It’s only befitting that this ancient region, rich in antiques, would soon be home to the world’s largest museum complex.
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo is set to open in November and will be the world’s largest museum complex dedicated to a single culture. More than 50,000 artifacts will be on show at any given moment, with 18,000 on display at any given time, telling the full story of ancient Egyptian civilisation from its earliest origins through the Greco-Roman classical period.
The structure, which was primarily conceived by Irish architects Heneghan Peng, is nearly as amazing in idea as the pyramids themselves, and is expected to cost more than $1 billion.
But, like the ancient Egyptian civilization itself, the Grand Egyptian Museum project has had its ups and downs, and it’s taken 20 years to reach this final phase of its journey.
The existence of most of the world’s great civilisations is due to rivers. The Nile, spanning 6600 kilometers, is one of the world’s longest rivers. Because of the silt deposits left by the river as it flows into the Mediterranean and the regular floods, the Nile delta region now has nutrient-rich soil.
The ability to master irrigation techniques, as well as the use of the Nile as a trade route, allowed ancient Egyptian civilisation to flourish during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdom dynasties, as well as the Late Period dynasty, roughly covering the period 3100 BC to 332 BC, when it was conquered by Alexander the Great’s forces.
THE GREAT PYRAMIDS OF GIZA
The three pyramids of Gaza, which stand on the Nile’s west bank inside the UNESCO World Heritage site of Memphis, were built during the Old Kingdom period (2613-2181) and are named after the monarchs for whom they were built: Khufu (also known as the Great Pyramid), Khafre, and Menkaure. These massive pharaonic tombs collectively constitute an astonishing achievement of engineering, even without their original limestone skins, which would have glittered in the sun.
THE OLD MUSEUM
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo was designed by French architect Marcel Dourgnon. It is the Middle East’s oldest museum, having been founded 120 years ago. It has the largest collection of pharaonic artefacts in the world, with over 120,000 pieces.
Unfortunately, much of this museum’s contents will be removed and deposited in the new museum, mimicking the way pharaohs’ tombs have been robbed throughout the years. For example, the contents of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, which number in the thousands, will be relocated from the old museum to the new for the first time.
The new museum is about 2 kilometers from the Giza pyramids, whereas the current museum is roughly 20 kilometers away.
THE NEW MUSEUM
The new Museum is expected to be grand in name, stature, and purpose, as befits its position and purpose. Its exhibition space is 24,000 square meters, and its vast atrium can accommodate big things like the King Ramses II statue that once stood in Cairo’s Ramses Square. The Grand Museum of Egypt, which will be shaped like a thin slice of cake, will also include an education center, a conference center, a garden, and a children’s museum.
Previous opening dates have come and gone, largely due to periods of political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Grand Egyptian Museum, part of the Giza 2030 initiative, finally looks ready to open in November. The opening is expected to revitalize opportunities for ancient exploration that range from:
- The launch of Turkey’s Museum Hotel, set in its own archaeological site and home the world’s largest mosaic floor;
- Jean Novel’s subterranean Sharaan Resort in Saudi Arabia, which lies next to a UNESCO World Heritage site;
- and Arcadia Expeditions’ guided historical and cultural journeys that afford exclusive access to people such as archaeologist Iain Shearer and historian Pierre Asselin.