Grand Egyptian Museum prepares to open

18 October 2023

 

The way Egypt presents its more-than-5,000-year history will be transformed by the end of this year when the Grand Egyptian Museum facing the Giza Pyramids complex on the outskirts of Cairo is unveiled.

Speaking at the site at the end of September, Major General Atef Moftah, general director of the Grand Egyptian Museum Project and Surrounding Area, confirmed that the long-awaited museum project will be ready to open by the end of this year.

“We are now witnessing a dream come true,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “There were a lot of obstacles with what the world went through in 2020 with Covid-19, and then the economic challenges that came with the conflict in Ukraine, but that is all behind us now.”

Whenever Egypt requests the return of stolen monuments, it usually comes with rejection
Major General Atef Moftah, Grand Egyptian Museum Project and Surrounding Area

National symbol 

The project is an important national symbol for Egypt as it seeks to reclaim control of its history. The large-scale, world-class museum will strengthen Egypt’s requests to return historical artefacts held in museums and private collections worldwide.

“Whenever Egypt requests the return of stolen monuments, it usually comes with rejection,” said Atef.

“The response is why should we return it? It is well preserved where it is now, and Egypt does not have a museum or storage area that can care for the artefacts properly. 

“This is why Egypt needs to have a large building to showcase its history and demonstrate to the world that the country is capable of preserving and properly presenting the history of our ancestors.” 

More than a museum

For construction, the project has been one of the region’s most significant building projects over the past decade. With a built-up area of 430,000 square metres, there were 5,000 men working on the site during the peak construction period.

While the building is named the Grand Egyptian Museum, it also has a conference centre with a 3D cinema as well as retail and food and beverage areas.

“The project is called a museum, but the building is a lot more than just a museum,” says Huibert Vos, project director for the Grand Egyptian Museum for Hill International.

Project timeline

The project took its first steps in 1998 when it was decided that a new museum was needed.

An architectural design competition was launched in 2002, overseen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The contest initially attracted 1,557 entries from 82 countries. After two rounds of judging, a design from Dublin-based Heneghan Peng Architects was selected for the project. 

In 2005, the first phase of the construction started with enabling works on the site. The Egyptian government paid for these initial works. The Egyptian government also paid for the project’s second phase, which involved building a conservation centre, with construction beginning in 2006 and completing in 2010. 

The project then secured a funding commitment of 65 per cent for its third phase, involving the museum’s construction, from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica). 

The first step that Jica requested was to prequalify and select the project management consultant (PMC).

After choosing a PMC team of US-based Hill International and the local Ehaf Engineers, the prequalification for the project’s main contractor started. This was followed by a tender and the award of a $810m 40-month contract to a joint venture of Belgium’s Besix and the local Orascom Construction in December 2011.

Initially, the Supreme Council for Antiquities was the client body overseeing the project’s construction. 

Four years later, the project was running behind schedule, with only 20 per cent of the works completed. External factors, such as political changes in Egypt, contributed to the slow progress.

The government sought solutions to speed up the project, and the construction was put under the Egyptian Army’s control.

“Within four years and with hard work from the team working on the project, we were able to complete 95 per cent of the work,” said Atef. 

The museum is not just a construction project. The army has had to work closely with the antiquities ministry to arrange the installation of the museum’s artefacts. Atef said this occurred in parallel with the construction to expedite the delivery of the project.

Everyone told us that we could not move the boat to the new building in one piece, but we did it

Another additional aspect of the project is the construction of a building adjacent to the Grand Museum to house two solar boats. These river barges were sealed in pits next to the pyramids to carry the resurrected pharaohs across the heavens.

One of the barges was previously on display in the Solar Boat Museum next to the pyramids and was transferred to the new building in 2021.

“This was a logistical challenge. Everyone told us that we could not move the boat to the new building in one piece, but we did it,” said Atef. 

Tourism boost 

The museum will support Egypt’s plans to reinvigorate its tourism sector. The country recently revealed plans to double the number of visitors over the next five years.

It aims to attract 30 million visitors by 2028 and is on track to receive 15 million tourists this year.

“Egypt is one of the best tourist destinations in the world, and this museum next to the pyramids gives the country another major attraction,” said Atef.

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Colin Foreman
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