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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Celebrating World Heritage - Al Ahram Weekly

Celebrating World Heritage

Egypt celebrated World Heritage Day in Luxor this year with a number of major archaeological events, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Rayes Mahmoud at the entrance of the "saff" tomb (photo: Reuters)

For the third consecutive year, Egypt celebrated World Heritage Day in Luxor again this year with a number of archaeological events that caught the headlines of the international and local press.

The discovery of the biggest "saff" tomb in the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis on the west bank, the re-erection of a colossal statue of Ramses II after restoration in front of the façade of the Luxor Temple, and the opening of the Opet Temple to the public for the first time since its discovery were the icing on the cake of celebrations attended by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany along with the ministers of culture, tourism, manpower, and health and population.

The decorated corridor

Some 21 ambassadors from Arab, African and foreign countries also attended, along with famous actresses Yosra and Laila Elwi who had come to enjoy the celebration and explore the Theban necropolis.

On the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the stage was set for dozens of journalists, photographers, MPs, and others to make the journey to the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis to catch a glimpse of the biggest "saff" tomb to be discovered in Thebes. The tomb belonged to royal cone-holder Shedsu-Djehuty from the 17th Dynasty and is located on top of a small hill. It contains a long open corridor decorated with scenes depicting daily life in ancient Egypt and the deceased carrying out different religious deeds.

Madbouli said the discovery was an addition to the necropolis and a new attraction for tourists. He said it showed the greatness of the ancient Egyptians and their unique civilisation.

El-Enany expressed his gratitude for the unprecedented support the Ministry of Antiquities had received from the government, which had provided all the required resources to continue the archaeological discoveries that were dazzling the world.

Painted coffin from Asasif

In comments to Al-Ahram Weekly, El-Enany said that the ministry had made tremendous efforts to complete all the preparations for this year's World Heritage Day in Luxor. "The announcement of the new tomb discovery, the restoration and re-erection of the third and last colossus of Ramses II at the Luxor Temple, and the opening of the Opet Temple for the first time to the public since its discovery in the last century are Egypt's gifts to the world on this World Heritage Day," he said.

"Saff" tombs are rock-hewn tombs with long open courts that started to be built during the Middle Kingdom. The newly discovered tomb dates back to the 17th Dynasty, which ruled in about 1550 BCE. It has a 55m-wide façade with 18 entrances. The tomb has two shafts, each about 11 m deep.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), described the discovery as "very important" because it would change the archaeological and historical map of the site as well as provide a new understanding of the architecture and design of individuals' tombs in the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis.

The tomb has painted walls with scenes depicting the deceased before the gods and scenes showing daily life, the fabrication of wooden boats, hunting and fishing. Waziri explained that the drawings on the entrance columns showed several ancient crafts such as making boats of papyrus, leather tanning, fish and bird hunting and others, adding that six other smaller tombs had also been discovered as an extension of Shedsu-Djehuty's tomb.

Cartonage funerary mask

"We started work last August. After eight months of work and lifting huge amounts of debris we found the biggest tomb," Waziri said, adding that the treasures found in the tomb include ushabti figurines made of faience, clay and wood — statuettes which the ancient Egyptians used to place in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife — along with pots, canopic jars and an anthropoid sarcophagus.

During the ceremony, artefacts found inside the tomb were displayed, including a collection of ushabti statues, 50 funerary cones, a cartonnage funerary mask and other small objects.

A couple of wooden anthropoid painted coffins recently discovered in the nearby Asasif Necropolis were also on display during the event. The coffins came from two newly discovered tombs that belonged to Akhmenu, the father of the god Amun during the reign of Ramses III, and Meri-Re, supervisor of the royal galleries.

El-Enany, Al-Mashat, Heikal and Waziri at Karnak Temples (photos: Ahmed Romeih)

RAMSES STATUE: Later in the evening at the Luxor Temple on the east bank of the Nile, a colossus of Ramses II was unveiled after its restoration and re-erection to join its five counterparts before the first pylon of the Luxor Temple.

"After almost six decades, the façade of Luxor Temple now has its six decorated colossi, three of them subjected to destruction in antiquity," El-Enany said.

In 1958, an Egyptian archaeological mission led by Mohamed Abdel-Kader had uncovered the statue, which had broken into 70 parts as a result of an earthquake in the fourth century CE. The blocks were removed and placed on wooden stands on the first pylon's western side for protection and preservation.

The statue is carved in red granite, weighs 60 tons and stands 12 m tall. It depicts Ramses II standing, wearing the double crown of ancient Egypt, and adopting the Osiride pose of the god Osiris. Originally, the colossus stood in front of Luxor's first pylon along with five others. Four of the colossi depict the king standing, while the other two show him in a seated position.

