Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues


Going in style: Tents for $400 ticket-holders (above) will provide a full-course dinner and decidedly upscale accommodation. Erecting the performance stage (below) was a challenge, given the nature of the site photo: Ayman Ibrahim

Front Page

Prepping the plateau

By Nevine El-Aref

The Giza plateau is humming with activity, what with the Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and French field technicians engrossed in preparations for the millennium celebration. More than 1,000 Egyptian workers and Egyptologists, as well as 30 French technicians, are working daily at the site to meet the deadline.

The celebration is not just entertainment; it is the consummation of the state's efforts to promote Egypt's cultural image and touristic appeal. Hence the fury of polishing gates, erecting tents and installing lamps along the roads leading to the celebration area.

Unfortunately, what was intended to be the "crowning glory" of the whole celebration -- the four-minute episode of placing a so-called pyramidion on top of the Great Pyramid -- has been eliminated from the programme. Farouk Hosni, minister of culture, announced last Thursday that the decision was made in order to put a stop to the circulation of controversial rumours, which threatened to cast a pall on the event during the final preparations. "The placing of the pyramidion would not affect the pyramid," Hosni said. "The high-ranking committee, consisting of the Remote Sensing Authority, the Architectural Department of the Ministry of Defence and geologists, engineers and archaeologists, have carried out in-depth technical, scientific and archaeological research and assured us that the plan is feasible. The decision not to carry out this short but crucial episode was considered necessary in order to put an end to all the talk about the celebration by people who want to diminish the role of Egypt."

In preparation for the performance of Jean-Michel Jarre's Twelve Dreams of the Sun, workers are completing the construction of the stage and putting together the scaffoldings that will be used to hold up the loud speakers.

"Preparations are in full swing to meet the deadline," said Bill Bhoquet, the French technician responsible for the site. This is Bhoquet's third time to work with Jarre.

"Some areas of the plateau are almost ready to accommodate the vast numbers expected to attend the spectacular celebration of the new millennium," said Hosni, explaining that 80 per cent of the work has been completed. Entrances and routes leading to the performance location have been prepared. A parking area of 160,000 square metres has been readied to house roughly 3,600 private cars, 120 guest buses and 60 buses for the transportation of the performance crew. All the wooden bases of the tents have been erected and the area allocated to the young people has been covered with wood in an attempt to protect the sands of the archaeological area. An iron partition separating the public spectators from guests in the main tent has been installed.

As for the plateau, "The sandy and the desert nature of the site is one of the main problems we are facing during our work," said Bhoquet. Additionally, workers have struggled with how to properly install the performance equipment and the wooden platform of the stage without disturbing the archaeological area.

"It took us a lot of time to agree with the SCA on the exact location of the stage," Bhoquet said. "We have fully respected what was agreed upon."

The most difficult part of the work has been the installation of the lighting system and projectors in the area between the stage and the pyramids. The area being an archaeological site, no one is permitted to use any vehicles to cross it.

Because the site is so vast, huge electronic equipment is required. Jarre's technicians used 20 kilometres of cable to connect the musical instruments to the sound and light machines, as well as to the projectors installed in the area between the stage and the pyramids. Addressing the concern that the sound equipment used would affect the monuments, the loudspeakers have been placed in such a way that the sound waves will be emitted away from the pyramids, rendering the vibrations of the musical instruments harmless.

The Great Pyramid
The fieldwork started early on 5 November, and was scheduled to be completed by 17 December. Most of the equipment and materials used were imported from France, but some electronics and materials have been brought from Brazil, England, Switzerland and Belgium. The iron scaffoldings are the only material originating in Egypt.

"Preparation for the millennium celebration and drawing up an outline of the concert took one year of studies and research," said Christian Bouret, the executive performance director. The fantastic -- and unparalleled -- location of the site was chosen by Jarre and approved by the SCA after a week-long scrutiny of the plateau, searching for the ideal spot from which spectators can view the three famous pyramids, as well as three smaller pyramids, while hearing Jarre's electronic opera.

"Celebrating the new millennium at the footstep of the pyramids of Giza is unique," said Bouret, who extolled the fact that the site is the only one that can boast one of the seven wonders of the world. "It is the only place from which we could pass to the new millennium." The celebration is combining the old with the new and it will review the history of the human civilisation dating back 4,500 years.

Bouret went on to say that The Twelve Dreams of the Sun is a Pharaonic legend, captured in a "modern way". According to the legend, the sun lives another life from the moment it sets until it rises again. The millennium celebration will accompany the sun during its night-time trip, displaying its dreams. The celebration will be an adventure travelling with the sun, combining music with projected illustrations.

The performance will be displayed on the three pyramids, which, in turn, will form the backdrop of the festivities. Bouret explained that, for example, if the sun dreams of prosperity and nature, so the word "tree", representing nature, will appear on the pyramids in Arabic, French, and English, with an illustration of a tree or a palm tree. The numbers of illustrations will increase, passing through the four seasons to symbolise the passing of time. This dream will end with an illustration of a seed that sprouts from the ground and spreads its roots as a symbol of life. More dreams will be displayed one after the other.

The voice and image of Umm-Kulthoum, the famous Egyptian singer of this century, will be one of the celebration's performances. "Jarre's music will not intervene Umm-Kulthum's singing," said Bouret.

Ayman Abdel-Moneim, the Egyptian director of the site, said that tickets are valued at $400 and LE50. The $400-tickets will be sold to Egyptians and foreigners who want a royal dinner in front of the pyramids. These ticket-holders will be accommodated in 15 tents, each with a capacity of 500 individuals. Some of these tents have been sold to private organisations, such as travel agencies and companies.

Each tent will have its own catering, which will serve food all night long. Young spectators will have their own catering on both sides of the area allocated for them. Mohamed Ghoneim, first undersecretary for external cultural relations, said that all the tickets for the tents have been sold, leaving only black-market tickets that can reach up to $800. The possibility of constructing three or four additional tents to accommodate more people is being considered by the minister of culture.

Hosni said that according to a poll made by the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), the Egyptian extravaganza was considered as one of five main celebrations in the world, but a week ago it became number one. Ghoneim said that international television networks have chosen Egypt to be their starting and ending point. The transmission will begin with the Egyptian celebration at the pyramids, Luxor, Aswan and the Nile and then move to other celebrations in other countries, ultimately returning to Egypt.

Fat'hy Tayel, assistant minister of the interior, said that security measures have already been implemented at the plateau. Ticket-holders for tents will enter from the Mena House gate and the young spectators will enter from a gate located on the Giza-Fayoum road. The site will open its doors to guests after the evening prayer and festivities will continue until 7.00am the next day.

Shuttle buses will take spectators from three points: the Opera House, in El-Gezira; El-Remaya Square, in the pyramid area; and Cairo Stadium, in Nasr city.

   Top of page
Front Page