Fit For A King: Grand Museum Will Showcase Tut And Egypt's Ancient Culture : Parallels The billion-dollar museum is set to open near Giza's pyramids next year. The highlight: King Tut. But amid a financial crisis and drop in tourism, who will come?
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Fit For A King: Grand Museum Will Showcase Tut And Egypt's Ancient Culture

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Fit For A King: Grand Museum Will Showcase Tut And Egypt's Ancient Culture

Fit For A King: Grand Museum Will Showcase Tut And Egypt's Ancient Culture

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Egypt is building a new museum against the backdrop of the pyramids, the Grand Egyptian Museum. It'll be the new home of King Tut's 3,000-year-old mummy, the entire collection of treasures from his tomb and some of his personal effects, including his underwear. NPR's Jane Arraf visited the construction site.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: The steel-and-concrete frame of the Grand Egyptian Museum rises up on the Giza plains on the outskirts of Cairo. It's huge, bigger than 10 football fields. When it's finished, visitors will be able to see the pyramids through the glass wall that makes up almost the entire front. It is indeed grand. It's also expensive. Since the museum was first envisioned in 2002, the cost has doubled to almost a billion dollars, most of it loaned by the Japanese government. More than 3,000 Egyptian workers are racing to finish it by the end of next year. The star of the museum will be King Tutankhamun - King Tut, as he's more commonly known. Museum director Tarek Tawfik.

TAREK TAWFIK: It will open with a fantastic bang. We will, for the first time, be presenting all the objects that were discovered inside the tomb, so about 5,000 objects. Two-thirds of them have never been on display before.

ARRAF: Thousands of the pieces have been in storage at the overcrowded Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. That museum, now 114 years old, will be turned into a museum of ancient art. Tawfik says visitors at the new museum will feel as if they're actually at King Tutankhamun's funeral procession. Two tiny mummies believed to be his stillborn daughters will be displayed with him, all against the backdrop of the tombs of his ancestors, the Great Pyramids.

ISLAM MUSTAFA: He will be beside his great ancestors like Cheops, like Mykerinos, like Chephren, which means that he will be here beside the biggest construction in the Egyptian history, which is the pyramids.

ARRAF: That's Islam Mustafa, the museum's technical director. At a building near the construction site, he shows me some of the labs where conservationists are restoring the objects.

MUSTAFA: Now we will visit a new one.

ARRAF: Here in this industrial-looking room there are big air ducts, metal ones from the ceiling. It looks like a typical lab. But then you look down, and on these drafting tables there are just extraordinary treasures. There's papyrus from the Book of the Dead that are 3,000 years old and ancient textiles, including some of the clothing worn by King Tutankhamun.

EMMAN SHALABY NAGATY: This is after restoration. And it takes three months and a lot of work.

ARRAF: Lab director Emman Shalaby Nagaty and Mustafa show me a pair of King Tut's dress sandals, if you will - dark leather with real gold beading.

So those are actually his sandals?

MUSTAFA: Yes. And used by him. It was the idea of the ancient Egyptians to be buried with their favorite things and the finery things that they will use in another life.

ARRAF: And that includes his underwear. At another table, conservatory Negmadeen Morched is attaching folded linen loincloths to a display panel.

So they're kind of a triangle shape.

NEGMADEEN MORCHED: It's a triangle shape made sometimes from two pieces and sometimes made from one piece.

ARRAF: The museum is aiming to draw 10,000 visitors a day, five times as many as the old one. Director Tawfik says that underwear will be part of the draw.

TAWFIK: Of course, a grand Egyptian museum also must have an innovative shop. So the visitor will be able to buy a replica of the underwear of King Tutankhamun with a text telling how this was supposed to be worn. So you get an insight into very intimate sides of royal life and lifestyle in ancient Egypt.

ARRAF: An insight into another life for King Tutankhamun and his finery, although not the one that he would've envisioned. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Cairo.

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