Grand Egyptian Museum to Open Soon with Support from Japan

©Grand Egyptian Museum
An interior photo of the Grand Egyptian Museum where preparations for the opening are underway

Boasting a collection of 56,000 artifacts, The Grand Egyptian Museum will soon open in Giza, the historic Egyptian city near Cairo. Most of the artifacts have already been transferred to its magnificent building as the fruits of cooperation between Japan and Egypt.

Yen loans backed by the Japanese government supported its construction, and specialists from Japan have offered technical cooperation on conservation and restoration of archaeological items.

Atef Moftah, General Director of the Grand Egyptian Museum Project and Surrounding Area, and Issa Zidan, General Director of Executive Affairs for Conservation at the Grand Egyptian Museum, recently sat down with The Yomiuri Shimbun for an interview and discussed their hopes for the museum.

What to see

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What are the museum’s must-see highlights?

Moftah: In addition to being one of the largest museums in the world, we will exhibit the monumental legacy of human beings, such as the [12-meter-tall] statue of King Ramses II and King Khufu’s boats [that have been excavated near Khufu’s pyramid]. Also notable is the museum’s location, which is very close to the pyramids of Giza. In addition, a path will connect the pyramids and the museum. The pyramids are a symbol of the past, and the museum is a symbol of the present. We also plan on improving airport access so that the travel time for tourists is cut down.

Zidan: Our displays are in line with carefully deliberated narratives about ancient Egypt. For example, the exhibitions of artifacts represent various themes, such as “dynasties of ancient Egypt,” “religious relics,” “the gods’ relationships with kings and queens” and “ancient Egypt’s thoughts on the afterlife.” In the exhibition room for King Tutankhamun, various subjects such as “Who is Tutankhamun?,” “family” and “everyday life” are expressed by the exhibits.

Reclaiming cultural properties

The Yomiuri Shimbun: How do you regard the support from Japan?

Moftah: The collaboration between Japan and Egypt has been successfully executed in all aspects, including the construction of the museum, conservation and restoration of the artifacts and training of personnel. Japan has the best technologies. We’d like to continue our cooperation as we move toward the museum’s opening ceremony, and once it opens, we’d like to hold an exhibition on Japanese culture as our first special show in the rotating exhibition room.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Atef Moftah, left, and Issa Zidan at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Taito Ward, Tokyo

Zidan: Restoration specialists and researchers of Egypt have received various kinds of training in both countries. What’s more, some of the most famous artifacts in Egypt, such as Tutankhamun’s chariot, bed and clothing, have been taken care of by both countries. The culmination of our work was the restoration of King Khufu’s boats. It was difficult to make wooden structures able to withstand public display. While other countries shied away from the job, only Japan agreed to get involved.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What do you think about the principle that the conservation of cultural assets should be done locally, and the balance between conservation of heritage and making good use of it?

Moftah: Egyptian artifacts are scattered all over the world. Even if we try to reclaim them, we rarely get them back because we’re seen as incapable of their conservation or restoring them in Egypt. In the face of these circumstances, both the government and the people of Egypt are determined to show resoluteness in protecting this legacy of human beings. Some of the cultural properties that were taken overseas in the past include ones illegally smuggled. We absolutely would like to reclaim them.

Zidan: We take everything into consideration for each artifact, such as whether or not exhibiting it may incur damage. A part of our plan is the maintenance and conservation of the artifacts.

Moftah: It means that new Egypt takes pride in the conservation and restoration of old Egypt.

Expert studies underway

Those involved in the museum project exchanged views at a symposium in Tokyo about the museum on Aug. 6.

Egypt archaeologist Sakuji Yoshimura, the president of Higashi Nippon International University, spoke about King Khufu’s boats at the symposium. The first excavated boat is a huge wooden vessel about 42 meters long. As for the second boat, Yoshimura told an anecdote behind its excavation and added, “I think restoration of the boat will be completed by 2026.”

The museum’s conservation center opened in 2010 with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and specialists from both countries have collaborated on research and restoration operations.

Referring to the artifacts discovered in the royal tomb by the researchers, Prof. Nozomu Kawai of Kanazawa University revealed that King Tutankhamun’s chariot had a roof coupled with a canopy. He also reported that analyses of dyed textiles found in the tomb are making progress.

“We’ve cooperated with specialists from Egypt and done research on conservation and restoration on 65 items — 56 dyed items and nine wooden parts excavated from Tutankhamun’s royal tomb,” he said.