Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An edifice worthy of the pharaohs rises next to the pyramids

An edifice worthy of the pharaohs rises next to the pyramids

The Grand Egyptian Museum aims to lure foreign visitors back to Cairo

by Silvia Mazza, Hannah McGivern  |  30 August 2016
Contruction on the project started as Egypt’s tourist industry crumbled. Photo © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), a gateway to the history of the pharaohs under construction outside Cairo, is attempting to do the impossible: hold its own next to the pyramids of Giza.

Egypt’s ministry of antiquities hopes the gargantuan complex, designed by architects Heneghan Peng, will be built by the end of 2016, paving the way for a 2017 “partial opening”, according to Daily News Egypt. But with between 3,000 and 5,000 construction workers already labouring around the clock and a budget rising to more than $1bn, museum management and the ministry will have their work cut out to meet the official 2018 deadline.

The GEM, announced by the Egyptian government in 1992 and originally scheduled to open in 2011, is poised to become one of the world’s largest museums. The 100,000-strong collection will include around 5,500 artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun, many of which have never been exhibited.

Tourist magnet?

With 93,000 sq. m of exhibition space, the GEM is designed to offer more room and better conditions for conservation than the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo, which has held the Tutankhamun collection for more than 80 years. A vast gallery will be entirely dedicated to the trove, according to the architect Pier Paolo Raffa, a consultant on the displays. Most of the other works in the collection are also coming from the Egyptian Museum, but the GEM plans to integrate artefacts from other museums and sites across the country.

Officials hope that the institution will boost a tourism industry suffering in the wake of terrorist attacks and political unrest. The museum aims to attract four million visitors a year, putting it on a par with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. According to local press reports, just three million tourists visited Egypt in the first half of 2016, 50% fewer than the same period in 2015.

The institution also needs to secure funding to meet its escalating costs. The budget has doubled, from $550m in 2007 (financed through a $300m loan from the Japanese government, a $100m grant from the antiquities ministry and a $150m fundraising campaign) to more than $1bn in 2015. Negotiations are under way for a second loan from Japan worth $482m, while the Egyptian government has increased its contribution to $250m, according to the project’s general supervisor.