If you live in Egypt and find yourself curious about its antiquities throughout the eras, then it is recommended that you pay a visit to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) and have it among one of the local destinations on your touring list.
The NMEC is not as famous as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) under construction near the pyramids of Giza. However, the NMEC is located across a rare natural lake called Ain El-Sira.
It is situated in Cairo near the archaeological site of Egypt’s first Islamic capital of Fustat, and near the area known as Coptic Cairo and Amr ibn Al-Aas Mosque. In addition, the museum is located on an area of 135,000 sqm.
The site is visually connected to all historical urban sites of ancient greater Cairo: to the far west, you will find the pyramid of Saqqara and the pyramids of Giza.
Nearer west to the museum stands the Babylon Fortress from the Roman period and Coptic churches , while Islamic Cairo to the north, evident in Saladin Citadel in the north-east, draw the cultural image and visualise the landscape of Egypt up until modern times.
The NMEC is not fully opened yet; some halls are still under construction, but the museum welcomes visitors to enjoy the currently exhibited monuments. Therefore, if you decide to go, include it as part of your tour of the ancient Cairo area.
The currently opened halls and significant location provide a premium location for sightseeing.
Mahrous Said Mahrous, general director of the NMEC, said that the history of the museum began in the 1980s when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) organised the campaign for saving Nubian antiquities behind the High Dam by establishing two museums: the Nubian Museum in Aswan and the NMEC in Giza.
The UNESCO is involved in boosting technical support in terms of trainings and exhibition development, part of the UNESCO aimed at preserving Egypt’s cultural heritage, which was launched in the 1960s.
Mahrous told Daily News Egypt that the Nubian Museum was opened in 1997, while the NMEC was planned to be established in the El Gezira area in Giza, but the location was changed to El-Fustat since the Opera House was decided to be built in that initial location instead.
He said that the NMEC has a magnificent location overlooking the Ain El-Sira lake. The area was allocated in 2002, while construction work began in 2004, he said, noting that the first phase of construction ended in 2011, executed with a EGP 376m budget.
“In 2010, the second phase of the NMEC construction work was announced to be executed by Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) for EGP 333m. The GIS built the infrastructure and basic construction,” noted Mahrous.
Additionally, Mahrous added that the museum includes antiquity storehouses, a centre for receiving antiquities, documentary centre, control room, and royal mummies storehouse, mentioning that the NMEC is a megaproject with a construction budget around EGP 3bn.
“We opened a temporary hall last year, displaying handicraft antiquities. Anyone can come and enjoy the antiquities’ beauty, while three other halls will be opened by the end of 2018,” said Mahrous.
He clarified that the cost of the three planned halls is about EGP 606m, including the royal mummies hall, the core exhibition hall, and 4 MW power plants, noting that the museum already has a 10 MW power plant, but the expansions require greater power capacity.
“By opening the three planned halls, we will show 50% of the museum’s overall capacity, then the rest of the museum will be finished as soon as possible according to the cabinet’s directives,” said Mahrous.
Mahrous added that the next period will witness the speeding up of the constructions work and implementing a study on antiquity availability to set the museum exhibition scenario via a Japanese company contracting with an Egyptian consultant.
“In two years, the project will be fully opened if the funds are available,” said Mahrous, adding that the project is locally financed and there is no intention to collaborate with foreign partners up until now, to the contrary of the GEM project, which is co-financed by Japan.
“I cannot predict the needed finance for implementing the rest of the project because the prices are unpredictable nowadays, especially that we import many accessories that are needed for the showcases for example,” mentioned Mahrous, adding that Egypt has the antiquities, but it needs to gain more experience on the know-how from abroad.
The NMEC is the first museum of civilisation in the Arab world and the only museum in Egypt that gives an overview of all the eras of Egyptian civilisation, ranging from the prehistory period to present day, as a layered cumulative product of the interaction of the Egyptian people on their land throughout history, taking a multidisciplinary thematic approach designed to highlight Egypt’s tangible and intangible heritage.
Moreover, the NMEC is an important cultural, educational, recreational, and research centre for local and international visitors and scholars.
The museum gathers about 50,000 objects including archaeological and ethnographic artefacts, paintings and jewellery, and intangible masterpieces ranging from prehistory to the present day.
The museum’s exhibition galleries are nine halls including the core exhibition, thematic galleries, royal museum gallery, temporary exhibition gallery, and a gallery about Cairo.
The exhibitions and galleries at the NMEC are designed for visitors to walk through Egyptian civilisation chronologically.
The core exhibition hall highlights the principle achievements of Egyptian civilisation in a chronological approach featuring the main historical periods: prehistoric, Pharaonic, Greek-Roman, Coptic, Islamic, modern, and contemporary.
The thematic galleries include six principle themes from the dawn of civilisation, the Nile, writing, state and society, material culture, beliefs, and thoughts.
The royal mummies gallery holds all royal mummies that will be displayed in a unique way of exhibition, accompanied by multi-touch interactive tables and a 3D interactive hologram.
The temporary exhibition gallery will house short-term displays and exhibits, while the Cairo gallery will offer a magnificent view displaying all Cairo landmarks. Visitors can also see the features of old and modern Cairo through panorama technology, multimedia, and sound and light show.
The NMEC will host cultural events and festivals on its premises, while site facilities include a big conference room of 23 seats with three translation cabins, a lecture hall of 187 seats, theatre of 486 seats with four translation cabins, cinema of 332 seats, museum education centre with five classes, VIP lounge, print house, big gift shop, lakeside cafes and restaurants, a library, and 42 shops.
Meanwhile, the NMEC is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and disseminating the rich and vibrant heritage of one of the oldest civilisations in the world. The museum, along with its internationally recognised research and conservation centre, have been established with the purpose of raising awareness and understanding of Egyptian history and society via exhibitions, research, cultural events, and publications.
The museum is designed as an inclusive and educational institution. It is going to be at the forefront of dialogue, debate, and exchange of ideas about the interconnectivity of history, tradition, culture, and modernity.
To ensure all NMEC visitors enjoy a lively and comfortable tour, special care to visitors with disabilities is provided by offering them the appropriate facilities.
Visitors with disabilities are led by a museum guide, to be able to explore collections via accessible itineraries that allow them to discover and interact with the exhibits and galleries.
Visitors with impaired hearing can take part in guided tours, given in different languages including sign language.
The NMEC offers brilliant activities for not only traditional tourists seeking a historical adventure, but also for children and families looking for memorable learning experiences, triggering imagination via introducing and unfolding previous eras.