From Al Ahram Weekly – Link to article
The width of the Nile Corniche boulevard in Luxor is to double as part of a development plan that is now steaming ahead at full speed, says Jill Kamil
Egyptologists and concerned Luxor residents regard it as a terrible loss of historical 19th-century buildings and other structures on the town’s riverside esplanade, but several such landmarks are being demolished to make way for increased traffic between the two major temples on the east bank. Meanwhile letters have been flying back and forth on Internet blogs.
“If the current plan is implemented, this zone will be at the expense of buildings, and gardens in front of buildings, including those of a military club, a mosque, a Coptic Catholic rest house, and Chicago House garden. Can a less radical plan not be drawn up?” writes one anxious party.
“I thought that tourism was to be moved out of Luxor city centre to permit better conservation of Theban monuments. Now we hear that the whole area between Karnak to the north and Al-Tod, the site of a Graeco-Roman temple to the south, are to become part of a tourist zone. What’s happening?” bemoans another.
Indeed this has caused a stir online. As the article states, the master plan is not in itself new, but up until now the scope of things had not been clear, though both the marina and the clearing of the Avenue of Sphinxes have been known for some time.
I must admit that I am inclined to agree with the writer. Whilst it may sound cold hearted, I am not primarily concerned with the modern city of Luxor. Whilst it is true, as the author says, that in Pharaonic times (and beyond) the temples were surrounded by the urban communities that operated and depended on them, both spiritually and materially, the situation was very different today. Firstly, there is the issue of damage to both the excavated and unexcavated aspects of the sites by modern day settlements. There are issues such as pollution, vibration, damage from buried utilities, foundations, and new construction, separate to issues concerning agriculture.
Secondly, there is the issue of encroachment. Sites in urban areas have been most affected by this, as sites such as Heliopolis, Giza and Helwan attest. The opportunity to clear land in order to protect these as yet unexcavated areas is undeniably “a good thing”. If the issue were this simple, I must admit I could live with some people having to be relocated, provided they recieve good homes and secure income.
The issue, however, is not this simple. Much of this redevelopment, as the author so clearly points out, is not about Waset or Thebes, but very much about tourism. Any benefits gained by shifting the Nile cruisers away from the temple will immediately be lost (and the problem severely aggravated) by the vibration and pollution caused by the vast increase in the number of heavy tourist vehicles using a widened cornice as a quick route to Karnak.
Any idea of reducing the overcrowding that is damaging the VK tombs will be dead in the water if a marina brings in dozens more cruisers, each packed with hundreds of visitors visiting the site as a single horde each day.
Ultimately we cannot talk about archaeological conservation and increasing the number of visitors in the same breath. There is, however, another, and, I feel, often overlooked solution. Rather than increasing visitor numbers, the Tourism authorities could look at increasing visitor spend. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Put simply, most foreign visitors to Egypt do not spend, by western standards, very much. Egypt is seen as a low-cost destination, despite possessing the highest “value” as a cultural destination (for the purposes here, we are concerned only with the Nile, not the Red Sea)
So, rather than brining in ever more visitors to fragile, unique and irreplaceable sites, the focus should be to increase their spending habits for measures such as encouraging higher standard and *greater variety* of leisure facilities such as hotels, restaurants, sports facilities etc. In addition the encouraging of archaeologically and environmentally aware practises by tour groups, a less invasive, higher revenue industry can be created, and one need only look at examples of “eco holidays” in Latin America and Asia to see how such things have been achieved. Sensitively built, non-invasive “natural spa” style hotels, built on low/no “footprint” ideas, often operating on a “fair trade” or “locally owned” basis attract high spending visitors whilst being far less invasive than “Costa Del Concrete” style resorts.
In this approach I do see how both the needs of both Ancient and Modern Egypt can be successfully met at the same time, whilst minimising the harm to both.