Egypt restores pharaohs’ grand avenue

Egypt restores pharaohs’ grand avenue

One of the biggest open-air archaeological sites in the world is due to open in Luxor in southern Egypt this winter after decades of work to uncover the 3,500-year-old Grand Avenue of the Sphinxes.

Hundreds of homes along with mosques and a church have been demolished to make way for the restored 1.7-mile ancient road linking the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes.

Originally built by Queen Hatshepsut (1479–1458BC), the second confirmed female pharaoh, the road was developed over the next 1,000 years and was flanked with up to 1,200 sphinxes, many with the heads of rams, on sandstone bases.

The ceremonial walkway was rediscovered in the late 1940s and much of it had long since been covered by urban development. The restored site is one of several large tourism projects that President Sisi is banking on to revive Egypt’s flagging economy after the pandemic.

Mostafa al-Saghir, director-general of the Karnak temple complex, told The Times that it would be “one of the biggest open-air archaeological sites in the entire world”. He said: “Tourists will be able to walk from Karnak to Luxor temple or vice versa, it will be an extraordinary experience to walk the old road.”

It is thought that the sphinxes were designed as spiritual guardians for the avenue, which was used for centuries in rituals celebrating the annual flooding of the Nile. Alterations were made during the reigns of several pharaohs including Ramses II, Tutankhamun and Thutmose III, Saghir said.

In addition to hundreds of sphinxes, many of which have been restored, recent excavations had uncovered “two magnificent, well-preserved wine presses as well as a factory used to make pottery for wine”, he added.

Some notable buildings have had to go to make way for the project. A 120-year-old palace near the Luxor temple, overlooking the Nile Corniche, became the latest to be demolished this week, despite playing a role in the nation’s independence struggle.

The former home of Tawfiq Andraus Pasha, an Egyptian MP, it had been used as a safe house in 1920 for Saad Zaghloul, the Egyptian nationalist revolutionary and later prime minister. He was being closely monitored by the British occupying authorities after returning from exile.

The palace was also the scene of a double murder when Andraus’s two spinster daughters, who lived there for 60 years as local celebrities, were found dead in 2013.

Last year a 115-year-old evangelical church that was built in the middle of the avenue was also torn down, along with five mosques, including one dating from the 17th century.

Overall the restoration is estimated to have cost 600 million Egyptian pounds (Ј27.8 million), much of which was compensation paid to the owners of demolished buildings.

Egypt is planning a grand parade before the end of this year to inaugurate the restored avenue and emulate an ancient festival known as Opet, when statues representing Amun-Ra and other deities were paraded, signifying a ritual journey the gods made from their shrines in Karnak to the temple in Luxor.

In April, at a parade in Cairo, the remains of 18 ancient kings and queens were moved from the old Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to a new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, Old Cairo. The showcase project next to the pyramids in Giza, which will host the remains and treasures of Tutankhamun (1334 – 1325BC), partially opened in 2017 and is due to open fully this year.

Its website says it will be the only museum in Egypt that offers visitors a general overview of all the historical periods that encompass the country.

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