This week, from the birthplace of Egyptology, the zenith of Pharaonic art…
August 24, 2009
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August 23, 2009
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AFP – Wednesday, August 19
LUXOR, Egypt (AFP) – - The ornate pharaonic tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings are doomed to disappear within 150 to 500 years if they remain open to tourists, the head of antiquities has warned.
Zahi Hawass said humidity and fungus are eating into the walls of the royal tombs in the huge necropolis on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor, which is swamped daily by several thousand tourists.
Poor ventilation and the breath of the hordes of visitors are causing damage to the carvings and painted decorations inside the tombs, he told journalists on a tour of the royal necropolis on Monday.
“The tombs (in the Valley of the Kings and nearby Valley of the Queens) which are open to visitors are facing severe damage to both colours and the engravings,” Hawass said.
“The levels of humidity and fungus are increasing because of the breath of visitors and this means that the tombs could disappear between 150 and 500 years.”
The Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, where pharaonic royalty was mummified, is home to the tombs of legendary pharaohs such as the boy king Tutenkhamun and Queen Nefertiti.
Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have taken a series of measures to protect the tombs, including setting up new ventilation systems, restricting the number of visitors and closing some tombs.
Hawass said the authorities have also decided “to close some tombs definitively to tourists and replace them by identical replicas,” including those of Tutenkhamun, Nefertiti and Seti I.
“A team of experts is currently using laser technology to examine these tombs in order to build the replicas… which would then open to visitors in a place near the Valley of the Kings,” Hawass said.
The idea of building exact replicas of the most visited tombs has long been suggested, though this is perhaps one of the most concrete statements I have come across so far that the SCA is seriously looking into giving this idea the go ahead.
August 14, 2008
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From Al-Ahram weekly, by Nevine El Aref, concerning the temple of Seti I at Abydos:
…Over the decades, however, spontaneous urban and agricultural development around Abydos has affected the monuments. The city’s inhabitants have encroached on the area in the vicinity of Seti I’s temple. Some have cultivated the triangle in front of temple, leading to the leakage of drainage water into the temple, while others have constructed residential mud-brick and concrete houses around the temple walls and along the road leading to Ramses II’s temple, which in its turn affects the scenery of the whole site.
The Cairo-Aswan highway was another threat to the archaeological site. The highway, a the mega-project for the government, was meant to strengthen domestic transport routes as a way of promoting tourism and boosting trade between the governorates; it was the ground of a major debate between three ministries: housing, agriculture and culture. The controversy was sparked when construction began on the section of the road linking Assiut to Aswan. Archaeologists from the SCA argued that the road would cause irrevocable damage to the major archaeological sites at Abydos, the primary pilgrimage destination for ancient Egyptians, through which it runs. According to Sabri Abdel-Aziz, who heads the SCA’s Ancient Egypt Department, the Temple of Osiris, the royal cemetery of the first and second dynasties, the ramp of Senusert III’s chapel and his funerary complex, as well as the ramp of Ahmos’s Pyramid, and the famous Seti I Temple with its list of Egypt’s ancient kings and queens, would all be in danger of destruction.
As a result, two committees — comprising representatives from the ministries of culture, housing and agriculture, as well as Sohag governorate and transport authorities — inspected the section of the road in question in an attempt to revise the route and reach a compromise.
Four suggestions were made. The first proposed detouring the route towards the agricultural land east of the archaeological site, thereby destroying 65 feddans of Sohag’s most fertile land. The second would link the road via the desert behind the Abydos mountains at an additional cost of LE150 million.
The remaining two suggestions involved paving the area parallel to the Qasr canal, resulting in a 25-kilometre longer route that could end up necessitating the demolition of a number of rural houses, and, finally, an alternate route through an agricultural area, as well as an archaeological zone which must first be excavated prior to construction.
During the debate, Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said his ministry would not stand in the way of development projects meant to benefit the general public. However, he also said, the ministry was very serious about preventing the destruction of monuments. He said no new construction would be taking place until the newly-organised ministerial committee made its final decision. For his part, SCA Secretary- General Zahi Hawass suggested that the SCA was perfectly willing to help construct the proposed detours if that meant preserving Egypt’s heritage.
After several meetings and inspection tours, the controversial parties agreed on the rerouting of the road and that the LE15 million which would be used for recompensing the residents would be provided by the three ministries concerned — each would pay LE5 million. So far the SCA has paid three million, and when the construction of the new houses starts it will pay the rest.
The problem of water in Abydos is becoming serious. Abdel-Aziz told Al-Ahram Weekly that he counted three direct causes; namely the cultivation around the temple zone, the lack of a proper drainage system in the shanty housing areas near both temples, and the heightened level of the Nile in July and August, which in its turn augmented the level of water inside the Osirian.
Now, he continued, in collaboration with the Subterranean Water Research Centre and the Tarek Wali engineering bureau, the SCA was carrying out a comprehensive project to reduce the rate of subterranean water inside the Osirian. The triangle cultivated in front of the Seti I Temple had also been removed in an attempt to return it to its original feature.
