A Pharaoh’s Playground: The Grand Egyptian Museum Opens GEM Childrens Museum - My Family Travels

If you’re asking when the Grand Egyptian Museum opens, you are asking the wrong question. On a recent visit to Egypt, my family toured the stunning GEM, as this jewel is rightly called. While there, I interviewed one of the key creatives, Ayman El Sayed, Senior Manager of Education Programs and developer of Cairo’s latest children’s playground. The GEM Children’s Museum, a separate ticket museum within the museum, is open.

According to Mr. Ayman, the right question to ask is how can we best educate the world about Egypt’s history? GEM showcases an estimated 100,000 artifacts including art, objects of daily life, and items of Egyptian cultural significance. By innovating the entire museum experience, Mr. Ayman and his team answer that question.

Why You Should Visit The Grand Egyptian Museum Now

On June 13, 2024, our first “Wow” moment came when touring the exterior of the recently opened Grand Egyptian Museum.

The “Wow” comes from the vast scale. A translucent alabaster façade patterned with light and dark triangles changes hue as the sun moves. A Hanging Obelisk suspended over a base stands sentinel at the entry. Vast stone courtyards surrounded by landscaped gardens and date palms wait for the crowds.

The architectural firm of Heneghan Peng Architects from Ireland designed the 90,000 square-meter complex, said to be the largest museum in the world. Local contacts say the museum cost close to US$1 billion, built with funding from Japan, China, the Egyptian government and a private-public partnership managed by Legacy Co.

The stunning Pyramids of Giza, the only remaining Wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World, are just a mile away from this new Wonder.

Book Tours of Egypt’s top sites now!

The Grand Hall at the Grand Egyptian Museum is an Eye-Opener

The main doors at the open Grand Egyptian Museum echo the shape of the nearby Pyramids of Giza. Photo c. Jessica Burnbach.
The main doors at the open Grand Egyptian Museum echo the shape of the nearby Pyramids of Giza. Photo c. Jessica Burbach.

The drone view reveals that the complex aligns with the axes of the three pyramids. The sense of mystery continues as you enter the soaring atrium where many aspects of the museum — the main themes of Kingship, Belief and Society — come in threes.

A stunning statue of King Ramesses II, 38 feet tall and 3,200 years old, reminds all who enter of the great treasures within. Nearby, two more royalty guard the Gift Shop. The graceful stone King and Queen, thought to be from the Ptolemaic era because of their style, form a meeting spot. The Gift Shop itself, full of quality Egyptian jewelry, museum reproductions, design objects and unusual fabrics, is well worth a visit. The PR team points to the elegant tableware and home accessories that make good gifts for the local market.

Explore What’s Open at this GEM of Egyptian Culture

Inside, the museum is organized into three wings. The wing visitors initially see features retail space and is mostly open. Three restaurants, already popular, include Zooba for classic Egyptian dishes in a modern, casual setting; 30 North for coffee; and Laduree, the French brand, for sweets.

Adjacent areas for conferences, a 3D cinema, upscale boutiques and more restaurants radiate from the main lobby. Visitors will soon strap on VR goggles (separate fee) for a HoloLens Experience that mixes augmented reality with visitors’ real-time movements. An audio guide to the galleries is in the works.

A new structure rises next door. It will house the 144-foot-long, antique boat, the Solar Barque of the Pharaoh Khufu, when restoration is complete. That work and the Artifact Conservation Labs are closed to the public.

The Grand Egyptian Museum’s Gem:  The Grand Staircase

The Pyramids of Khufu (left) and Khafre (right) in Giza are just beyond the gardens at the newly opened GEM. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.
The Pyramids of Khufu (left) and Khafre (right) in Giza are just beyond the gardens at the newly opened GEM. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.

Access to the galleries is as grand as the galleries themselves. Three levels of the Grand Staircase illustrate the theme of Kingship with more than 65 sculptures of the ancient Kings and Queens. Granite and marble figures and tombs – many exhibited here for the first time – combine with excellent signage to engage visitors.

Walk up the shallow steps for a close-up view. Or, ride the slow-moving escalator or glass elevator parallel to them. The clever mobility aid provides access to all visitors and gentle time travel through six millennia.

Galleries fanning out from the Grand Staircase focus on how the ancient Egyptians worshiped their gods. This is where the world-famous, golden Tomb of Tutankhamun treasures will be moved from the original Egyptian Museum in Cairo. (That museum is still a must-see.)

At the top of the Grand Staircase, bench seating and giant glass windows look south to the Pyramids of Giza. This is the final selfie spot.

The GEM Children’s Museum is a Playground for Young Visitors

The entire Children’s Museum is delightfully Egyptian in theme. “It simulates the daily life and activities of the ancient Egyptians,” Mr. Ayman noted. Brightly colored exhibits line the inviting space. Areas for role playing allow young visitors to drive a chariot or dine with a pharaoh.

