On the opposite side of the Giza pyramid complex, the Grand Egyptian Museum is being built, planned to be the world’s largest museum, aiming to attract 5 million visitors annually in its first phase and 10 million in the second phase.
The museum includes commercial and recreational services, restoration centres, and a garden where there will be special species of trees displayed that used to be planted in ancient Egypt. The project’s cost is estimated at $1bn, of which Japan offered $300m as a soft loan. The museum is expected to feature more than 100,000 artefacts from the Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman eras, which will greatly boost the tourism sector in Egypt. The museum is due to be partly opened in the second half of this year.
Director General of the Grand Egyptian Museum Tarek Tawfik spoke to Daily News Egypt on the preparations for the museum’s opening and the challenges and obstacles that faced its leadership in the construction phase.
What has been accomplished so far in the Grand Egyptian Museum?
We have completed the concrete and metal works, while the interior and exterior finishing, main squares, and roads leading to the museum will be completed within a few weeks. The new Cairo West Airport will be near the Grand Egyptian Museum and this will contribute to more tourist inflow to Giza.
What were the main challenges that faced the construction of the museum and how did you overcome them?
The nature of the museum’s location was an obstacle, but we managed to overcome that problem.
What do the preparations for the museum’s opening entail?
The iconic statue of Ramses II, transferred from Ramses Square, will be the first thing visitors see at the museum’s main entrance, followed by the great stairway, which will feature about 87 artefacts including statues and architectural elements. It will lead to the two halls of Tutankhamun, which were built on an area of 7,000 sqm. They include 5,000 artefacts, of which 4,200 pieces have been already sent to the storages and laboratories of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Only the large Tutankhamun artefacts are still featured at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Tahrir Square, and they will be transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum right before the opening. The theatrical exhibition of Tutankhamun in the first phase of the museum was prepared in parallel, and we took serious steps to complete it soon.
How are you preparing for the opening and when do you expect it to be?
The opening will be in the second half of 2018. We are currently coordinating with all concerned bodies, most notably the Ministries of Antiquities and Tourism, the cabinet, and the presidency, to determine the appropriate date of the inauguration. We aim to open the first phase in the coming tourist season of 2018. We recently watched the huge opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and we aim to capture the attention of the world through the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum, benefiting from the unique location of the museum beside the Giza pyramids.
We target 5 million visitors annually in the first phase of the museum, and 10 million in the second phase two years later. The Egyptian president and a number of world leaders are expected to attend the opening ceremony, including the emperor of Japan or his representative and the Indian president.
What steps have you taken to restore the artefacts that will be featured in the museum?
We will pose a global tender soon for the preparation of the two main halls. We have also set the layout for featuring huge monuments that will be placed in the main atrium. It was agreed that 87 monuments and paintings should be placed there. We were planning to feature more than that, but we reconsidered the number of monuments, taking into account the visual dimension of the stairway, the size of each piece, and the distribution which would allow visitors to understand the story of each artefact.
How do you see the criticism of the partial opening of the museum, instead of a full opening?
I respect all the views, but it is normal for large projects to be opened in phases. The partial opening will be spectacular and will feature more than 5,000 artefacts, which is larger than any other complete museums’ openings in major foreign countries. Therefore, this partial opening can be considered a full opening of the museum.
What is the total area of the first phase?
The main atrium, the great stairway, and the two Tutankhamun halls were built on an area of 23,000 sqm, besides another 27,000 sqm area. It means that the first phase will be on an area of 50,000 sqm out of total 117 feddans allocated for the project. The remaining area will include hotels, restaurants, and other exhibition areas.
How was the funding for the Grand Egyptian Museum secured?
The museum’s management, in cooperation with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, succeeded in obtaining another loan from Japan worth $450m in 2016, besides the first loan worth $300m. The Armed Forces Engineering Authority also contributed to rationing expenditures to overcome the challenges of inflation and the flotation of the pound. The cost of construction has not increased despite the inflation, as we used local materials instead of imported ones.
Explain further how you were able to overcome the financing problem after the flotation?
We used local materials of high quality. Some of the museum’s walls will be covered with local marble to give the sense of sunlight, with the same quality of imported materials. It saved a lot of expenses, up to several millions of dollars.
Why did the museum’s management not use local materials from the very beginning?
When Egyptian officials launched the project in 2002, the economic situation was different, and the tourist flow was great. However, when we started to implement the first phase, we faced a budget deficit. Therefore, we used appropriate local alternatives to reduce spending without affecting the design of the building.
How will the museum be a part of the pyramids area?
Currently, we are working on a plan to develop El Remaya Square in cooperation with the Ministries of Planning, Tourism, Antiquities, Interior, and Transportation. The plan aims to expand the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road alongside the Grand Egyptian Museum. The local development authority will relocate a bus stop to another area far from the museum, so that buses can drop off visitors at the museum and then return to their stop.
What about the new metro station planned for the area?
We are coordinating with the National Authority for Tunnels to open the Grand Egyptian Museum metro station to serve the Egyptians who wish to visit the museum and to reduce traffic congestion.