A UNESCO emergency mission to launch rehabilitation of the Islamic Arts Museum of Cairo

© Matjaz Kacicnik
Damage to Museum of Islamic Art, in central Cairo, Egypt, after the bombing.

After a blast ripped into the building housing both the Museum of Islamic Arts and the National Library at Bab el Khalq on 24 January, an emergency mission immediately visited the Egyptian capital from 30th of January to 2 February 2014 to evaluate the damage done.

The Emergency Mission was composed of representatives from UNESCO, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the Blue Shield.

The Mission met with H.E. Professor Dr Mohammed Ibrahim, Antiquities Minister of State, as well as the Directors and staff of both institutions. They carried out an in-depth assessment of the damage to the building itself and the collections.

Despite the shocking first impressions of destruction inside and outside the building, the Mission recorded that the structural stability of the building seems not to have been endangered. However, serious damage was recorded to the coating of the outside façade and almost all exhibition halls in both institutions, as well as to the skylights of the roof.

© Matjaz Kacicnik
Damage to Museum of Islamic Art, in central Cairo, Egypt, after the bombing.

First emergency work will be required to cover the roof and the windows, in order to make the building waterproof and to avoid further damage in case of rainfall. It will also be urgent to check and remove to loose decoration panels on the top of the façade, which could fall and injure people walking in front of the building.

In the Museum of Islamic Arts, all showcases and display facilities have been destroyed. One hundred and sixty-one objects have been either totally destroyed or so seriously damaged that their restoration will require many years and substantial funding. In particular, the precious glass collection, including nine important lamps from Mosques – some of which go back to 9th century -- has been reduced to rubble. This is being collected and sorted by the staff of the museum, even if at the moment there is no method to restore them.

The ceramic objects have also been strongly damaged. The wood objects collection, in particular two unique carved old Mihrabs, are already under restoration. The metal collections are only slightly damaged, and can be restored rather quickly by the museum’s staff. Fortunately, the conservation laboratories and store-rooms, which are mostly in the underground or at the back of the building, are not or only very slightly damaged -- they can now be used to safe keep and restore the collections.

As for the Archive Museum of the National Library at Bab el Khalq, all showcases have been smashed – but only few manuscripts and books are damaged, mainly by water from the broken water supply and from glass dust. Most of this damage can be quite easily cleaned and restored, but this will take many months of work.

© Matjaz Kacicnik
Damage to Museum of Islamic Art, in central Cairo, Egypt, after the bombing.

Measures for the rehabilitation of these two institutions and their collections will shortly be submitted by UNESCO to potential donors in Egypt and abroad.

Discussions have started with several countries and institutions, which have expressed interest in helping the Egyptian people in the restoration of this unique heritage, which is an important part of their cultural identity.

This Emergency Mission builds on the statement made by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, on 24 January, when she declared:

“I pledge today that I will mobilise all of UNESCO’s experience and expertise to rebuilding the Museum and restoring the damage – this is as essential for the people of Egypt as it is for women and men across the world.”

“This heritage is part of the universal story of humanity, shared by all and we must all do everything to safeguard it,” stated Irina Bokova. “In the spirit of solidarity, I appeal today to all Member States to support action to rehabilitate the Museum, the galleries and displays.”

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