Tutankhamun's golden-plated coffin is undergoing a face-lift for the first time since the boy king's tomb was discovered in 1922 as Egypt nears completion of the Grand Egyptian Museum, a mega project on the outskirts of Cairo that the country hopes will revive its vital tourism industry.
Dozens of journalists flocked to the under-construction museum near the Giza Pyramids on Sunday to take a rare glimpse of the coffin, which was placed inside a plastic incubator as Egypt started the first phase of a restoration project expected to last up to nine months.
Last month, the coffin was transferred from Tutankhamun's tomb near Luxor to the GEM. It was the only coffin left in the tomb after two others were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo's Tahrir square in 1922. Tutankhamun, a pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, ruled Egypt from 1332 to 1323 B.C.
"For the first time since the discovery of the tomb, tourists will be able to see the golden mask and the three coffins by the end of 2020, when we open the GEM," Khaled El-Anany, the antiquities minister, told reporters.
"It was a very delicate project because the coffin is very fragile, as you can see. That's why we did a first-aid intervention inside the tomb, and the transportation was very delicate. It was isolated in a room for seven days and now the fumigation process will take place for three weeks, and we expect between eight and nine months of work to reach a good preservation state."
Tourism in Egypt has started to pick back up in recent years after it flagged because of the turmoil following political unrest in 2011, but it remains well below a 2010 peak of more than 14.7 million tourists.
According to Egypt's finance ministry, the country welcomed 9.8 million tourists last year.
Egypt is pinning its hopes on GEM, expected to be one of the largest museums in the world when it opens toward the end of 2020, to attract more visitors.
"We will be offering a wonderful gift to the world when we open the GEM by displaying for the first time more than 5,000 objects of the [Tutankhamun] collection. To compare, the Cairo Museum now is displaying less than 3,000 objects," El-Anany added. "We've already moved 48,000 objects to the GEM. … We are keeping the main masterpieces in Tahrir for the tourists who will visit Egypt until the opening of the GEM. They will be transferred to the GEM a few days before the opening."