“This is a very sad day for antiquities,” el-Nabrawy said. “These are rare and irreplaceable.”
Among other destroyed treasures, he said, were glass pieces dating back to 750, including an ornate pot of a rare type of glass believed to be pioneered by the early Egyptians.
Other priceless pieces that were damaged or destroyed included a century-old wooden niche or “mihrab” used in mosques to point to the direction of Mecca during the five daily calls to prayer. Arabic inscriptions and verses from the Quran were carved on the piece, which belonged to Ruqaya, a daughter of Ali, a successor of Prophet Muhammed.
Estimates of the damage varied, with former museum official el-Kilani and other archaeologists saying nearly all of the collection was lost, while other experts said 5 to 20 percent of the museum’s pieces were destroyed.
El-Nabrawy estimated that about 5 percent of the museum’s artifacts were lost because many of the textiles, coins and metal artifacts could be salvaged.
“Even if it is only one piece, this is history and heritage that is priceless,” he said.
The director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, agreed and pledged to help in restoration efforts. “This raises the danger of irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people,” she said of the attack on the museum and its collection.
Abdel-Moaz Abdel-Salam, a resident of Bab el-Khalq, walked past the museum and screamed in anger: “Look at this. The history of the country! Look what happened to it.”
“This is the history of Egypt. They are distorting it. We can easily rebuild the security headquarters. How can I rebuild this?”