Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 June 2006
Issue No. 798
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Karnak facelift approved

Rumours surrounding the Karnak Development Project have finally been scotched, reports Nevine El-Aref

photo: Mohamed Wassim Click to view caption
photo: Mohamed Wassim

Rumours of the environmental disaster that would be wreaked by the Karnak Development Project, approved by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and Luxor City Council (LCC), began to circulate early in May. The project would, said its detractors, destroy the context of Karnak Temple, and in its attempts to prevent further encroachment had opted for cosmetic solutions. A two-metres wide concrete wall to be built around the temple, violating archaeological layers and creating a ring over the remains of five temples from the time of Akhenaten, almost dividing them in two areas, came in for special criticism, as did uprooting trees planted on the temple's northern side.

It was also reported that both the SCA and LCC had agreed that a marina be established, and that a 129 000-square-metre space between the temple and the Nile Bank be cleared, involving the demolition of bazaars, residential houses, the French mission's dig house and the wooden house built for French Egyptologist George Legrain. There were also rumours that the development project included a commercial centre comprising restaurants, a shopping mall and a parking area.

Shahira Mehrez, a specialist in Islamic Art, led a counter campaign against both SCA and LCC, sending a four-page report to UNESCO, accompanied with photos, criticising the project. In the report Mehrez argued that the isometric views of the project were misleading, since they ignored the differences in the level of the temple and the projected road. Nor, she said, had the project considered what the view would be like once the buildings had been demolished. "They want to demolish a charming mud brick village and thus expose five-storey high concrete buildings painted in an array of garish colours and covered in commercial advertising hoardings," Mehrez told Al-Ahram Weekly.

In responding to the report Francesco Bandarin, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, wrote to SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass, suggesting alternative solutions be sought, and threatening to remove Karnak Temple from the World Heritage List should the project go ahead as planned.

Hawass describes Bandarin's letter not only as a personal insult, but as an insult to all Egyptians.

Hawass wrote to Bandarin saying: "I am an experienced archaeologist who knows the value of these monuments. And no one protects the monuments of Egypt more than Egyptians."

In his letter Hawass said Bandarin had based his conclusions on conjecture and gossip, and forwarded a detailed report on the planned project, the aim of which is to curtail infringements on the archaeological site and clear a site for the excavation of the ancient harbour and canal that once connected the temple to the Nile. The plan, furthermore, involves the planting of new trees and not the uprooting of those already in situ.

Bazaars located along the temple walls will be relocated along the Corniche, in the site occupied by the Luxor Stadium, which will also house an underground commercial development as well as a visitors' centre. A memorabilia hall is also planned, commemorating the French archaeologists who worked in Karnak, including Auguste Mariette, Maspero and George Legrain.

The plan has now been agreed by all concerned parties.

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