Propping up the plateau
Horses, camels and over-zealous vendors of rides to tourists are being banned from the Giza Plateau as its new management plan starts the first phase of its operation, says Nevine El-Aref
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Clockwise from top: the sphinx; Hosni during his inspection tour; the control room; a pumping machine
Who has not heard cries of complainht from visitors to the Pyramids of the confusion of ticket buying, the persistence of touts foisting horse and camel rides on tourists and the lack of toilets? All that is about to change. For once the Giza Plateau, the icon of the world's historical treasures, is in the limelight for a reason that has nothing to do with a conflict over a road, or a new discovery, or restoration work. This time it concerns the completion of the first phase of a site management plan that will serve the twin goals of establishing a suitable visitor reception centre and preserving the site from the inherent dangers of mass tourism.
Last week Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), embarked on an official tour of the Giza Plateau to inaugurate the first phase of the project and inspect the progress of the work on the second and third phases.
In the past, a number of problems surrounded the site that houses the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, the pyramid builders' cemetery and a number of Old Kingdom tombs. The major concerns were the growth of adjacent urban villages, the huge number of Egyptian visitors who flocked to the site to celebrate national holidays, and the camels and horses which have had uninhibited use of the site.
Some people from neighbouring low-cost housing areas have grown notorious for their unscrupulous, and occasionally aggressive, methods of forcing horse and camel rides on foreign visitors. Some tourists have also broken the rules by climbing the uneven sides of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
According to the site management project's first phase, work on which began three years ago, the site is protected by an 18.5-metre-long enclosure wall equipped with 200 mobile and fixed cameras linked to closed-circuit television, which will keep the inside areas and the surrounding streets under close surveillance around the clock. The cameras, operated by guards in a central control room, will videotape any movement in or out of the plateau and its monuments. A movement alarm system is also installed there, consisting of electronic sensors using infra-red rays that will trigger an alarm if anyone tries illicitly to enter the site or perpetrate any illicit excavation there.
The entrance gate to the plateau that faces the Mena House Hotel, which after the completion of the project's three phases will be for VIPs and private visits only, is controlled by electronic security gates featuring X-ray machines that automatically check visitors' bags. Electronic ticket machines that will count minute-by-minute the number of visitors moving in and out of the plateau are also installed. This will accurately control the number of visitors in the plateau at all times, and is accompanied by an early warning system and a burglar alarm. According to Hosni, since the device was installed the income from tickets has increased from LE500,000 to LE800,000 per day.
More facilities have been also provided on the site such as high-standard toilets, a large parking area and a small bookshop selling archaeological and historical books as well as replicas.
"It was a zoo," Hawass told reporters, recalling the free rein given to traders up to now. "Now we are protecting both the tourists and the ancient monuments," he added.
Hawass said that under the second and third phases, all the paved roads around the monuments would be removed and replaced with paths in the style of those seen in ancient Egypt in an attempt to restore some of the area's original features. A special path for tourists will be built and lit. All the administrative buildings and storehouses within the archaeological site will be removed, and a new lighting system will be installed at strategic places around the plateau while a conservation laboratory will be established for the preservation of artefacts.
Another parking area will be created outside the plateau at the entrance on the Giza-Fayoum road, just behind the second pyramid of Khafre, which will be reserved for tourists and group visits. Access to the site will be limited to pedestrians.
Within the framework of this project, the SCA is now signing a contract with a company specialised in providing and operating electric vehicles, which will transport tourists to and from the plateau. "The [vehicle] company will be also in charge of the maintenance of the vehicles, and will pay the SCA a monthly fee to operate them," Hawass said.
Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, head of the ancient Egyptian department at the secretary-general's office, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the project would also include the repaving of the road around the archaeological site, the installation of a new lighting system, the development of the square in front of the Sphinx, and moving the inspectors' building to the area behind the storage facility located to the south of the pyramids. A parking area, cafeteria, bookshops, bazaars and a visitor centre to introduce visitors to the plateau before their actual visit will also be included, along with a police station and an ambulance unit.
"A stable for horses and camels will also be created outside the archaeological site at the entrance gate located on the Cairo-Fayoum Road, as their current location is an eyesore and contributes to the loss of the sacred atmosphere of the plateau," Hawass said. "Camels and horses should not be ridden within the pyramid area, but should be kept to the proposed "ring road" area. Tourists will be able to ride horses and camels outside the archaeological area, which will serve as a dramatic backdrop."
A picnic area will be established for visitors. This will cut down on the numbers of people near the monuments who are not interested in the history and archaeology of the site, but merely wish to have a place to pass the time.
"We are making it much nicer for the tourists," Abdel-Gawad said.