National Geographic News
Egyptian security officers cordon off the site of a car bomb attack targeted Cairo security headquarters.

A car bomb that detonated in Cairo this morning ripped a crater into the street outside police headquarters.

Photograph by Mohamed Hesham, Anadolu Agency/Getty

A. R. Williams

National Geographic

Published January 24, 2014

Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art—home to almost 100,000 priceless artifacts that comprise one of the world's most important collections of its kind—was extensively damaged when a car bomb exploded early Friday morning outside police headquarters across the street.

The blast was the first of four that rocked the Egyptian capital today, reportedly killing at least six people and injuring more than 90.

As the first bomb blew a crater into Port Said Street, it ripped into the facade of the two-story museum, which is more than 100 years old. Intricate designs in the Islamic style were pulverized.

Immediately after the blast, messages on social media indicated that the damage to the collection was likely to be devastating.

But in a phone interview Friday afternoon, cultural heritage expert Yasmine Dorghamy said, "It isn't as bad as we feared."

Dorghamy, editor of Al Rawi magazine, arrived early to help rescue artifacts and was able to speak with museum staff who were allowed into the building.

"They're estimating that 20 to 30 percent of the artifacts will need restoration," she said. "The Fatimid ceramics right near the entrance are happily intact, but at least three of the glass mosque lamps were destroyed." (The Fatimid Caliphate ruled much of northern Africa from 909 to 1171.)

Inside the museum, ceilings collapsed. Half-fallen building material now poses a safety hazard to anyone entering the building.

Although the ceiling debris smashed the glass in display cases, the framework of the cases was able to protect many artifacts, Dorghamy says.

The museum staff has now moved most of the collection to labs and storage facilities in the basement of the building, where a full assessment of damage will take place as soon as possible.

Photograph of Egyptian men standing next to the wreckage of a car outside the Museum of Islamic Art following a bomb explosion.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AHMED GAMEL, AFP/GETTY
The force of the blast blew out the Museum of Islamic Art’s windows, shattering display cases and fragile artifacts.

During his inspection tour of the site with a reporter from Egypt's Al-Ahram news organization, Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim described the galleries as "topsy turvy," and said the destruction was a "great loss" for Egypt and the world.

"It's a crime scene," said University of Alabama Egyptologist Sarah Parcak in a phone interview. "The bomb went off, and there's now major investigations going on by the police and the security forces."

The museum curators and staff have been allowed to go inside and begin an initial assessment. They may find water damage as well as blast debris, since hoses were deployed to douse fires after the explosion.

"All the museum's windows exploded," says Parcak, a National Geographic Society research fellow. "So the survival of artifacts depends on where they were in relation to the windows, and how sturdy their material is. The beautiful glass vases are probably gone."

The museum building dates back to 1903. It reopened in 2010 after a multiyear renovation that cost $10 million.

Twenty-five galleries on the main floor housed one of the world's most important collections of Islamic art—some 2,500 works in wood, plaster, metal, stone, ceramics, calligraphy, and textiles from Egypt and other countries, representing the entire sweep of Islamic history.

"This museum displayed the foundations of a great religion," says Parcak. "It celebrated the artistic beauty and poetry and elegant objects that were used in daily life and in mosques from the earliest years of Islam."

Almost 100,000 additional artifacts were in storage in the basement.

The collection included one of the rarest copies of the Koran, a gold-inlaid key to the sacred Kaaba (the building that houses the black stone kissed by Mohammed) in Mecca, Ottoman-era ceramics, Persian carpets, ancient scientific instruments, a dozen glass mosque lamps from the 14th and 15th centuries, and a restored Mamluk-era (1250-1517) water fountain inlaid with semiprecious stones, green onyx, and colored mosaic tiles.

The Egyptian National Library and Archives, in the second floor of the same building, was also affected. One Facebook report said that more than half a dozen manuscripts were destroyed, and others were damaged.

Four historic mosques in the area were also damaged, along with other buildings in an estimated 160-foot (50-meter) radius of the blast.

"This is one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Cairo, but the buildings are falling down," says Dorghamy. "A balcony almost fell on my head as I was walking by today."

8 comments
Helen Chin
Helen Chin

Intentional damage to cultural and religious institutions that reflect the pride and heritage of Egypt saddens me. My heart goes out to everyone effected by this attack. Sincerest thoughts and prayers for the deceased and injured. To say the actions of those responsible is horrible is an understatement.

Ahmed R.
Ahmed R.

Unfortunately

This news in its entirety liar and a false and misleading


Because the bombing that happened was in the Cairo Security Directorate

And which is in front off the museum...

really i don't deny this


the first picture in this article was to Cairo Security Directorate and not the museum


The aim of all this is let people imagine that there is an imminent threat requiring people to comply with a strict military rule

canceling of the free election


And then ...arrest of anyone who opposes this provision under the pretext of a terrorist extremist


And attach a terrorism charge him just because he wants to exercise their democratic right to choose the legitimate president of his country

This is what happened


Instead of going to the Museum of Arts

And mourn the relics were not damaged from beginning...!! 

But look for the lives that were killed were burned to menstruation landmarks

And look for an elected president was arrested

And look for the rights of people before they are looking for some old bottles

I repeat .... Which were not affected from beginning.


But on the contrary ...

The blast was filmed by security surveillance cameras of the Museum


K. Rankin
K. Rankin

My first reaction was sadness that someone would do this. But as I thought about it, years from now this event will add to the history and story of the artifacts. Sometimes it's not how well preserved on object that makes it valuable, but the history that is captured by the damage. It's just a shame that that history can be rooted in hate and ignorance towards each other.

EG Chan
EG Chan

This is heartbreaking. :(

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