Sunday,20 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Sunday,20 August, 2017
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Threat to Qaitbey Fortress

Could the 15th-century Qaitbey Fortress in Alexandria be threatened with collapse, asks Nevine El-Aref

Threat to Qaitbey Fortress
Threat to Qaitbey Fortress

The condition of the Qaitbey Fortress in Alexandria triggered a ferocious debate this week among archaeologists and geophysicists in Egypt, with some going so far as to claim that the 15th-century fortress could be threatened with collapse.

Professor of applied and environmental geophysics at the National Institute of Astronomical and Geophysics Research (NIAGR) Abbas Mohamed Abbas said that although the Qaitbey Fortress was in a secure and stable condition it was nevertheless threatened with collapse because the rock on which it is built is in a critical condition.

According to a 2015 report based on a study carried out by researchers from the NIAGR in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities to study the conservation condition of the fortress and install an earthquake-monitoring station in its vicinity, the underlying “mother rock” on which the fortress is built contains caves and cavities extending to the building’s eastern and northern edges.

“These represent a threat to the stability of the fortress,” Abbas said, adding that the report was the result of the first and second phase of the study. There was to be a third phase, he said, but this had been postponed as the director of underwater antiquities at the ministry had had to travel abroad.

Abbas called upon the Ministry of Antiquities to intervene rapidly to consolidate the underlying rock as well as to install wave breakers around the edges of the fortress facing the Mediterranean. The report had located weak points in the mother rock in order to find the most efficient method to repair them.

“The committee that carried out the study recommended a further study in order to prevent water from the sea reaching the caves and cavities in the mother rock and further extending them,” Abbas told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The Qaitbey Fortress is now like a patient in urgent need of medical treatment in order not to see its problems getting worse.”

Rapporteur of the committee evaluating the condition of the rock Eslam Ezzat told the Weekly that the fortress itself was in a stable condition. He said the study had resumed in December 2016, and the Ministry of Antiquities had carried out several studies and inspection tours around the fortress, Corniche, and adjacent Greek Club in collaboration with the Engineering Centre for Archaeology and the Environment at Cairo University.

The last inspection at the fortress was in July 2017 and recommended the resumption of the study of the mother rock to monitor the caves and cavities using special radar devices, magnetic equipment, and electrical sensors, he said.

“This will enable the scientific committee to correctly assess the condition of the main rock, which is made of sandstone,” he said, adding that another study to determine the movement of the waves and their impact on the rock would be implemented in an attempt to use high-tech methods to prevent the waves from making the problems worse.

Ezzat said the committee had taken into consideration recommendations from the 2015 study, and now the ministry was carrying out a study in collaboration with the General Authority for Shore Protection in order to guarantee the permanent protection of the fortress and the rock on which it is built.

The study would also determine the location of the rock’s deterioration. The Qaitbey Fortress is not the only structure built on this, since part of the Corniche, the Maritime Museum and the Yachting and Greek clubs are also built on the rock.

OsamaAl-Nahhas, supervisor of the Underwater Antiquities Department at the ministry, said that studies on the fortress’ foundations had started as early as 1992 after the earthquake that had hit the city.

Several studies followed in 1998, 2003, 2006 and 2009 when huge concrete blocks were installed in several locations in order to break the waves and prevent the further infiltration of sea water. However, over time these blocks had lost their effectiveness, and studies had resumed in 2012, he said.

“All the cavities and caves inside the rock have been found, and work is now continuing to find the best solution to consolidate the rock and prevent any further destruction,” Al-Nahhas said.

The picturesque Qaitbey Fortress was built by the Mameluke sultan Qaitbey in the 15th century to defend Alexandria from Ottoman attack and is located at the mouth of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour where the famous Alexandria Lighthouse, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood.

The fortress was heavily damaged during the British bombardment of Alexandria in 1882 and rebuilt around the turn of the 20th century.

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