After a $10-million restoration project that lasted 8 years, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt officially reopened the world’s largest Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo on Saturday, August 14, 2010.
The Museum restoration project has been hailed as a feat of cross-cultural collaboration, bringing together experts from the Islamic Department of the Louvre of Paris, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the nation’s own Supreme Council of Antiques (SCA).
Erected to protect the artifacts from looters, the original museum was designed by Italian architect Alfonso Manescalo and completed in 1903. Even though the Museum housed over 3,000 relics representing the country’s Pharonic, Coptic and Islamic heritage, tourists used to largely ignore the institution, located in the heart of busy Cairo, favouring the usual attractions instead.
Officials soon realized that the poor lighting and organization of the relics were to blame. Moreover, the walls were beginning to crack due to earth tremors. In 2003, the Ministry of Culture began the process to restore the museum to its former glory.
The Museum has been closed to the public since 2006 to implement extensive overhauls in interior and display design. The new Museum is now brighter, cleaner and less cluttered and divides 2500 relics into two wings.
The first wing displays materials from Egypt’s own Islamic history in chronological order Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayubid, Mameluke and Ottoman. The second wing houses artefacts from other nations, such as calligraphy, manuscripts, incense burners, dated to various periods in Islamic history and organized according to chronology, provenance and material.
Rare copies of the Qur'an and a key to the Kaaba in Mecca inlaid with gold will be on display. Other exhibits include Ottoman-era ceramics, ancient instruments used in astronomy, chemistry and architecture and the oldest Islamic dinar ever found, traced back to the year 697.
The Museum’s operations will also expand to include all members of the public. The new design includes a children’s museum and educational programmes are planned for the general public and young adults.
Prior to the opening, Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary-General Zahi Hawass conducted an extensive tour of inspection. Speaking to Al Ahram Weekly, Hawass called the renovation an “extraordinary achievement”.
“Now that the Museum of Islamic Art meets the international standards set out by the International Committee of Museums, it is in a position to compete with its counterparts in Europe and America,“ he said. “Following its re-opening, the museum will once again stand as proudly as it ever did.”
Sabina is a screenwriter, freelance reporter and a member of the first all-female stand-up comedy troupe in the Middle East, Funny Girls.