Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Crowning the pyramid

By Nevine El-Aref


The masonic pyramid drawn on the dollar; the Great Pyramid of Khufu at the Giza Plateau

Against a backdrop of allegations of a Zionist link, the Giza plateau is a hive of activity, with the Ministry of Culture and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) busy preparing for the millennium celebrations - the highlight of which will be the capping of the pyramid of Khufu. But, with the event lying just around the corner, some fundamental matters need addressing, not least of which is how to get the multitude of expected visitors onto the plateau and how to place the nine-metre-high, gold-plated capstone atop the lofty monument.

"Preparations are in full swing to meet the deadline; only 51 days left," said Zahi Hawass, director-general of the Giza plateau. "Areas on the plateau are being prepared to accommodate the vast numbers expected to attend and new entrance gates are being opened, as well as a parking area and other facilities, including a small bookshop," said Hawass.

Meanwhile, research is being carried out by the SCA in collaboration with the Remote Sensing and Space Science Authority and the Egyptian military forces to assess the condition of the great stones on the face of the pyramid and determine the best method to place the cap.

"Archaeologists are registering the number of blocks on the surface at the top of the pyramid and documenting graffiti found on the top. Some were written by visitors during the last century and some are very amusing," said Hawass. He added that they include love verses, the will of someone who climbed to the top and committed suicide and the names of two lovers who kissed and recorded their feelings for all eternity.

Countless suggestions have been made on how best to lift the golden pyramidion and place it in position. "The most feasible idea up till now is that the piece be divided into two parts. First, a five-metre-high square mastaba (layer) will be placed over a protective base at the top of the pyramid to protect its surface. Then, the top four metres could be fabricated of any lightweight material over an iron frame. This upper portion only will be gold-plated," Hawass added.

"The millennium performance is inspired by celebrations held by the Pharaohs after the completion of their great funerary complexes," said Hawass. "The building of a pyramid was a national project in which all strata of society were brought into requisition and the completion of a great monument towering on top of the plateau was a symbol of power, strength and national unity," he said.

This is in sharp contrast to some allusions on the Internet and in opposition newspapers that the planned celebration supports Jewish and Masonic ideas. "The suggestion is groundless," said Hawass. "The celebration has nothing to do with Masonic beliefs. The design on the US dollar is a faulty imitation of the pyramids of the Middle Kingdom." Hawass went on to explain that an important relief was found four years ago in a tomb in Abusir, beside the pyramid of the Middle Kingdom Pharaoh Amenemhat. "It showed a number of workers pulling a pyramidion bearing hieroglyphic text which revealed the name as Ben-Bit and showed that it was covered with gold. Our millennium celebration will show the world that the idea of the pyramidion is a genuine Pharaonic tradition and it is as old as the pyramids of Giza themselves."

Conspiracy theories aside though, another point of considerable concern is how the plateau can be accessed by such a large number of people. This will be from a new entrance located on the Cairo-Fayoum road, not the Mena House entrance which will, apparently, be closed for good. Stables for horses and camels will be relocated near the new entrance, outside the archaeological area.

New tombs of high-ranking officials and the Valley Temple of the Sphinx have been officially opened after restoration and are sure to attract countless visitors in the next millennium.

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