Sunday,09 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)
Sunday,09 December, 2018
Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

San Al-Hagar opens to visitors

The first phase of converting the ancient site of San Al-Hagar in the Delta into an open-air museum of ancient Egyptian art has been completed, reports Nevine El-Aref

San Al-Hagar archaeological site after development and the re-erection of some of its temples’ columns, obelisks and colossi photos courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities (Ahmed Romeih)

In the remote site of San Al-Hagar, or Tanis, in the Delta, sometimes called the “Luxor of the North”, stand ancient Egyptian colossi, obelisks and columns that now welcome visitors after being re-erected for the first time since their discovery two centuries ago.


San Al-Hagar archaeological site after development and the re-erection of some of its temples’ columns, obelisks and colossi photos courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities (Ahmed Romeih)

The site was inspected on Saturday by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, Head of the Tourism and Aviation Committee at the Parliament, Sahar Talaat  and Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mustafa Waziri along with a dozen foreign ambassadors to Egypt and cultural attachés from Brazil, Lithuania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Greece, Armenia, Portugal and Azerbaijan.


San Al-Hagar archaeological site after development and the re-erection of some of its temples’ columns, obelisks and colossi photos courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities (Ahmed Romeih)

It is being restored and developed after two centuries of neglect, with its monuments scattered among piles of sand and threatened by high levels of subterranean water. Like many other archaeological sites in the Delta, the San Al-Hagar site is suffering from high levels of subterranean water due to the impact of the River Nile on the Delta.

Although the site, once the capital of the ancient Egyptian 22nd and 23rd dynasties, was destroyed during the first century BCE due to a destructive earthquake, it still features monumental remains and is one of the country’s largest and most impressive sites.


San Al-Hagar archaeological site after development and the re-erection of some of its temples’ columns, obelisks and colossi photos courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities (Ahmed Romeih)

It was founded at the end of the New Kingdom when Egypt entered a period of division into two kingdoms, one in Lower Egypt ruled by 21st-Dynasty kings and one in Upper Egypt ruled by the high priests of the god Amun. It was also a royal necropolis housing the tombs of the Pharaohs as well as nobles and military leaders.

Tanis, its ancient Egyptian name, was dedicated to a triad of Theban deities, Amun, Mut and Khonsu, and their temples once stood, like the Karnak Temples in Luxor, inside two great sacred areas in the northern part of the city, while a sanctuary for Amun mirroring the Luxor Temple was located at the southern end. 


San Al-Hagar archaeological site after development and the re-erection of some of its temples’ columns, obelisks and colossi photos courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities (Ahmed Romeih)

Later on, the cult of Horus, the main deity of the eastern Nile Delta, also developed in Tanis, and then the religious areas were surrounded by a large city that extended over more than 494 feddans, its ruins today eroded by the impact of rain and winds. The temples were severely damaged in late antiquity and their superstructures, built of limestone, were exploited to make lime. Other elements carved in quartzite such as obelisks, statues, colossi, columns, and stelae remain only in parts.

“Only small parts of the city still remain in situ, leaving little chance of its reconstruction,” El-Enany said. However, he added that at the end of 2017, the ministry had launched a project to lift the monumental blocks, reliefs, columns, statues and stelae lying on the sand and restore and re-erect them on concrete slabs to protect them and prevent their further deterioration.

Today, he continued, after almost nine months of hard work, two obelisks, colossi and columns of king Ramses II have been restored and re-erected in their original positions for the first time since their discovery two centuries ago.

El-Enany said this was the first step towards the development of Tanis as an open-air museum of ancient Egyptian art, and the ministry was now studying the restoration and lifting of a further two obelisks. Tanis once had some 20 obelisks erected in front of the Amun Temple.

For Waziri, the lifting of these has been a dream come true, especially as the ministry conducted a documentation project to record the Tanis site and its monuments prior to restoration. During the work archaeologists had stumbled on a stelae of the 19th-Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II carved in red granite and depicting him presenting offerings to a yet-unidentified ancient Egyptian deity, he said.

