Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Aswan: The unfinished obelisk - Al-Ahram Weekly

Aswan: The unfinished obelisk

New discoveries are being made in Aswan in Upper Egypt, one of the country’s most romantic destinations, writes Zahi Hawass

I went to Aswan recently to make a TV programme that I am introducing for the first time in Arabic called “The One Who Reveals Secrets” that focuses on the past and how it is connected to contemporary Egypt.

For example, if I talk about gold, I introduce this subject through scenes of gold-working shown in ancient tombs from the Old Kingdom onwards. Goldsmithing was an amazing industry at this time. We even have the text of a letter written by the king of the Hittites to the pharaoh Amenhotep III requesting that he send him gold because the “gold in your country is like dust”.

The second part of the programme shows how the ancient world is connected with the present. Jewelry designer Azza Fahmi was interviewed to show her brilliance in this domain, for example. I believe that Abdel-Latif Al-Manawi, the head of the TV channel concerned, made a great decision when he decided to produce this show and convinced me to become involved. Sandro Vannini, the director, has finished 16 episodes, and season one is to be shown in September.

In Aswan I also saw the impressive work of young archaeologists when I was filming for the show, including Nasri Sallam, director of Aswan Antiquities, and Abdel-Moneim Said, director of Kom Ombo. I went to the Cataract Hotel to see the building that hosted the famous Ramadan series “Grand Hotel” and looked at the photographs on the first and second floors of the many famous people who have visited this unique Hotel. I saw photographs of my late friend Omar Sharif and others, and I was surprised and happy to see my own photograph on the second floor.

My dear friend Mostafa Al-Fiqi, a famous thinker and politician, once said to me that “the best moment in life is to sit on the balcony of the Old Cataract Hotel and gaze out at the First Cataract of the Nile. This is a moment you cannot experience in any other place in the world.”

Aswan is one of the most important cities in Egypt. It marked the border of Egypt during the Old Kingdom at the First Cataract of the Nile. Visitors to the city today can see the tombs of the governors of Aswan that date back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

One of these is the tomb of Harkhouf, a governor of Aswan in the 6th Dynasty about 4,200 years ago. Harkhouf went on a journey to Nubia during the reign of the pharaoh Pepi II, the last of the 6th Dynasty rulers, who ruled Egypt from the time he was a young boy of eight years old until he was more than 90.

Harkhouf sent a letter to Pepi II telling him he was returning with incense, ebony, and many other beautiful and rare things to add to the wealth of Egypt. The young pharaoh did not care about the things the expedition was bringing back to increase Egypt’s wealth, however. He cared more about a pygmy Harkhouf was also bringing with him. Pepi II sent a remarkable letter to the governor instructing him to “watch the pygmy because he might jump from his tent into the water” of the Nile.

In ancient Egypt, there were two types of dwarfs. The first type was not from Egypt but from Punt and Yemen in the south. The ancient Egyptians called these individuals dng. They were short, but they did not have any deformations in their bodies. The second type of dwarf came from Egypt and was called nmiw. As well as being short, these had deformations in their shoulders and legs.

However, they could play important roles in government, and the famous dwarf Seneb, whose statue is displayed in the Egyptian Museum, was the tutor of the pharaoh’s children. West of the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, I discovered the tomb of another dwarf called Per-ni-ankhu who is believed to be the father of Seneb.

Aswan is one of the most romantic places in Egypt. The story of the goddess Isis and her love for the gods Osiris and Horus is represented in the Temple of Philae in Aswan. The Nubian Museum in Aswan recounts the history of Nubia from the prehistoric period to modern times. The Museum won the Aga Khan Prize for Architecture shortly after it was built. It is also one of the best museums in Egypt in terms of its display of artifacts.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) did important work on the island that contains the relocated Temple of Kalabsha. It also rebuilt the Temple of Gerf Hussein, saved during the UNESCO campaign to save the monuments of the area during the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, and it restored the Temple of Beit Al-Wali.

Aswan is a beautiful destination not only for tourists, but also for scholars, because of the special light on the island that hosts the temples. I believe that if someone visits this island before sunset and stays to see it as the sun disappears over the horizon, he or she will never forget this incredible moment.

More surprising is the work now being done at the unfinished obelisk in Aswan. It has been decided to develop the site management of the area. Some 100 cubic metres of sand and stone have been removed, allowing some incredible discoveries to be made.

When I went to the east bank of the Nile at Aswan recently and climbed the site I saw one of the most important excavations being carried out by the German Archeological Institute in the area. I love the Elephantine Island at Aswan because it contains many important archaeological sites, such as the subsidiary pyramid thought to belong to the pharaoh Huni, the last of the 3rd Dynasty. It has been my dream to create a site management project for this island and build a cafeteria and restaurant at the site to compete with the Old Cataract Hotel and to renew the museum on the site.

If one takes a cruise from Aswan to Abu Simbel, it is possible to visit the unique temples in Lake Nasser before reaching Abu Simbel, a site where I have spent some of the most beautiful months in my life. At the end of my stay, I saw the rays of the sun reach the inner sanctuary of Abu Simbel on 22 February and light up the face of the statue of Ramses II within.

--   Sent from my Linux system.