Monday,18 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Monday,18 February, 2019
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A planned open-air museum

Development work is in full swing at the San Al-Haggar archaeological site in Sharqiya to convert it into an open-air museum, writes Nevine El-Aref


Restoration work carried out on Ramses II statue and the column of its temple photo courtesy: Ministry of Antiquities

The San Al-Hagar or Tanis archaeological site, once the capital of the 22nd and 23rd dynasties of Ancient Egypt, is located in the north of the Delta and consists of large-scale monumental remains. One of the country’s largest and most-impressive sites and often dubbed the “Luxor of the North”, it is being redeveloped as an open-air museum with a view to reopening in September.

The site is characterised by reused materials from neighbouring sites from earlier periods such as Qantir, or Pi-Ramses, which was Egypt’s capital during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II, and from the Hyksos capital of Avaris.

Tanis is the richest archaeological site in Delta because it gathers materials from the Old Kingdom right through the Third Intermediate Period. Stone reliefs at the site can be dated to the reign of the Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu and the Fifth-Dynasty Pharaoh Pepi I.

Other materials from the Middle Kingdom have been found at the site, including the atrium and lintel of Senousert I and the pillar of Amenmehat I.
The city flourished during the reign of the 19th-Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II who constructed three temples in it to mark the visits of his father and grandfather to the city, even though he built his own capital in Qantir and called it Pi-Ramses.

Restoration work carried out on Ramses II statue and the column of its temple

During the 21st and 22nd dynasties, Tanis was a royal necropolis housing the tombs of kings and queens as well as nobles and military leaders.

French archaeologist Auguste Mariette was the first man to excavate the site, where he unearthed 400 stelae as well as a collection of Middle Kingdom statues. However, he mistakenly identified the site as the capital city of Ramses II, and it was only when the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie later worked at the site that a detailed plan of the city with its temples and other structures was drawn up.

Petrie discovered a Roman papyrus at the site that is now on display at the British Museum in London.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that French archaeologist Pierre Montet’s excavations between the 1920s and 1950s were the most important exploration work carried out in Tanis.

Montet showed that Tanis was not the ancient Pi-Ramses or Avaris but was a third capital in the Delta during the 21st Dynasty. He also unearthed the royal necropolis of the 21st and 22nd dynasties in 1939 with its unique treasures that are now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

“This discovery was not recognised like the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 because of the outbreak of World War II at the time,” Waziri said, emphasising that it had had a similar importance. Among the tombs uncovered were those of the Pharaohs Psusennes I, Amenemonpe, Osorkon II and Sheshonq III.

The remarkable sarcophagi of Sheshonq III and Taklot II were also found, along with other artefacts showing the royal funerary rituals and goods of the Third Intermediate Period.

Restoration work carried out on Ramses II statue and the column of its temple

“Although several archaeological missions have worked on the site for almost 100 years, it has never been completely excavated,” Waziri said, adding that the whole area had been damaged due to the high level of subterranean water and erosion affecting the monuments.

The creation of a fish farm near the site had added to these problems.  

In the early 2000s, a project was carried out to decrease the water level and a wall was constructed to protect the area. However, it was only in December 2017 that the Ministry of Antiquities launched a comprehensive rescue project to restore Tanis and develop the site into an open-air museum of Ancient Egyptian art.

Waziri explained that the project aimed to lift the monumental blocks, reliefs, columns, statues, and stelae laying on the sand at the site and to restore and re-erect them on concrete slabs to protect them for future generations.
A documentation project on the site and its monuments was also undertaken.

During the work, archaeologists stumbled upon a stela of the 19th-Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II carved in red granite and depicting the king presenting offerings to an unidentified Ancient Egyptian deity.

Another three stelae of Senusert III, Pepi I and Khufu were also found in pieces a metre below ground level.

“Work is in full swing in order to reopen the site in early September,” Waziri told the Weekly, adding that he had engaged a team of workers from Luxor to spruce up the work in a shorter time.

All the statues of Ramses II that had been lying on the sand since their discovery in the late 19th century have been restored and lifted onto concrete mounts to protect them from subterranean water. The statues are carved of red granite, are 6.5 metres tall and weigh 30 tons.

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