This year, Egypt will unveil the largest archaeological museum complex on the planet, which has been three decades in the making. That’s right—The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is almost ready for its global introduction. But, before it welcomes the first public guests, a deeper look into why the museum was created is certainly in order. Let’s explore how the museum was designed, what it will house, and why it matters. After all, once the doors to the GEM swing open for the first time, we’ll be taking travelers like you through the incredible new venue on our Egypt tours.
Is the Grand Egyptian Museum open?
The short answer is the same as it has been for the last 30 years, not yet. Below, we’ve outlined the winding road of construction and delays to this point, but we're positive 2023 is the year the new Egyptian museum will open. The museum director even told the media recently that they are “99% finished”.
Why is a new museum in Egypt important?
The current museum situation in Egypt can best be described as dated, and we don’t mean the antiquities. For years, the investment in modernization and expansion of museum complexes across the nation took a backseat to other priorities. The result? A run down, aging, and crumbling infrastructure in the places designed to inspire.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is more than just a shiny new bauble. It’s a serious effort to fix decades of decay, and it has the support of the government, with a 2019 mandate to combine the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Antiquities. Combining collections from Luxor, Fayoum, Alexandria, the Grand Pyramid complex, and innumerable artifacts repatriated from international museums around the world, the museum is set to house the entire history of the great civilization.
Fun fact: Extensive Greek and Roman collections from around Egypt will also be housed at the GEM, providing a single location to explore nearly 5,000 years of culture and creation.
How do you design and build a truly 21st-century museum?
The area the government designated for the Grand Egyptian Museum provided a unique construction challenge. Nestled at the junction point of the Nile Valley and the Giza Plateau, there is a nearly 165-foot difference in height between the front of the site and the rear. When Irish architecture firm heneghan peng designed their concept for the museum, the landscape became the defining feature of their proposal, beautifully bridging the two elevations and creating an immersive and visually stunning experience for visitors.
Extensive gardens and grounds will help bridge the landscape from lush river valley to arid desert. The building itself creates an extended sight line that perfectly frames the iconic Pyramids of Giza, which are slightly over a mile away. Inside, a large staircase leads to the plateau level, where a multi-story glass wall provides an unparalleled view of the pyramids. It’s hard to put into perspective how big the inside of the new Egyptian museum is without a few comparisons. Nearing 500,000 square feet of floor space, the inside of the museum is roughly the same size as nine football fields. It’s also about one-and-a-half times the size of the building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where rocket ships are built.
The building itself is a marvel of architectural design and construction. A translucent stone facade will flank the building, connecting the river valley to the desert and changing color with the rising and setting of the sun. The massive roof panels function like the gills of a fish, filtering light and temperature, allowing the GEM to ‘breathe’ and keeping the interior an acceptable 73 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, even when temperatures in the desert could reach well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This unique feature will keep energy bills low while preserving the lifespan of the thousands of priceless artifacts stored inside the new Egyptian museum. All of this has come at a price, however, as construction costs have exceeded the initial $380 million estimate due to the numerous delays and extended timelines. Most estimates now place construction costs of the museum somewhere between $875 million and $1 billion.
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What are the must-see exhibits for visitors when the Grand Egyptian Museum opens?
When the Grand Egyptian Museum opens this year, the largest collection of antiquities in history dedicated to a single civilization will go on display, and your visit will begin with an incredible impression. The scale of the atrium at the entrance to the new Egyptian museum may lead you to believe that you are approaching a normal statue as you enter the front doors, but what you are actually approaching is a 36-foot-tall statue of Ramses II, approximately 3,200 years old and weighing nearly 166,000 pounds (that’s about the same as 12 fully grown elephants). This initial impression is only the beginning as you step into the new home of nearly 100,000 artifacts, including thousands that have never been displayed before.
Passing the massive Ramses and ascending the grand central staircase you will be flanked by statues of pharaohs from throughout history, leading you into the immersive exploration of culture that is the Grand Egyptian Museum. Spread across 12 gigantic exhibition halls, a tour of the museum will be a signature experience on any of our tours of Egypt.
Inside the Grand Egyptian Museum you can expect to see:
The full treasure of King Tut’s tomb. On display for the first time since being discovered in 1922, more than 5,000 pieces of Tutankhamun’s treasures including his gold sandals, jewelry, and several never-before-displayed obelisks from his tomb.
The Khufu ship. A solar boat formerly housed at the Giza pyramid complex is believed to have been part of Khufu’s fleet and intended for use in the afterlife. At over 140-feet long and nearly 20-feet wide, the ancient ship is widely regarded as an incredible example of ancient woodworking.
The staircase of pharaohs. Nearly 90 statues of pharaohs and Egyptian gods will adorn the grand staircase, including recently discovered statues of King Amenhotep III and Ra, a falcon-headed god.
Mummies. Perhaps the most famous of all Egyptian historical artifacts, the Grand Egyptian Museum will be the new home to more than 20 royal mummies.
While many artifacts have been moved across the desert plain from where they had been displayed next to the Great Pyramid, visitors to the Grand Egyptian Museum will be able to walk to the location of their initial discovery, as a grand pedestrian walkway is being constructed to connect the museum to the pyramid site.
What’s unique about the Grand Egyptian Museum?
Once open, the Grand Egyptian Museum may instantly become one of the premier museum destinations on the planet, expected to welcome up to 15,000 visitors per day, or nearly 5 million visitors each year. The hope for the new museum, however, is about much more than visitor count. For the first time in generations, much of the history of Egypt and its people will be on display in one location. Further, the focus of the museum will not only be on foreign tourists, but on education, preservation, and local interaction. 19 restoration labs are part of the design, along with a children’s education space, and perhaps most importantly, the ticket price for Egyptian citizens will be drastically reduced from the public admission price for tourists. All of these initiatives are aimed at uniting the Egyptian people around a place and an idea, that the grand history of their culture is alive, present, and ongoing.
Along with the galleries, there will be eight restaurants on-site (some of which may be open 24-hours a day to provide incredible night views of the pyramids), nearly 30 different shops and gift boutiques, and an immersive 3D theater complex. Determined to reignite the tourism industry in Egypt, an airport is being built nearby which will feature domestic flights, making the GEM accessible on a day trip from the resort areas of the Red Sea Riviera. All of these efforts are intended to make Egypt a must-see destination for travelers from across the globe. One thing is certain—when the Grand Egyptian Museum finally opens its doors, it will be a celebration 30 years in the making.
A new era of museums is rising in the desert, travel on one of our Egypt tours to make sure you have a front-row seat to the incredible views.