiting the iconic, neoclassical Egyptian Museum in central Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Construction began four years ago, a decade after the project was first envisioned. The museum's cost has doubled since then, to almost $1 billion. Japan is lending Egypt most of the money. The entire contents of King Tut's tomb are being moved from the Tahrir Square museum in Cairo, which will be turned into a museum of ancient Egyptian art.
The young king's gold death mask and other objects have toured the world since the tomb was discovered. But their permanent home has been the Egyptian Museum, which after 114 years and hundreds of different archaeological excavations, is bursting at the seams.
"We have masterpieces in the basement," says Sabah Abdul Razaq, director of the Egyptian Museum. She says while 160,000 of the best pieces -- including mummies, royal furniture and statues of the builders of the pyramids -- are on display, another 100,000, including magnificent statues, remain in storage.
King Tutankhamen's mummy itself was moved from Cairo, where it was being damaged by humidity, to the Valley of the Kings in southern Egypt, where he was originally entombed. There the mummy is displayed in an airtight glass case. Two tiny mummies found in his tomb, and believed to be his stillborn daughters, will be displayed with him at the new Egyptian museum.
Tutankhamen ascended the throne at the age of 9 and died a decade later. "He will be beside his great ancestors like Khufu, which means he will be here beside the biggest construction in Egyptian history," says Islam Mustafa, the museum's technical director, referring to Giza's Great Pyramid. At more than 4,000 years old, it is the only surviving wonder of the ancient world.
In labs near the new museum, staff members are restoring thousands of objects that have deteriorated during decades of storage. At one table, a restorer painstakingly removes cheap cardboard backing that threatens to damage 3,000-year-old sheets of papyrus inscribed with the Book of the Dead for an ancient queen. Another, working from a black-and-white photograph from the original 1922 excavation, is busy restoring a pair of King Tutankhamen's sandals.
His entire shoe collection -- roughly size 8 -- will be displayed in the new museum. Some are casual sandals made of woven papyrus fiber. Others, like the pair being restored, are leather embellished with solid gold. The sandals and even more intimate items of clothing the young king wore are a powerful reminder that the mummy, an object of so much fascination, was, 3,000 years ago, a living, breathing human being.
"It was the idea of the ancient Egyptians that he would be buried with his favorite things and finery," says Mustafa. "Because he was thinking this was not the end of his life, because he would be resurrected again and he will live another life after this and he would need all of this."
At another table in the textile lab, conservator Negmadeen Morched leans over linen loincloths -- triangular undergarments laundered before being carefully folded into wooden caskets for the king's afterlife.
Of the roughly 5,000 objects from the tomb to be displayed, museum officials say two-thirds, including the undergarments, have never before been exhibited. Replicas of his loincloths will even be on sale in the gift shop.
Asked what he thought King Tutankhamen would make of that, Tawfik points out that the king, in his brief reign, changed both the capital and the religion of ancient Egypt. He says he believes Tutankhamen would be happy about anything that brings his legacy to light again.
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|Date:||Nov 16, 2016|
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