Trans­fer of sphinxes to Cairo square stirs con­tro­versy

Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle Features -

In a bustling square of Egypt’s cap­i­tal, four sphinx-like stat­ues stand in wooden crates ahead of a planned un­veil­ing cer­e­mony fol­low­ing their con­tro­ver­sial trans­fer from his­tor­i­cal sites. With the bod­ies of lions and heads of rams, the stat­ues had for mil­len­nia graced Kar­nak tem­ple in the south­ern city of Luxor rep­re­sent­ing the an­cient Egyp­tian god “Amun”. This month, the re­stored sand­stone stat­ues were moved to Cairo’s land­mark Tahrir Square, the epi­cen­tre of a 2011 pop­u­lar up­ris­ing that top­pled long­time ruler Hosni Mubarak. “I am against the mov­ing of Luxor mon­u­ments. I was es­pe­cially sad­dened by their re­lo­ca­tion,” leg­is­la­tor Ahmed Idris from the city told AFP.

“Luxor has long been like an open mu­seum which should be de­vel­oped and its mon­u­ments’ his­tor­i­cal value are tied to the city,” said Idris. The stat­ues will be the square’s cen­tre­pieces, along with a 19-me­tre-tall (60foot-tall) pink gran­ite obelisk of the famed Ram­ses II. The 3,000-year-old obelisk — of Ram­ses II fac­ing an an­cient de­ity as well as in­scrip­tions of his ti­tles — was moved from a

Nile Delta ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site. The re­lo­ca­tions which came as part of gov­ern­ment plans to ren­o­vate Tahrir Square have drawn wide crit­i­cism from ar­chae­ol­o­gists and ac­tivists. Some pe­ti­tioned Pres­i­dent Abdel Fat­tah al-Sisi to stop the trans­fer. Oth­ers in­clud­ing lawyers from a rights group filed a law­suit cit­ing a 1964 Venice Char­ter on the con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion of mon­u­ments, say­ing the move could “jeop­ar­dise the price­less arte­facts”. Egypt signed the char­ter, adopted by UNESCO, in 1974.

ʻA touch of civ­i­liza­tionʼ

A fre­net­i­cally busy square, Tahrir in down­town Cairo has long been as­so­ci­ated with blar­ing car horns, traf­fic jams and ex­haust fumes. It stands a short stroll away from the Egyp­tian Mu­seum, a tourist mag­net which holds a vast col­lec­tion of pre­cious relics. A stag­ing ground for ma­jor protests in Egypt, the square has un­der­gone mul­ti­ple phases of ren­o­va­tion since the 2011 up­ris­ing. Its ren­o­va­tion plan in­cludes uni­fy­ing build­ing fa­cades, re­mov­ing street ad­ver­tise­ments and an over­haul of its light­ing. In De­cem­ber, Sisi said the trans­fer of arte­facts would add “a touch of civ­i­liza­tion” to the site. But fears have grown over pos­si­ble dam­age to the mon­u­ments.

“The high pol­lu­tion in Tahrir Square will ruin the an­tiq­ui­ties and ac­cel­er­ate their de­te­ri­o­ra­tion,” Egyp­tol­o­gist Mon­ica Hanna said in a Face­book post in De­cem­ber. “A mon­u­ment’s value is di­min­ished when re­moved from its orig­i­nal his­tor­i­cal con­text and be­comes an or­na­ment rather than a mon­u­ment,” she said. Egyp­tian ar­chi­tect Ay­man Badr has said the square does not need “to be adorned with his­tor­i­cal el­e­ments” as it “al­ready holds his­tor­i­cal value”.

ʻA great hon­orʼ

An­tiq­ui­ties and Tourism Min­is­ter Khaled Al-Anani has dis­missed warn­ings that the mon­u­ments could be van­dal­ized or be af­fected by pol­lu­tion. An­cient relics in Egyp­tian mu­se­ums or pub­lic spa­ces often suf­fer dam­age by graf­fiti, en­grav­ings or just be­ing fre­quently touched. “No-one will be able to touch them. They will be placed on a high pedestal and sur­rounded by a wa­ter foun­tain,” Anani told a pri­vate tele­vi­sion chan­nel in March. He said they would un­dergo reg­u­lar restora­tion and main­te­nance.

The stat­ues were not among those lined up on the famed Ke­bash (rams) av­enue link­ing Kar­nak and Luxor tem­ples, ac­cord­ing to the min­is­ter. Mah­moud Zaki, a tour guide from Luxor, also sided with those de­fend­ing the trans­fers. “We ex­hibit arte­facts abroad for for­eign­ers to en­joy... and now it’s a great honor that an­tiq­ui­ties from Kar­nak tem­ple adorn Egypt’s most pop­u­lar square,” he told AFP.

An un­veil­ing cer­e­mony is planned but an of­fi­cial date has yet to be an­nounced. “It’s non­sen­si­cal that (Egyp­tian) obelisks could be found in pub­lic spa­ces across the world and none of them stands in Egypt’s most pop­u­lar square,” said an­tiq­ui­ties ex­pert Ali Abu Deshish.—AFP

In this file photo tourists take the av­enue of the ram-headed sphinxes, sym­bol­iz­ing the an­cient Egyp­tian god Amun, as they visit the Kar­nak Tem­ple Com­plex (back­ground) in Egypt’s south­ern city of Luxor.

An un­dated hand­out pic­ture pro­vided by Egypt’s Min­istry of An­tiq­ui­ties shows a worker set­ting one of four re­stored ram­headed sphinxes, sym­bol­iz­ing the an­cient Egyp­tian god Amun.—AFP pho­tos

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