Nubian Museum, Aswan, Egypt
Arab Bureau for Design and Technical Consultation
Dr Werkmeister & M Heimer Landscape Architects; Sites International Landscape Architects
Nubian Antiquities Salvage Fund; Supreme Council of Antiquities
UNESCO; ICOM (International Council of Museums)
Completed in 1997
Taking its name from the ancient Egyptian nbu, meaning gold, in reference to the area's famous gold mines, Nubia was historically Egypt's gateway to the rest of Africa. From the time of the Old Kingdom, circa 2500 bc, Nubia went through alternating periods of independence and domination by Egypt, and by the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty it was enjoying long periods of stable self-rule and prosperity.
Today, there is no political entity called Nubia. Its lands lie partly in Egypt and partly in Sudan, and most of the northern region was submerged in 1971 when the Aswan High Dam was opened and a section of the Nile Valley flooded to form Lake Nasser. In anticipation of this project, 40,000 Nubians were resettled, and an International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia was formed. Launched by unesco in 1960, the campaign conducted forty archaeological missions and rescued twenty-two monuments. To exhibit the finds from the excavations, unesco decided, with the Egyptian government, to establish the Nubian Museum at Aswan and the Egyptian Civilization Museum in Cairo.
Exhibiting three thousand objects and celebrating the culture and civilization of the Nubian region from prehistoric times to the present, the Nubian Museum opened in December 1997. Funded entirely by the Egyptian government, the museum is an important centre for African and Middle Eastern archaeology and museology and also a vital "community museum", with an educational section - the first in Egypt - that organizes trips, lectures and workshops for schoolchildren and cultural events for the public at large.
Sited on the eastern bank of the Nile near an ancient granite quarry, the museum is placed on a ridge to preserve the site's rock formations and to provide an open view of two of Aswan's key attractions: the Fatimid Cemetery and the Unfinished Obelisk to the east. The massing follows the terrain's contours, and the hand-textured local sandstone of its exterior enhances the building's relationship to the site. Oriented towards the Nile in the manner of traditional Nubian houses, the 10,000-square-metre museum building has its entrance on the west side, where a portico shades the main door from the sun. The open triangle motif used on the west façade is taken from traditional Nubian architecture and is one of a number of traditional elements subtly incorporated into the design. Entering at ground level, visitors are led down to the main exhibition area, where they find the museum's centrepiece: a statue of Rameses II (1304-1237 bc), builder of the great temple at Abu Simbel. Like the façades, the walls and floors of the interior spaces are clad in a local material - in this case pink granite - while the ceilings of the exhibition areas are open-timber grids, providing maximum flexibility for installation of lights and services.
The scheme draws visitors through the museum building and out to an exterior exhibition area, designed to represent the Nile Valley. This area includes a cave housing prehistoric drawings of animals, and also features a traditional Nubian house, an outdoor theatre for five hundred people, two shrines - the maqqam of Saida Zeinab and the maqqam of the 77 walis (governors) - a musalla (place of prayer), and several graves, said to be Fatimid, Roman and Coptic in origin. A canal symbolizes the River Nile, which is surrounded by local flora and fauna.
The institution is popular among the residents of Aswan, who are proud of their museum and feel that it reflects their way of life. The museum plays an important role in informing both Egyptian and international visitors about Nubian culture, preserving an ancient civilization while providing a focal point for today's community.
The museum has been cited for an Award for its success in integrating the past, present and future by creating in a single building an educational institution dedicated to Nubian history, a contemporary focus for the revival of Nubian culture and a museum designed to promote and preserve cultural artefacts for the future. Built to save the archaeological remains of the area flooded by the Aswan High Dam, the museum was chosen for the high quality of its construction materials and its attention to detail. The building also successfully adapts local architectural styles without imitating them. The appropriate scale and choice of materials create a building that is stylistically integrated into the city of Aswan. Nubian monuments in the surrounding gardens have made the museum a centre for community life. As an educational resource, both for local residents and the international community, it saves the Nubian culture for present and future generations.
Nubian Antiquities Salvage Fund; Supreme Council of Antiquities - Gaballah Ali Gaballah, Secretary General; Nubian Museum - Ossama A W Abdel Meguid, Director.
unesco; icom (International Council of Museums).
Arab Bureau for Design and Technical Consultation - Mohamad Yusri Abdel Khalik, Project Architect; Architectural Team - Ahmed Kamal Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Tharwat, Lilly George.
Museum Display Designer
Pedro Ramírez Vásquez.
Dr Werkmeister & M Heimer Landscape Architects - Hans Friedrich Werkmeister, Principal; Sites International Landscape Architects - Laila El-Masry Stino, Principal, with Maher Stino and Khaled Mostafa.
El-Nasr General Contracting Company - Hassan Allam, Construction; Silver Knight Exhibitions Ltd, Interiors.
EGP 57,000,000 (USD 15,000,000)
Design Phase I: 1983-1985
Design Phase II: September 1984-October 1995
Occupation: November 1997
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