The façade of Luxor Temple with six statues of Ramses II

Over the last two years, the ministry has restored two colossi, and this year has been the turn of the third and last in the series. Now the six are once again decorating the façade of the temple, together with one of the original obelisks. The second one stands in the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

However, the restoration did not satisfy all Egyptologists as some raised questions about the location, position and restoration technique used. Some are hesitant about the location of the colossus before the façade of the first pylon, saying that the colossus has the Osiride pose (crossing its hands on the chest) that contradicts the usual pose of colossi standing before ancient Egyptian temples. The neighbouring colossi present their left legs before their right ones.

Other commentators said the body of the statue was not in proportion and that this required further investigation.

According to American Egyptologist Ray Johnson, president of Chicago House in Luxor, the reliefs of the Luxor Temple pylon façade at the back of the first court depicting the pylons, the two obelisks, the flagpoles, and the statues were carved before the statues were put in place and reflect an original plan that was never completely carried out. 

The original plan seems to have been for all the pylon's colossal sculptures to be original grey granodiorite statues of Ramses II, striding and seated. But for some reason that plan had changed (perhaps to meet Ramses II's deadline for completion) and two earlier red-granite statues were brought in and re-inscribed for Ramses II, one on the east side and one on the west side, Johnson said.

The westernmost colossus, still standing, was originally of Amenhotep III and had a white crown, not a double crown, and is also in red granite. 

"The easternmost red-granite colossus that has just been reassembled with the financial support of Chicago House and the US embassy was a late 18th-Dynasty colossal statue, possibly of Horemheb [the face is reworked]," Johnson said.

Nefertari tomb

He said that the pieces of the statue that survive indicate that it was in the Osiride pose. The base of the statue that was still in situ was too small for a striding statue, which indicates that the statue was standing and not striding, he added.  

"The reconstruction, and original position, are 100 per cent correct, however," Johnson confirmed, adding that "sometimes plans change, even in ancient Egypt." Inside the first court, he continued, Ramses II's colossal statues inscribed with the early form of his name (Ra-ms-ss) were placed alongside Amenhotep III statues. When Ramses II erected the statues there, the original names of Amenhotep III were left intact, because Ramses II wanted to be associated with the glorious king who had built one third of the Luxor Temple.  

Later, just before Ramses II's first jubilee, he changed his mind, and he erased Amenhotep III's names and re-inscribed the colossi with his own name, the later form (Ra-ms-sw) taking over their identity, Johnson said. All of Ramses II's original statues in the first court are inscribed with the early form of his name, while the original Amenhotep III statues are inscribed with the later name. "This tells us that he didn't appropriate the Amenhotep III statues until many years after he placed them in the court," he added. "This was another change of plan."

Restoration at Shedsu-Djehuty tomb

Johnson said that the outermost colossal statues in red granite on the eastern and western sides of the pylons were both part of a revised plan for the pylon façade, and that the reconstruction was therefore correct.

The Egyptian restorers had done an extraordinary job and had brought the Luxor Temple pylon façade back to life, he said. All Egyptian temples of the New Kingdom were decorated in a similar manner, but the Luxor Temple is now the only temple in Egypt today that has all six of its original colossal sculptures in their original places.

Enany explains a scene at Nefertari tomb to Al-Mashat, Yosra and Elwi

OPET TEMPLE: El-Enany then inaugurated the Opet Temple, opening it to visitors for the first time since its discovery and after restoration.

The original paintings on the temple's walls were revealed after being hidden for decades under bird deposits, dust, and the smoke of oil-burning during the Coptic era when the Temple was used as a church.

Tourism Minister Rania Rl-Mashat attended the inauguration ceremony as well as Osama Heikal, head of the Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee in parliament.

"The temple was first built during the New Kingdom in the reign of the 18th-Dynasty and was completed in the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Period," Waziri said. He added that the temple was dedicated to the worship of hippopotamus goddess Opet, the deity of protection in ancient Egypt, "who was also considered the torch bearer goddess that lit up the afterlife".

Restoration at Shedsu-Djehuty tomb

The Opet Temple is characterised by its colourful inscriptions, covered by soot until this was carefully removed during the restoration process.

"Despite the decline of cultural tourism, the current archaeological discoveries made by the Ministry of Antiquities and the organisation of archaeological exhibitions abroad are ways of attracting the world's attention to Egypt, showing that it is a country that still dazzles with its unique civilisation and culture," Al-Mashat told the Weekly, adding that the monuments were not limited to the Pyramids, but included many others in provinces such as Minya, Sohag and Luxor.

Heikal said that the collaboration between the ministries of antiquities and tourism to celebrate World Heritage Day was unprecedented and had benefited all involved. He added that his parliamentary committee was keen to monitor any obstacles facing tourist attractions in Egypt, noting that it had spared no efforts in preserving these treasures and providing support for their protection.

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