Friday, September 5, 2008

The New GEM of Egypt

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1835 Champollion presented Mohamed Ali Pacha (ruler of Egypt at the time) with a petition to erect a museum to house and protect the findings that were dug up during the excavations. But that was only the start because the discoveries and the artifacts just kept multiplying. In 1890 Ismail Pacha offered one of his palaces in Giza to be the new house for the discoveries. And by 1902 a still bigger place was needed to accommodate the continually increasing monuments and mummies, which at the time reached more than 140,000 items displayed, this was provided by Abbas Helmi Pacha, who raised funds to build the museum.

The last resting place for Egypt's treasures is the present day Egyptian Museum of Antiquity in El Tahrir Square. But the museum is now subject to threat from the surrounding buildings and heavy traffic causing vibration and pollution. Besides, the museum was built to cater for about 500 visitors per day, supplying adequate natural light and ventilation, but with the increase of visitors from 6 to 7000 per day, the decision to expand was yet again a compelling issue.
The project for a new state-of-the-art museum to chronicle for the world the ancient story of over 7000 years of Egyptian civilization began in 1992 but due to the short in funding was delayed. An international competition was held to choose the building design and was won by Heneghan Peng Architects of Ireland.

Built over 50 hectares of land, and just 15 km south of Cairo, it is located in the shadow of the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is expected to hold 100,000 exhibits making it larger than the British Museum, which holds 80,000 artifacts on display.The project is to cost about $550 million US, and is expected to be finished by 2010. The Egyptian government is hoping to raise $40 million from a current tour of King Tutankhamun artifacts in the United States to go towards funding for the project, but there is also backing from Japanese investors.

The Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) will have capacity for 15,000 visitors a day and house an archeological research institute as well as extensive storage. It is also designed to include an auditorium, a media and a publication centre for books, CDs and video tapes. The creation of a data bank and an Egyptological Library will satisfy the need of many scholars keen on the study of the museum collection.

The GEM is situated at the junction where the fertile valley meets the desert, which for the ancient Egyptians was the land of the after-life. And the most befitting final resting place for King Tut's mummy and treasures that were discovered in his tomb in 1922. The museum is also expected to exhibit the Sun Boat that was believed to have transported Queen Cleopatra's body, which now stands in its own museum near the Pyramids. On August 25, 2006 the 83 ton statue of Ramases II was moved from Ramases Square in Cairo to the Giza Plateau, in anticipation of construction of The GEM. The Statue of Ramases II, estimated to be approximately 3,200 years old, will be cleaned and touched up, and will be situated at the entrance of The GEM by 2010.

But the most striking aspect of The GEM is its glowing façade and giant triangular entrance way! Constructed of translucent alabaster, it is designed to allow the light to penetrate the inside of the museum by day and will be illuminated to glow by night too. The angled roof of The GEM is aligned with the neighboring Pyramids, forming a line from one edge of its roof extending to touch the tip of the largest of the pyramid and the other edge points toward the peak of the smaller Khefre Pyramid. The Design plans and landscaping of The Gem are perceived through light and vision. Through out the site of the museum light plays a dramatic role. The color of light changes gradually between Sun and shade, the exterior and the interior, between day and night.

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