CAIRO (DPA): Behind the Giza pyramid complex, a fan-shaped building rises on a slope of desert in the Greater Cairo Area in Egypt. The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), also known as the Giza Museum, is still under construction.
While the museum is slowly taking shape, you can already picture how school groups and tourists might one day gather in the forecourt in the shade of the palm trees.
However, 10 years after the start of construction work, the only question that remains is: When will it finally open?
Essentially, only a few final steps needed to be taken, the Ministry of Antiquities announced in February. Structural work, the atrium and the grand staircase are finished, and so are “99.8%” of the interior fittings and “98%” of the exterior areas.
The GEM is set to become the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single civilization, with a collection of 100,000 artifacts spanning across an area equivalent to 70 football pitches.
And yet the planned Louvre of Ancient Treasures has turned into a permanent construction site.
Exactly 10 years ago, on March 12, 2012, authorities hailed the start of construction work on the GEM. The foundation stone had been laid by late President Hosni Mubarak in 2002, and the first work started in 2005.
The project was first announced in 1992, but 30 years have passed since then. An opening date has not yet been set, they say in Cairo.
“I want to have kings, queens and heads of state at the opening ceremony,” Antiquities Minister Chalid al-Anani told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) last summer. But an event with 600 guests or more would not be possible during the pandemic, he said.
“I believe it will be the biggest opening in Egypt’s modern history,” he said, noting his eagerness to adequately celebrate this event.
Besides the pandemic, the revolution and political upheavals from 2011 onward caused delays. Added to this was a lack of money in Egypt’s economic downturn.
According to reports, the estimated construction costs have since risen to the equivalent of more than 900 million euros ($996.34 million), about twice as much as initially estimated. In 2015, the news site Al-Monitor asked: Will the museum ever open?
Visitors will still be amazed when they stand in front of the 11-meter-high (36-foot-high) statue of Pharaoh Ramses II in the monumental atrium. Some 5,000 years of history are to be brought to life here, from ancient Egypt to the Greco-Roman period.
The burial treasure of Pharaoh Tutankhamun from the Valley of the Kings will be a special highlight when it goes on display in its entirety for the first time.
It is quite possible that some visitors will feel a little lost. Even an 11-meter-high Ramses II could seem small in the enormous hall, and who wants to see thousands of artifacts in one tour?
But the GEM, connected to the pyramids along architectural axes, is also likely to turn into a structural extension and a modern interpretation of the famous ancient structures, writes Architectural Digest magazine.
Child-king Tutankhamun, meanwhile, could be a key in the guesswork surrounding the opening date. Nov. 4 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of his burial chamber by British archaeologist Howard Carter.
The Egyptian government likes to stage its antiquities with a lot of pathos and symbolism. An opening of the GEM on this day, said Egyptologist Zahi Hawass a few months ago, would be a global event.