Another three stelae of Senusert III, Pepi I and Khufu were also found one metre below the ground. They were found in pieces and will now be restored.

“Work is continuing to revive the site,” Waziri told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that a team of workers from Luxor had been specially summoned to finish the work in a shorter period.

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

ANCIENT DEVELOPMENTS: The first monumental development of the Amun Temple was made by Psusennes I, who surrounded the temple inside a massive mud-brick enclosure, heavily bastioned as a fortress. He also installed his tomb within the temple’s vicinity.

His successor kings of the 21st and 22nd dynasties also placed their tombs there and rebuilt the Temple. While from the 26th Dynasty onwards the seat of power moved to Sais on the western edge of the Nile Delta, Tanis remained an important metropolis and its sanctuaries were rebuilt and embellished several times until the Ptolemaic Period.

The 22nd-Dynasty king Shashanq III built a monumental gateway inside the mud-brick enclosure of Psusennes I, reusing many older blocks made of granite such as the remains of Ramses II’s obelisks and columns as well as block originally belonging to kings Khufu and Shashanq I. He also decorated the entrance gate with colossi of Ramses II, some of which were originally used in the neighbouring city of Pi-Ramses.

The sacred lake of the temple was built during the 30th Dynasty in its northern section, with a large number of decorated limestone blocks from earlier dismantled monuments. To the west is a temple dedicated to the moon-god Khonsu, son of Amun and Mut. Mut’s temple is located to the south-western side of the Amun Temple enclosure and was built during the 21st Dynasty.

Tanis has four limestone wells that originally supplied water to be used in purification rituals at the Amun Temple. Three of them dating to the Late Period are located on the northern side of the temple courtyard, while the fourth is located inside the first courtyard and can be dated to the reign of king Shashanq III.

The kings of the 21st and 22nd dynasties also built their tombs in the south-western part of the precinct of the Amun Temple in the area located between the large temple and the mud-brick enclosure. The tombs of Psusennes I, Osorkon II and Shashanq III are the most important in Tanis.

Psusennes I’s tomb has two granite vaults and several burial chambers for the king and his successors Amenemope, Siamun, Psusennes II, and Shashanq II who were buried in the limestone antechambers. Two additional rooms were built for relatives of Psusenenes I, including Undebaunded and prince Ankhefenmut.

The tomb of Osorkon II includes a massive stone sarcophagus and houses the burials of his father king Takelot I and his son prince Hornakht who was a high priest of Amun. The tomb of Shashanq III is built of limestone blocks reused from a private tomb of the 21st Dynasty, and it contains the king’s granite sarcophagus as well as that of one of his successors Shashanq IV. The burial chamber is decorated with excerpts from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

In later periods much of the site was destroyed. During French General Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt at the end of the 18th century, many objects were taken from Tanis, eventually ending up in museums in Paris, Berlin and St Petersburg. Two large red granite sphinxes and several statues were transported to the Louvre Museum in Paris.

French archaeologist Auguste Mariette was the first to excavate at the site, where he unearthed a collection of Middle Kingdom royal statues. However, he mistakenly identified the site as Pi-Ramses. It was left to the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie to draw up a detailed plan of the city with its temples and other structures. Petrie also discovered a Roman papyrus that is now on display at the British Museum in London.

Waziri told the Weekly that French archaeologist Pierre Montet, who excavated in Tanis between the 1920s and 1950s, had stumbled upon the royal necropolis of the 21st and 22nd dynasties in 1939, with their unique treasures now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. These include stone sarcophagi, silver coffins, folded masks, jewellery and crockery.

“This discovery was not recognised in the way that the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 was recognised because of the outbreak of World War II,” Waziri said, adding that Montet had also put an end to the enigma of the identification of the site, as some Egyptologists had seen Tanis as Pi-Ramses, while others had suggested that it was the ancient Avaris.

Montet showed that Tanis was neither Pi-Ramses nor Avaris, but was a third capital in the Delta belonging to the 21st Dynasty.

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