Cairo’s current Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square opened in 1901 and has long both amazed and appalled foreign visitors. A vast, crumbling neoclassical structure, it houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, but the dark and dusty rooms, and the apparently disorganized way in which much of the collection is displayed, have been a source of widespread incredulity. The sheer quantity of the objects on show is astounding. As well as monumental statuaries, these include many of the treasures unearthed in the tomb of Tutankhamen and the mummies of Seti I; his son, the great pharaoh Ramses II; and Queen Hatshepsut.
All this is now set to change, however, with the opening of the huge new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, close to the pyramids and the Sphinx, which is scheduled to debut in 2020. Costing an estimated $1 billion, the world’s largest archaeological museum will also be home to 10 restaurants and a conference center. A brand-new airport, Sphinx International Airport, has been built 30 minutes away from the museum, and 5 million visitors a year are expected. Welcome to the world of 21st-century tourism.
No doubt the star attractions will be the more than 5,000 objects recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen, but the museum will also show the 143-foot-long, 4,500-year-old solar barge of King Khufu that is currently housed beside the pyramids, plus more than 20,000 items that have never been on public display before. A 40-foot-tall, 83-ton granite statue of Ramses II already stands in the entrance foyer.
The museum’s new conservation center has reviewed some 38,000 pieces in the collection, and restoration is currently underway on Tutankhamen’s ceremonial beds. In addition to showcasing the king’s famous gold death mask and gilded throne, it will now be possible to feature organic artifacts in climate-controlled conditions, including his ornate leather sandals, many yards of elaborate textiles and even the dried fruits that had been left to sustain him in the afterlife.