Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Celebrating Egypt’s heritage

Egypt is celebrating this year’s World Heritage Day through special events in Luxor and across the country as a whole, reports Nevine El-Aref 

Restoration works at the Sphinxes Avenues

Every year on 18 April, the world celebrates the International Day for Monuments and Sites, also known as World Heritage Day, whose establishment was approved by the 22nd UNESCO General Conference in 1983.

The day celebrates the joint history and heritage of the human race in an attempt not only to raise the world’s awareness of important cultural monuments and sites, but also to embrace their preservation.

According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) website, the aim of the International Day is to encourage local communities and individuals throughout the world to consider the importance of cultural heritage to their lives, identities and communities and to promote awareness of its diversity and vulnerability and the efforts required to protect and conserve it.

The theme of the 2018 International Day is “Heritage for Generations” and is led by the ICOMOS Emerging Professionals Working Group. It will be implemented through sharing stories and transferring knowledge between generations as a crucial step in cultural development and characterising the human experience since time immemorial.

This year’s theme is an opportunity to emphasise the importance of inter-generational exchanges in safeguarding and celebrating the world’s heritage. Activities to foster fruitful dialogue between generations may include conferences, lectures, training sessions, round-table discussions, poster sessions, Q&A sessions with younger and older members of professional and non-professional heritage communities, and interactive site visits to heritage properties.

In Egypt, the Upper Egyptian governorate of Luxor will mark the International Day with various events.

At Luxor Temple, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and Luxor Governor Mohamed Badr will unveil the fifth of the six colossi of the Pharaoh Ramses II that once decorated the façade of the temple’s first pylon. Damaged in antiquity, this has now been lifted after a year of restoration and reconstruction.

The six colossi sustained damage during the fourth century CE when a destructive earthquake hit the area, El-Enany said, adding that three had completely collapsed. In 1958, an Egyptian archaeological mission led by Mohamed Abdel-Kader uncovered one of the collapsed colossi that had broken into 57 parts. The blocks were moved to wooden shelters on the western side of the first pylon. This colossus was restored, reconstructed and re-erected last year to join the neighbouring colossi.

El-Enany inspecting the restoration of Ramses II’s colossus

Work on reconstructing the fifth colossus began in November 2017 with a budget of LE500,000, explains Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), adding that the statue is now fully erect in its original position. The newly reconstructed black granite colossus weighs 65 tons and stands 11.7m from the base to the crown. 

It depicts Ramses II standing and wearing Ancient Egypt’s double crown. Before its reconstruction only 40 per cent of the statue’s blocks had been found, including the head and the base with both legs. The blocks were moved to wooden shelters on the eastern side of the first pylon, where they have been subject to restoration and reconstruction.

Cleaning the colossus

New renovation: El-Enany is also to pay a visit to the Luxor Museum to inaugurate new displays after the removal of the Tutankhamun collection to join other material at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau.

Earlier this week, a collection of 122 artefacts from the Tutankhamun collection that were on display at the Luxor Museum was successfully transported to its new home at the GEM. The collection includes baskets, boxes, a wooden chair, a bed and a chariot, among other pieces. Among the most treasured is a gilded head of the goddess Hathor, which sheds more light on funerary practices and daily life during Tutankhamun’s reign.

To fill the gap that the transfer of these objects has made at the Luxor Museum, Elham Salah, head of the Museums Section at the ministry, explained that a collection of 100 objects would replace those belonging to Tutankhamun. The new artefacts were recently discovered by an Egyptian archeological mission in four tombs of ancient Egyptian top officials at the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor.

The tombs belong to Amenemhat, an 18th-Dynasty goldsmith of the god Amun-Re, the nobleman Userhat, and the yet unidentified tombs of Kampp 150 and Kampp 161.

Salah said that the artefacts included a large collection of ushabti figurines (statuettes), painted mummy masks, jewellery, anthropoid painted sarcophagi, and a distinguished painted statute of a lady in the Osirian shape. 

El-Enany will also inaugurate special routes for the disabled at the Karnak Temple. This comes within the framework of a project launched by the ministry to make Egypt’s archaeological sites and museums more accessible to people with disabilities, starting with improvements to Luxor Museum and the Temples of Karnak and Luxor.

Mustafa Al-Saghir, director-general of Karnak antiquities, said the project would bring improved mobility for those in wheelchairs, as well as making information more accessible to those with impaired sight and hearing. Special paths have been constructed at Karnak and Luxor to facilitate the movement of wheelchairs, while information boards have been put up that are accessible to those with disabilities. 

A documentary film at the visitor centre will have sign-language incorporated. Toilets have been renovated and equipped to suit special-needs visitors, according to international standards.

Al-Saghir explained other improvements at the Karnak Temple site. The podium area and the area between the Teharaka Column and the open-air museum now feature ramps measuring 1.5m in width, while a wooden slope has been installed from the start of the Avenue of Sphinxes. The ministry conducted the project in partnership with an NGO called Helm (Dream) that specialises in promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life, including access to public premises.

Iman Zidan, supervisor of the ministry’s Financial Development Department, said that the project to improve accessibility at archaeological sites highlighted the role of NGOs in serving the community.

The minister will also inaugurate the area between the seventh and 10th pylons at the Karnak Temple after development in collaboration with the Armed Forces Engineering Authority. Waziri said that this area has long been off the tourist track and starts from the cachette court before the seventh pylon and ends at the tenth pylon.

El-Enany will pay a visit to the Sphinxes Avenue that once connected the Karnak to the Luxor Temple to inspect recent work towards its development and opening to the public. The restoration of the avenue started several years ago but stopped in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Work resumed in 2015, and the restoration of the first and fifth sections of the avenue represents 37 per cent of the whole. 

El-Enany said the restoration work had been completed in the first and fifth sections. The work in the first section, which stretches from the Luxor Temple for 350m, includes the removal of encroachments as well as the consolidation of the avenue’s eastern wall and the restoration of the sphinxes themselves. The restoration of the 600m fifth section extends from the area behind the Luxor Library to the town’s airport road.

The restoration is continuing on the other sections of the avenue in order to open the whole route to the public. 

The Sphinxes Avenue was once the site of ceremonial processions that connected the Luxor and Karnak temples. It dates to around 380 BCE and stretches some 2.7km. It would originally have had 1,350 sphinxes lining both sides. Around half of these have been uncovered, with many later reworked or now sitting in museums. Much of the avenue is still covered by modern buildings.

To mark World Heritage Day, the ministry will open all archaeological sites in Egypt registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List to Egyptian students for free. The sites include Memphis and its Necropolis, including the Pyramid areas from Giza to Dahshour, Islamic Cairo, Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis, the Abu Mena Monastery, the area around Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, and the Nubia Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. 

El-Enany said that all the archaeological museums in Egypt would also be free of charge for Egyptian citizens and Arab residents of the country on the International Day.

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