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Just between usBy Jill Kamil
The "management project" for Giza Plateau is now in its eleventh year. Before asking you specific questions, please summarise what the plan entails?
Giza Plateau, with the great Fourth-Dynasty Pyramids, is one of the world's most important archaeological sites. I need hardly to stress that. But what I would like to add, because too few people know it, is how seriously threatened the area is by urban expansion, pollution, conservation challenges and the pressures of tourism. The master plan in fact started ten years ago, in 1988 to be exact, and the first phase was an organisation scheme for the site; phase 2 defined a conservation and archaeological plan for the east side of the Great Pyramid and the queens' pyramids; phase 3 is an ongoing stage that will define conservation of the three main Pyramids and includes a tourism management plan; and the final phase 4 will continue the process of archaeological research and conservation.
I have been following your progress with interest but I find the plateau is still in an alarming state of disrepair. What have you to say about that?
Unfortunately, while the press is ever ready to announce plans and projects, they never give the public any idea of the length of time needed for completion. In the case of Giza there is no overnight solution. We are working steadily towards our goals. Maybe you are victim to your own propaganda.
Maybe, but I have heard you criticise some facets of the master plan. Surely, had it been adequately drawn up, discussed and approved it would not have been necessary for Ne'maat Ahmed Fouad and five of Egypt's top lawyers to file legal action in 1997 claiming that the project to preserve the Sphinx was a violation of Article 20 of Antiquities Law 117 of 1983. Were they justified in their criticism?
I presume you are referring to the building of a wall and bathrooms and the cultivation of palm plantations which took no account of the law which states that each archaeological site has to have a three square-kilometre preserve around it. If so, then I must point out that the village of Nazlet Al-Siman already infringed on the Sphinx area when the site management plan for Giza was drawn up in 1984. It was not possible to apply the letter of the law in that instance. All we could do was make sure that no more violations took place; that existing storage buildings and rest houses used by archaeologists be dismantled and that motorised traffic be kept at a safe distance from the monuments.
May I add that the plan calls for building a ring-road around the plateau which has three defined access openings. The first is near the Mena House Hotel, the second at the foot of the Sphinx and the third at the beginning of the Fayoum road. Also, an area behind Menkaure's third pyramid will be devoted to horse and camel riders.
You outline all this with great pride. But I have heard you voice reservations, privately, about certain aspects of this plan. Would you like to repeat those for the Weekly?
Are you referring to my opinion that the ring-road should not have two-way traffic, however desirable from the point of view of the Traffic Department, because the view of the monuments would be impaired? Yes, I feel strongly about this. Motorists would have to watch out for approaching traffic and would miss seeing one of the wonders of the ancient world.
And may I add that I anticipate problems from other directions too. For example, the stretch of the ring-road to the east will require the demolition of a village and the relocation of people is always a problem. It could even bring the whole idea of the ring-road to an abrupt end.
What about the possibility of the contractors chancing upon more archaeological areas?
Theoretically the whole of the area of the ring-road should be excavated prior to construction, but that is unlikely to be done, and I do foresee many chance discoveries in store for us and the inevitable delays, for who knows what length of time. The discovery of the tombs to the south of Giza, you will remember, resulted in an extraordinarily long delay.
I have heard you say that foreign experts should be brought in to cooperate. Would you like to expound?
When I mentioned foreign experts I was not referring to archaeological work, but to my belief that we don't have architects with the sophistication and experience to design appropriate buildings for the two planned cultural centres on the plateau. Also, the entrance facades to the main gates are vitally important for the overall appearance of the plateau, and we should not be afraid to draw on the necessary expertise. For example, I saw some local designs for this construction and they were pseudo-Pharaonic design, which is totally out of keeping with the ancient site. Such amusement park-like decor is totally inappropriate for a world heritage site and, believe me, I will fight against it.
What will you do?
Zahi Hawwas excavating different sites in the Giza Plateau
I will stress to all concerned that some phases of the master plan are extremely difficult and I will press for professionally qualified people to collaborate with us in applying international criteria.
Difficult to do, wouldn't you say?
Yes, but not impossible. Meanwhile, we are going ahead with the archaeological work, continuing the second phase to the east of the Great Pyramid and subsidiary tombs: we are re-excavating the site and architecturally restoring the tombs; careful work is required near the third pyramid of Menkaure, especially the area south and west of the pyramid which is full of sand and has never been excavated. We expect to find part of the pyramid's construction ramp and additional boat pits.
Furthermore, a programme to restore the exteriors of the three Great Pyramids will require a photogrammetric map for each, appropriate tools and equipment and documentation. Eventually we will need to ensure the documentation for all the tomb walls, paintings and artifacts within a computer database.
It is a long and hard road we travel and all of this is being done by Egyptians. So, a rhetorical question, what is the harm of calling in foreign professionals to do something that they can do better than we ourselves: design the entrances to the plateau and the facilities necessary for tourists?
How far off completion is the project?
A long way. Phase four which includes archaeological research and conservation within the site will take some 10-15 years, and this will go parallel with visitor management, protection and infrastructure development.
In October 1998, we started to move all the camels and horses to the desert south of Menkaure's pyramid. The new stable is already complete and nearby will be the office of the tourist police so that they might be controlled. From here, tourists will be able to ride with the vista of the Pyramids in the background. Animals will not be permitted on the Giza Plateau at all. They will enter the site from the road, where we are planning a parking lot and a picnic area. This new area will contain all tourist activities and facilities.
You have most lofty aims, Zahi, but I've noticed that despite all your talk of site protection and management, you haven't been able to stop the squash festivals that continue to take place on the plateau, which attract large crowds of people, vehicles and services to the very place you aim to protect. What precautions are you taking for the millennium celebrations?
The cultural events will be staged in the area where the opera Aida was performed. That is to say, a rocky area west of the pyramid of Khafre which has no artifacts, neither above ground, nor below. Rest assured, I shall ensure that Giza, which I regard as a very special area, will not come to grief at the turn of the century, nor ever.
Any future plans?
An electrical transportation system will eventually be built to take tourists through the site. But here again I foresee problems. One is that there are modern structures in the path of the access road and this has already delayed implementation of the plan, for now. We are working towards the problem.
May I add that even when the final phase of the site's management is complete, our work will continue. We have to conserve the tombs and Pyramids and develop a conservation laboratory for the site. A site like Giza needs constant attention.