Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 - 16 March 2005
Issue No. 733
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Statue move's massive preparations

It looks like it's going to take a little bit longer than expected to move the gigantic red granite statue of Ramses II from its current location in Cairo's busiest square

Click to view caption
The small model of Ramses II in the designed vehicle

Early Monday, at the Culture Ministry's Zamalek headquarters, hundreds of Egyptian and international photographers and journalists crowded around a small model of the Ramses II statue that stands in the downtown square that bears its name, reports Nevine El-Aref. The model was loaded onto two vehicles, custom-made to carry the 83-tonne statue from in front of Cairo's central railway station to its new home near the Grand Egyptian Museum being planned for the Giza Plateau.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told reporters that a real life trial move would take place in the next two months. A copy of the statue -- formed to its exact weight and shape -- would be used to test the stability and power of the vehicles meant to transport it. The replica would even take the "deteriorating parts of the real statue into account," Hosni said.

The Arab Contractors construction company would be providing the vehicles and the rubber foam that will cover the statue. They will also place the statue inside a mounted cage attached to the vehicle. On the early hours of a Friday, when Cairo's traffic is quietest, the replica will be moved -- with the vehicle travelling the 30-kilometre route through the city's streets at just five kilometres per hour to guarantee the statue's safe arrival.

Hosni said the planned route had just one obstacle -- a pedestrian bridge in Old Cairo. "Since the Arab Contractors are the ones who built the bridge," he said, "it will be easy to dismantle it to make way for Ramses, and then rebuild it again."

A decade of discussions preceded the recent decision to move the statue, which has been deteriorating in its present location, mainly from constant exposure to traffic fumes. "Moving the statue away from this polluted atmosphere," Hosni said, "is the best possible decision. After 50 years of suffering, hidden under a jungle of fly- overs... the most appropriate location for this magnificent statue is within view of the new Grand Egyptian Museum."

The ministry plans to protect the statue better in its new home; in any case, environmental conditions at the relatively remote plateau are much more suitable. It will also fit in well with the Ancient Egyptian atmosphere of both the plateau and the new museum complex. Currently, at the Ramses Square intersection of more than three major thoroughfares and both the main rail and underground metro lines, the Pharaoh seems lost. "These environmental conditions," Hosni said, combined with "the extensive vibrations from the intense traffic," were bound to have a negative effect on the statue's future.

The red granite statue was found in 1882, broken into six pieces, at the Great Temple of Ptah at Mit-Rahina, a village 30km away from the Giza Plateau. All attempts made at the time to restore and re- erect the statue in situ, failed, and the statue remained as such until February 1955, when it was decided to move it to Bab Al- Hadid (now Ramses Square), where it was restored and reassembled by inserting huge iron bars inside the body. It soon became one of Cairo's most famous landmarks, providing a backdrop for several famous Egyptian movie scenes.

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