Western children, more used to activities like playing pirate or running a grocery store at their local children’s museum, will be fascinated.

Three Ways the GEM Children’s Museum Opens Young Minds

Experience daily life, dine with Pharaohs and play board games at the GEM Children's Museum. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.
Experience daily life, dine with Pharaohs and play board games at the GEM Children’s Museum. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.

Mr. Ayman explained that Children’s Museum content, aimed at ages 6-18, is designed around artifacts in the galleries. There are classrooms for hands-on learning plus an arts n’ crafts center. Parents can leave children with the trained staff and explore the main galleries themselves.

Enter and you immediately sense how the ancient Egyptians lived, practiced their religious beliefs and engaged in commerce. Everyone stays busy because each of the museum’s five sections accommodates different learning styles. Visual learners have vivid educational panels inspired by hieroglyphics and tomb paintings to illustrate the topic. Overscale furniture and props invite children to interact.

Multimedia technology and games draw them into the lifestyle of Egyptians from thousands of years ago. Mr. Ayman described a recent GEM Hackathon where computer science students worked on a new video game to accompany displays.

Kids’ Play Space Openly Shares Secrets of Kingship, Belief and Society

Exhibits highlight the Nile River and ancient Egyptian housing, agriculture and hunting. Kids decipher and translate scrolls full of hieroglyphics, examine medical equipment, math calculators and more. To illustrate the era of Kings and Queens, they choose which stories to listen to in Arabic or English.

Mr. Ayman’s team says children love the section devoted to Society because it explores ancient life through music, board games and sports. Ancient concepts like appropriate behavior for the living (like the 10 Commandments) are followed by tales of the judgement day that everyone traveling to the afterlife would face. Science comes into play with exhibits on the mummification process.

Students gain insight about careers in Egyptology, conservation, archeology, excavation, and other scientific occupations.

Outreach & Inclusion for All Learners & Community at GEM

The sections on Society at the GEM Children's Museum teach visitors about agriculture and daily life in Ancient Egypt. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.
The sections on Society at the GEM Children’s Museum teach visitors about agriculture and daily life in Ancient Egypt. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.

Inclusivity is a challenge for all museums. Special needs, learning disabilities, and poverty impact who takes advantage of what they offer. Since GEM is supported by a private-public partnership, it tells Egypt’s story in different ways to appeal to different audiences.

“Our guests will be using bricks [to build] or learning the hieroglyphics language,” Mr. Ayman hopes. “Or using robotics to investigate the artifacts.”

“We have more plans to cover more ages,” Mr. Ayman adds, “and we have separate programs that are targeting university students or fresh graduates.” GEM is also developing a GEM Internship Program for volunteers of any age with an interest or expertise in Egyptology.

Mr. Ayman and the programming team are committed to using the theatres and community spaces to expand the museum into an international cultural hub. “What we want to do is connect the past with the present and the future,” he says.

Book Tours Now Before the Official Grand Egyptian Museum Opening

Mazza platter at Zooba, the casual Egyptian restaurant at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo c. Jessica Burnbach.
The Mazza platter has samples of the most popular appetizers at Zooba, the casual Egyptian restaurant at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo c. Jessica Burbach.

The Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo is located at Alexandria Desert Rd, Kafr Nassar, Al Haram, Giza Governorate 3513204, Egypt. Day trippers can arrange an inexpensive Uber or driver/guide with car from Cairo, about 45 minutes away depending on traffic. The closest luxury hotel, a “gem” of its own, is the historic Marriott Mena House, Cairo opposite the Pyramid of Khufu in Giza.

Go now, since there is already so much to appreciate. Given the current war in Israel and subsequent drop in international tourism, it’s hard to know when the Grand Egyptian Museum opens “officially.”

GEM’s current daily operating schedule is 10am to 6pm and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday. Purchase Preview (and soon General Admission) tickets at the Grand Egyptian Museum site for the 45-minute guided tour of the atrium and Grand Staircase. The GEM Children’s Museum is currently open daily for ages 6 to 12 years. Admission for 45-minute tours of the facility cost $3 for Egyptians and their families and $10 for foreign nationalities.

In Conclusion, This GEM Is Ready to Shine

Small Sphinx and Egyptian antiquities themed to Kingship are now on display at the Grand Staircase of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.
Small Sphinx and Egyptian antiquities themed to Kingship are now on display at the Grand Staircase of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo c. Ron Bozman/Spring Hill Prods.

Any project that takes decades to complete will face change along the way. When it comes to museum design, that change often means improvement. The Grand Egyptian Museum opens with advances in design and conservation technology that make the museum-goer’s experience feel almost futuristic. If GEM doesn’t convince foreign museums that Egypt can safely preserve the treasures appropriated in the past, nothing will.

While acknowledging that the rapid pace of innovation continues, the GEM team are justifiably proud of what they’ve built. They are ready to shine a light on Egyptian culture that’s never been as bright before.

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