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CAIRO (Reuters Life!) - The world's biggest museum of Islamic art will reopen in Cairo in coming weeks after a seven-year facelift, museum officials said on Wednesday.
Tourists flock by the millions to the Pyramids at Giza and the Temples of Luxor dating back more than 3,000 years but the wealth of art and design heralded by the arrival of Islam to Egypt in the 7th century tends to take second place.
Before it closed in 2003, only a few thousand curious travellers were venturing each month into the museum, set by a noisy road in the heart of Egypt's frenetic capital.
The building designed by Italian Alfonso Manescalo dated from the early 20th century and was jammed with some 3,000 treasures, many poorly labeled, including ceramics, tombs, doors, wooden screens, robes and rugs.
Its walls were showing cracks because of earth tremors.
During the closure, a rival museum of Islamic art opened in the Gulf state of Qatar designed by celebrated Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.
"Our museum was old and needed its walls strengthening or it would be at risk of collapse," Mohammed Abbas Selim, general director of the Cairo museum, told Reuters.
Among the 80,000 objects that Selim and his team had to choose from, some 1,700 are on display in the refurbished museum.
They include an ewer found beside the tomb of Egypt's last Ummayad dynasty caliph and doors commissioned by the Fatimid caliph Al Hakim for the Al Azhar mosque.
The new museum is brighter, cleaner and less cluttered.
It tells a story of the numerous Islamic empires that passed through Egypt over 1,400 years and how they influenced art and design across the Mediterranean and as far afield as Britain.
"Unlike the pyramids and other ancient artifacts, Islamic art is a more specialized area," said Selim. "These are masterpieces that have to be exhibited in a way that everyone can appreciate."
Editing by Paul Casciato