Thursday,18 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)
Thursday,18 April, 2019
Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Matariya Museum reopens

The Matariya Obelisk Museum has been reopened after 10 years of closure for development, reports Nevine El-Aref 

Royal relief

The site of ancient Heliopolis has been off the tourist map for years, but after a decade of closure for development the Matariya Obelisk Museum has been reopened as a new and fascinating archaeological and tourist destination.

The open-air Museum displays a 20.4-metre granite obelisk erected by the Middle Kingdom Pharaoh Senusert I, along with a collection 135 artefacts from different periods.

One of its highlights is a four-metre quartzite statue of Ramses II, along with other objects bearing the names of Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III. More obelisks have also been discovered, such as that of the Sixth-Dynasty Pharaoh Teti, two obelisks of Thutmose III, an obelisk of 19th-Dynasty Pharaoh Seti I, and two more obelisks now on display in London and Rome. 

Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the development project for the museum had been initiated in August 2008 and completed in October 2010 in a bid to rescue and preserve the archaeological site. The idea had been to develop it into an open-air museum displaying artefacts from the ongoing excavation work at the ancient site of Heliopolis and highlighting the archaeological and historical values of the area.

king Senusert I

“The area had long suffered from high levels of subterranean water. Therefore, the first stage of the project raised the level of the ground in the open-air museum to prevent the deterioration of the objects and to ensure the preservation of the archaeological area,” El-Enany said.

Waadallah Abul-Ela, head of the projects sector at the ministry, said the garden that had originally been planted to enhance the area has been removed because the water needed was damaging the monuments. 

“Each statue has been set on a base with full information about it given on nearby signs,” he said, adding that two octagonal and 20 square-shaped concrete blocks covered with red granite slabs and reached by stairs had been installed to be used as a platform for the objects on show. 

Different paths had been set up inside the museum to highlight the visitor circuit, as well as descriptive labels on all the archaeological objects. A main entrance to the site had been opened and an iron fence built to enclose the museum and protect the archaeological site.

Sherif Abdel-Moneim, supervisor of site development at the ministry, said that the Cairo suburbs of Matariya and Ain Shams were once the site of Egypt’s ancient capital Iunu, which was sub-divided into four main districts.

King Senusert I obelisk

The ancient city played a major role in the cultural and religious beliefs of the Pharaonic period, where the “Ennead of Heliopolis”, one of the earliest theories of creation, was born. The first university in the world was established in the city, where medicine, philosophy, astronomy, history and religion were among the main subjects of study.

Ayman Ashmawi, head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities sector at the ministry, said that in Pharaonic times ancient Iunu (Heliopolis in Greek) was the centre of the sun cult, vying with Memphis and Luxor as one of the three most important cities in the country. 

Unfortunately, the site had been almost totally obliterated in modern times by urban expansion, he said. The situation had been partially remedied in 1950, when the then Antiquities Department commissioned a German firm to raise the obelisk on a base of about two metres.

 Some effort was made to clear and develop the site, and lawns were planted to enhance the surroundings. Later, in the mid-1970s, further improvements were made to the area around the obelisk and the nearby Tree of the Virgin Mary. 

Yet, the site as a whole remained largely inaccessible to tourists until the completion of a new bridge over the railway station separating Cairo from Matariya. 

Subsequent excavation in Arab Al-Hisn, part of ancient Heliopolis, has since uncovered a glimpse of a large temple complex with monuments dating back to the New Kingdom. 

Among the most fascinating architectural elements still visible are the temples of Ramses II and Ramses IV, a chapel built by the latter’s son Nebmaatre, and a granite column of the Pharaoh Meneptah depicting him making offerings to various gods as well as figures of bound and humiliated enemies commemorating a victory over the Libyans. 

In 1993, when the foundations were being dug for new construction near the granite obelisk, a cache of limestone statues, granite sarcophagi, and stelae was found. These came from the 26th-Dynasty Saite Period, and the style of decoration and their size suggested that they were either royal or belonged to high-ranking officials. 

The monuments, once cleaned and restored, were put on temporary exhibition beside the obelisk. 

Several other tombs and objects have been uncovered over the years at the site. The latest discovery came last year, when a torso and head of Psmatik I were found in an area of Matariya called Souq Al-Khamis.

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