Egypt: A Cultural GEM

Be one of the first to visit Cairo's hotly anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum, the architectural wonder that has been dubbed the Fourth Pyramid and the final resting place for the golden treasures of Tutankhamun. By Janet Brice.
November 2023

An architectural wonder fit for a pharaoh is the only way to describe the new Grand Egyptian Museum. Like the Great Pyramid, which stands two kilometres away across the desert, the billion-dollar project has taken more than 20 years to complete.

Dubbed ‘the fourth pyramid’, this cultural complex is devoted to Egyptology, bringing the ancient civilisation to life with more than 55,000 artefacts, housing the entire collection of Tutankhamun treasures along with highlights such as the Solar Boat of Khufu, a wooden ship built to carry the pharaoh to the afterlife.

When it opens, the GEM will be the world’s largest archaeology museum, as well as the centrepiece of an entirely new cultural destination. Irish architects Heneghan Peng designed the landmark; in one of the biggest architectural competitions in history, the firm beat 1,500 entries from 83 countries and was assigned the task of constructing a cultural hub to complement the only remaining wonder of the ancient world.

Its scale is awe-inspiring. The entrance
hall is so vast that you could park a Boeing 747 in it, and the main exhibition halls are the size of six football grounds. The expansive floor-to-ceiling windows allow dramatic, uninterrupted views of the pyramids of Giza.

Lost treasures never seen before
Inside, you’ll discover ‘wonderful things’ – the words archaeologist Howard Carter used when he spied the glittering gold treasures of the boy-king Tutankhamun in 1922.

For the first time, visitors will be able to view the 5,000 objects that were unearthed from the pharaoh’s tomb from the iconic death mask and gold sarcophagus to his paper-thin funerary sandals and grand chariots. Since the discovery, most of the artefacts were displayed at the cramped Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square while a small number toured the world, but the full collection has never been exhibited together. And they will be given pride of place in two galleries covering 7,000 square metres.

Architectural challenges
During the design and construction process, architects were challenged by the location, the sandy terrain and the 50-metre difference in level between the desert plateau and the city 10 kilometres away. Despite the slope, the floor is perfectly pitched at the same level as the pyramids and the museum stands proudly between the level of the Nile Valley and the plateau. According to Heneghan Peng, the design uses the level difference to construct a new ‘edge’ to the plateau, a surface defined by a veil of translucent stone that transforms from day to night. The dramatic roof is a sequence of concrete and glass wings, and the façade is adorned with motifs that reference the pyramids; it is set in a desert garden of hundreds of palm trees.

Pre-opening tour
A&K is in the fortunate position of being able to arrange a private site tour of the museum prior to its official opening with an expert GEM guide. You will enjoy the space to view the colossal granite statue of Ramesses II above you in the atrium and the hanging obelisk which welcomes guests at the entrance. Look closely for the rare cartouche of the great pharaoh. Glimpse the work being carried out in the Conservation Centre and join the curators from the wood conservation laboratory who will give you an insight into their work. One tricky task was to remove the paraffin wax which had been sprayed on by Howard Carter to preserve them. Other highlights include the Merneptah Pillar and statues of the great King Senusret I.

The bilbao effect
While most of us will be drawn to GEM for its headline artefacts, the museum is much more than a cultural hub. It will be served by a new purpose-built international airport and will also include a convention centre, hotel, shopping malls and movie complex. GEM is considered a prestige project which looks set to regenerate the country in a way the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, put Bilbao on the world map. Its titanium exterior and huge windows are just as much a masterpiece as the artwork housed inside. The construction of the museum transformed the city and is known as the ‘Bilbao effect’ which other countries aim to follow. While Egypt is poised to reclaim its rich past for a bright economic future, we will be lucky enough to immerse ourselves in its ‘wonderful things’ when the GEM finally opens its doors.

Contact one of our expert Journey Designers or talk to your travel advisor to learn more and start planning.



We value your privacy

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience using our website. By clicking "Accept and Continue", you consent to our use of cookies. Read More