Egypt’s monumental ancient wonders continue to fascinate and impress, drawing millions of visitors each year. Among the most well-known of them all, the Great Pyramids of Giza were built by three successive kings during the prosperous Fourth Dynasty. The oldest and largest, for King Khufu, reportedly took more than 20 years to build. So, one could say it’s well within this tradition that more than four millenia later, down the road from the fabled necropolis, a new museum devoted in part to its wonders, finally nears completion.
After more than two decades, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM)—a megalithic institution estimated to have cost more than $1 billion—prepares for its long-awaited opening. Due to its proximity and scale, it has carried the nickname of the “fourth pyramid” by Egypt’s minister of antiquities and tourism, Khaled al-Anany. Once officially open, guests aboard our Egypt expeditions will experience this state-of-the-art institution firsthand. Until then, learn more about the museum's anticipated launch and the abundant treasures waiting within.
The GEM is billed to be the largest archaeological museum devoted to a single civilization.
Encompassing a massive 490,000 square-meters, the Grand Egyptian Museum will display around 100,000 ancient artifacts spanning 7,000 years of Egyptian history. The main galleries are divided along four eras: predynastic and Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, and Greco-Roman.
One highlight of the Middle Kingdom is a spectacularly preserved 140-foot-long solar barque found buried next to Khufu’s pyramid, making it the oldest and largest wooden boat discovered in Egypt. Scholars believe solar boats were symbolic vessels, meant to transport the pharaoh on his journey through the cosmic waters of the afterlife.
More recent discoveries from the famed necropolis Saqqara, at Memphis, Egypt’s ancient capital, include painted sarcophagi, preserved mummies, bronze statues, and ritual vessels that will also enter the museum’s collection.
Besides gallery space, gardens, and a conservation studio, the museum will also include a conference center, restaurants, shops, a library, a theater and a dedicated children’s museum, inviting younger visitors to discover the magic of ancient Egypt through interactive activities and workshops.
It has taken more than 20 years to near completion.
Over two decades in the making, the GEM is one of the longest-awaited and most-anticipated museum openings in the world. Plans for the museum began in 2002, when the Egyptian government held a competition inviting designs for the new complex.
More than 1,550 architecture firms from 83 countries entered, making it one of the largest such design competitions in history. Irish firm Heneghan Peng Architects won the main contract with their modern approach, a chamfered triangle oriented as a series of layered spaces through which the visitor moves, complete with planned views of the pyramids in the distance. According to the Egyptian government, a total team from 13 different companies contributed to the final design.
Although construction began in 2005, setbacks soon caused delays; in 2011, the Arab Spring halted the project completely until 2014. Planned openings in 2018 and 2019 were likewise delayed, and the start of the pandemic, in 2020, continued to put things on hold. Now, the official opening is set for sometime between October 2023 and February 2024, but the GEM has begun allowing limited visitors into its entrance hall and gardens for a sneak peek.
It marks the first time King Tutankhamen’s artifacts will be displayed together.
An undisputed highlight of this new institution is the expansive galleries devoted to one of the most well-known of Egypt’s rulers, the boy-king Tutankhamen. When his tomb was discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter, it captured public imagination and transformed the once-forgotten ruler into an eternal icon.
Unlike most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings which were heavily looted over time, Tutankhamen’s burial chamber was found almost entirely intact. Carter and his team spent months cataloging the more than 5,000 riches—from statues and death masks, to furniture, chariots, and jewelry.
Four immersive galleries totaling 7,000 square feet will display nearly all of the objects from the collection installed together for the first time. With dramatic lighting and a faux night sky, the exhibit will recall the order of the discovery, while also marking a symbolic journey from death into the afterlife.
A replica tomb completed by the Factum Foundation and previously installed near Carter’s House will move to the museum, giving visitors their own experience of entering the small, sacred space. Also shown together for the first time will be Tutankhamen’s three nested coffins, the outer two in wondrously gilded wood inlaid with glass and semiprecious gemstones, the inner made of more than 240 pounds of gold and similarly adorned.
The museum’s state-of-the-art conservation studio is one of the world's largest.
With 17 labs employing around 100 specialists, the museum houses one of the largest conservation centers in the world. In the lead up to the opening, the team was tasked with preparing the items in the collection for display—some of which have sat in storage for decades.
Tutankhamen’s magnificent outer coffin underwent an eight-month treatment in 2019. Conservators also treated the pharaoh's golden chariot in their dedicated Wood Laboratory, where new microscopic analysis revealed it as Elmwood not native to Egypt.
Other pieces requiring more extensive intervention, like his 3,500-year-old sandals with tattered soles and missing beading, were restored through innovations developed in the lab. His cuirass—a military garment made of intertwined leather on a linen backing—will go on view to the public for the first time ever thanks to months-long analysis and conservation of the fragile pieces by the Organic Lab.
The museum's facade and atrium had to be built around its largest artifact.
Measuring 36 feet high and weighing 83 tons, the commanding red granite statue of King Ramses II was rediscovered by Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Caviglia in 1820. In the 1950s, the statue pieces were assembled to full height and displayed for many decades in the center of a traffic circle in Cairo known as Ramses Square.
Now, it will take up its permanent home in the museum’s soaring, glass-roofed atrium, which had to be built around the massive statue. When Ramses arrived for installment, after a 10-hour journey, he was met by a celebratory display of fanfare, led by a military procession and serenaded by the Egyptian national anthem. Behind the great king, the grand staircase hosts 87 other statues of gods and kings, a grand and historic assembly to welcome visitors through this first space of the museum.