“Abydos is archaeologically rich, and even more important historically than Giza and Luxor,” Hawass said. “It was also a sacred pilgrimage site for Osiris, and almost every king in Ancient Egypt built a cenotaph or a chapel dedicated to the god of the afterlife.” He said an LE20 million development project was now under implementation in order to end the problems Abydos is suffering from and to develop the whole site in a way that matches its archaeological and historical importance. According to the project, which will be implemented over the next six years, Abydos will regain its original scenic position.
In an attempt to protect the archaeological site of Abydos from any further encroachment, a wall will surround it and the 92 houses located along the road between both temples will be demolished. Residents will be moved to other houses now under construction by the Ministry of Housing in a nearby area after it has been archaeologically investigated. A high-tech visitor centre will be set up un front of the temple of Seti I, replacing the cultivated triangle, along with a cafeteria and a bookshop. “A sound and light show for the archaeological sites of Abydos is now under study as another tourist attraction,” Hawass says.
That the original route for the highway was even considered is quite incredible. Abydos is perhaps the single most important religious site in Pharaonic culture. While it may lank the monumental splendour of Karnak or Giza, it’s religious prominence dates back to the very foundations of Egyptian culture. The Pharaohs of the very earliest dynasties were buried here. Djoser’s pyramid is the world’s first monumental all-stone structure, but Khasekhemwy was showing the way, with a truly monumental mastaba with it’s stone burial chamber, in Abydos.
One and half millenia later Abydos was the site of the last royal cenotaph to use the pyramid as an architectural form, for the founder of the New Kingdom, and re-unifier of Egypt, Ahmose I. In the 19th dynasty the city would be graced with the finest artwork that Pharaonic civilization would produce in a history spanning 3,000 years.
The archaeology of this site is hard to over-estimate. Whole swathes of Egyptian history have been made available to us by finds there. Without Abydos, it’s not an exaggeration to say that our knowledge of Egyptian history, especially of the Early Dynastic period, would be in tatters. Perhaps nothing sums up the place better than the king list to which it gave it’s name.
So it is with a sigh of absolute relief that I discover the Ministry of Culture (of which the SCA forms a part), and the ministries of housing, agriculture, and the transport authorities have finally reached an agreement not to build a massive highway right through it all.
The future plans for the site are very exciting, now that the “sword of Damocles” no longer hangs over it. The chance to clear some of the houses that crowd the area provide a great opportunity for further study, as well as safeguarding the site from water and sewerage. As at so many sites, water is a key issue at Abydos, as the sad state of the Osirion dramatically shows. The conversion of the “triangle” from agricultural to touristic use will no doubt also be of benefit here. The wall, meanwhile should hopefully “lock in” these benefits and help prevent any future encroachment back onto the site by housing and agriculture. Hopefully this will keep the site safe and secure from human and environmental harm, so that we can continue to learn from it’s rich archaeological record, and preserve it’s splendour.
The plans for touristic development here intrigue me, though. At present Abydos is hardly a visitor friendly place. The only way for a visitor to access the site is via a once daily convoy from Luxor which gives them – at most – 90 minutes at the temple, or by taking a train journey followed by a taxi from the station in a “private convoy”, accompanied by police. As such, for the proposed S&L show and visitors centre to really take off, a major security / transport rethink will be needed. Is the Sohag governate finally considering opening it’s doors to mainstream tourism?
Whilst another S&L show is not something I’d like to see inflicted upon the graceful walls of the Abydos temples, an easing of restrictions upon visitors, combined with a good site management programme, would be a welcome development that would allow more people(appropriately managed within the site) to appreciate a very important and beautiful site.
Interesting, exciting, disturbing, times in Abydos…
April 16, 2008
From the State Information Service (full article)
Egypt announced Thursday 10/4/2008 the discovery of a quartzite Ushabti figure and the cartouche of King Seti I, second king of the 19th Dynasty (1314-1304 BC).They were found inside the corridor of the tomb of Seti I (KV 17) in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s west bank.
The discovery was made by the first ever Egyptian mission working in the Valley of the Kings, after being monopolized for the past two centuries by foreigners, said Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
A number of clay vessels were also unearthed along with fragments of the tomb’s wall paintings which may have fallen after its discovery. During the process of cleaning the tomb, it was also revealed that the length of the corridor measures 136 meters, and not 100 meters as the tomb’s discoverer, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, originally mentioned in his report, Hawass said.
No more information than this at the moment. However an “extra” 36 meters of corridor is no small thing. Clearly, proper mapping is needed and this work is beneficial, especially if it can lead to the restoration of the extremely fragile, and spectacularly beautiful, walls of Seti’s tomb. It seems recent times may not have been terribly kind.
For those unaware of the current situation in Valley of the Kings, the SCA has recently been conducting extensive excavation and research work of it’s own in the valley, particularly around the area of Merenptah’s tomb (KV8), where it expects to find previously undiscovered tombs. The Amarna Royal Tombs Project conducted ground radar surveys around the area of Tutankhamun’s tomb (KV62) a few years ago, and though the SCA are not digging in exactly the same area, it is nearby (see the Theban Mapping Project map of the valley for a better idea of the layout) so whether or not there is some relation between the radar findings of ARTP and the current exploration frenzy, who knows… Not much is being said by either side at this point in time.
However it would also appear that work is now being carried out in KV17 as well, which has been closed for some time, and it certainly seems to be paying off. Seti’s tomb (KV17) is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the valley and I hope the fallen wall fragments can be salvaged.