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Focus on the Middle East

April 2012

Preserving Ancient Civilizations: Promoting Tourism

PhotoJapanese experts and volunteers at work at the museum's conservation center with Egyptian counterparts

The pyramids of Giza and Egypt's Pharaonic golden age. Jericho, reputedly the world's oldest city. The biblical Dead Sea.

Middle Eastern countries are rich in ancient treasures and cultures and JICA is helping to preserve this heritage and at the same time promote tourism to achieve greater overall economic growth.

One of those most ancient and stunning of civilizations is on the move: literally.

For several years past, and for several more years to come, some of history's most famous and irreplaceable treasures–about 5,000 items from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the solar boat of King Khufu a statue of King Rameses II, all ‘stars’ of Egypt's Pharaonic period–are being gathered together in a new home in the shadow of the Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), itself one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on the Giza Plateau outside Cairo.

Ten thousand items have already been moved. When the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is officially opened in 2015, it will house 100,000 Pharaonic items.

Reputedly the world's largest archaeological museum, it will attract an estimated eight million visitors annually, stand on a 50 hectare site and include an already opened conservation center, teaching facilities for children and aspiring craftsmen in ancient arts, a conference hall, auditoriums, a ‘virtual museum’ and will be linked electronically to other museums around the world.

JICA has played a vital role in creating GEM, providing a US$450 million loan for building construction, design, landscape and ICT design, training some 152 Egyptian conservators, scientists and Egyptologists and helping to create a database of artifacts, many of which even today are not accurately catalogued.

One one recent day at the new conservation center at Giza 31-year-old volunteer Akiko Sugimoto from Sapporo was diligently working with Egyptian colleagues on the new, years-long database project.

Next door, Japanese experts from the Nippon Express company were teaching local crews how to safely pack the smallest and most delicate of articles in fine safety wrapping or using rigging equipment to shift bulkier items.

PhotoHelping to create a new system of museums in Jordan

Every single piece will be moved, principally from Egypt's current central museum overlooking Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the country's Arab Spring, to the new museum.

It took more than one year of military-style planning at a cost of nearly US$1 million to move the 83-ton, 3,200-year-old statue of King Rameses II inch by inch for nine hours from in front of Cairo's railroad location to its new site.

Nippon Express General Manager of Fine Arts Business Division, Yasuhiro Goto gushed that apart from military campaigns, the current ‘move’ was probably the largest, most delicate such operation in recent history.

Thus far there have been no mishaps. Once each article reaches the conservation area they will be inspected and documented in one of nine laboratories, some needing a little ‘first aid’ while others will require intensive conservation treatment.

Like Egypt, Jordan and the neighboring Palestinian territories are rich in biblical sites and such natural wonders as Wadi Rum, where the Hollywood movie Lawrence of Arabia was largely shot and Petra, the Rose Red City Half as Old as Time and tourism is an important economic local stimulus.

JICA has sent experts, volunteers and equipment as part of a years-long multi-million dollar tourism project to boost Jordan's overall economy.

To both protect the country's heritage and strengthen tourism the agency helped establish a new museum in Amman and rehabilitate other museums in the crusader town of Kerak and in the city of Salt.

It helped develop the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex overlooking the lowest spot on earth and a Japanese financed roads leads from the cliff top down to the Sea.

The complex includes a museum, conference facilities, a nature shop and restaurant and sits atop the jagged Zara cliff looking over the Dead Sea which lies 418 meters (1,371 feet) below sea level and got its name because its high salinity prevents fish or macroscopic aquatic organisms from living there. Herod the Great built fortresses and one of the world's first health resorts there. King David sought refuge in the region and Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist were linked with the region.

In the Palestinian territories a Japanese expert has been helping to exploit the attractions of Jericho, reputedly the world's oldest city.

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