NPR, by Jane Arraf
The angular steel and concrete skeleton of Egypt's huge new museum rises up on the Giza plains, in sight of the pyramids that inspired it. When it opens next year, visitors to the Grand Egyptian Museum will be able to see the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Menkaure through the glass wall that fronts the galleries. The back wall will be made partly of alabaster, meant to glow like a jewel in the setting sun.
Like the pyramids on the horizon, there is nothing modest about this museum. At almost 650,000 square feet, the complex on the outskirts of Cairo will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization – ancient Egypt, which, for almost 3,000 years starting at about 3,000 B.C., produced some of the world's richest treasures.
More than 3,000 Egyptian laborers are working in shifts, 24 hours a day, ahead of a planned partial opening late next year, showcasing the mummy of King Tutankhamen and the treasures of his tomb. The young pharaoh, more commonly known as King Tut, died at the age of 19 in the year 1323 B.C. His tomb, filled with objects including an elaborate funeral mask and a coffin made of more than 240 pounds of solid gold, was discovered essentially intact in 1922.
"It will open with a fantastic bang, because for the first time, we will be presenting the complete Tutankhamen," says Tarek Tawfik, director of the new museum. "Imagine being able to see this remarkable collection and the pyramids of Giza in the same place."
Tawfik says the new museum is designed to make visitors feel as if they are actually at the pharaoh's funeral procession. The museum hopes to attract more than 10,000 people a day — five times as many as those currently visiting the iconic, neoclassical Egyptian Museum in central Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Construction began four years ago, a decade after the project was first envisioned. The museum's cost has doubled since then, to almost $1 billion. Japan is lending Egypt most of the money.
The country is suffering a severe economic crisis, caused partly by a collapse in tourism, one of its main foreign exchange earners. Before the revolution five years ago, up to 14 million tourists a year visited the country, pumping as much as $12 billion a year into the economy.
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