Coptic Treasures Get The Home They Deserve.
Mogamaa Al-Adian, Old Cairo's religious compound, is finally free of the roar of trucks and lorries that have blocked the entrance to the Coptic Museum for three years now. And the museum itself, with its limestone façade loosely based on the Al-Aqmar Mosque, has finally opened its doors to visitors in an area the attractions of which include the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the Hanging Church and the Synagogue of Beni-Ezra.
On Monday President Hosni Mubarak formally opened the museum during a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and scores of Egyptian ministers and senior government officials. The president was guided through the museum's 26 galleries, containing 13,000 items, by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and Supreme Council of Antiquities' Secretary-General Zahi Hawass. They also watched a 15-minute documentary film on the restoration of the museum.
"The restoration of the Coptic Museum was an ambitious project," says Hosni. "It is one of Cairo's oldest museums and its restoration is an illustration of the government's commitment to preserving the nation's Coptic, as well as its Pharaonic and Islamic, heritage."
Over three years, and with a budget of LE38 million, the museum has been comprehensively refurbished. The main body of the museum, which blends Roman and Fatimid forms, was built by Morqos Semeika Pasha in 1910. But by 1992 it had fallen into a state of disrepair, and after the earthquake of that year was closed for safety reasons, leaving only the new wing, added in 1947, open. In 2003 that too closed as the massive overhaul of the museum began.
Hussein El-Shabouri, the consultant engineer responsible for the restoration, says the museum building was in a critical condition when the restoration began. The walls of the old wing had developed cracks following the earthquake, the ceiling decorations were almost indistinguishable beneath the layers of accumulated dirt and much of the mashrabiya at the windows was broken. The floor of the new wing had been partially destroyed by subterranean water leakage and there were no emergency exits.
To rescue the buildings the foundations were consolidated and strengthened by micro-piles, sharply- pointed columns installed beneath the new wing.
To improve visitor flow the two wings have been connected by a corridor and their levels readjusted. A hydraulic lift and wheelchair ramps have been installed for disabled visitors.
The wooden ceilings in the old wing have been cleaned, revealing painted scenes of Venice and Istanbul. And in collaboration with the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE), a team of Italian restorers consolidated, cleaned and conserved the museum's most important frescoes.