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Sohag under development
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 11 - 2016

In the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag there lie rich archaeological sites from the early ancient Egyptian era right up to the Ptolemaic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods. But although the governorate contains many distinguished monuments and historical landmarks, it is seldom visited.
To promote the governorate's archaeological sites and encourage tourists to pay a visit to its monuments, the Ministry of Antiquities has launched a plan to develop the sites and to make the area more tourist friendly as well as to continue its goal to preserve and conserve them.
Earlier this week, Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany and top officials from the ministry embarked on an inspection tour of some of Sohag's archaeological sites, including Abydos, Athribis, Akhmim, the Red Monastery and the long-awaited Sohag Museum.
ABYDOS: The first destination was Abydos, one of the most ancient cities of Upper Egypt. In ancient times it was called “Abdu,” which means “the hill of the symbol or reliquary” where the sacred head of the god of the dead and the underworld Osiris was buried and preserved.
For this reason, the site was an important pilgrimage destination and necropolis from the Early Dynastic Period to Christian times. During the Graeco-Roman period the town gained its current name.
It houses several archaeological sites such as the Umm Al-Qaab area (Mother of Pots) that contains the tombs of early Pre-dynastic chieftains and the burials of many of the early dynastic kings. Closer to the floodplain are mud-brick enclosures serving the royal funerary cults of kings of the First and Second Dynasties, of which the best preserved is Shunet Al-Zebib.
The remains of other royal and elite tombs and temples can also be found in Abydos. In North Abydos there is an area called Kom Al-Sultan that houses the remains of an early town and a temple of the god Osiris-Khentyamentiu. During the Middle Kingdom, a yearly procession celebrating the resurrection of the god Osiris after his murder at the hands of his brother Seth led from this temple to the Tomb of Osiris at Umm Al-Qaab.
In the middle of Abydos are the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and his son Ramses II. Behind them is the symbolic tomb of the god Osiris, the Osirion. In South Abydos, there are a small Third Dynasty pyramid, a mortuary complex for the 12th Dynasty pharaoh Senwosret III, as well as a pyramid and temple built by the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Ahmose. In addition, there is a small temple thought to have been dedicated to the cult of Ahmose's principal consort, Ahmose-Nefertari, and a small chapel dedicated to his grandmother, Tetisheri.
At Shunet Al-Zebib, Al-Enany inspected the restoration work achieved and announced the opening of the site for the first time to the public. He ordered that it be included in the visitor itinerary for Abydos, but that it also be free of charge.
“It is a very important site because it is the only surviving structure of a series of funerary complexes built in the area by the kings of the First and Second Dynasties,” Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the ministry, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said that Shunet Al-Zebib served as a funerary cult enclosure of the last ruler of the Second Dynasty Khasekhemwy and includes the first-known mudbrick structure in the world. The structure is also important in the evolution of pyramid design. The Third Dynasty king Djoser was influenced by the architectural style of the enclosure of his predecessor Khasekhemwy, using it to help build the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.
The current restoration work in the shrines inside the Seti I Temple was also inspected. The work started in October and is funded by a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Gamal Abdel-Nasser, director of Sohag Antiquities, described the Seti Temple as “the great temple of Abydos,” adding that its wall reliefs are some of the finest quality of all the temples in Egypt. The Temple is to a unique design and contains the most complete ancient Egyptians king list.
The temple has seven shrines dedicated to the deities Osiris, Isis, Horus, Amun-Re, Ra-HorAkhty, Ptah and Seti I as a deified king, Abdel-Nasser added. At the back of the Temple there are the Osirion, an enigmatic structure connected with the worship of the god Osiris, from those chambers led out the great Hypogeum for the celebration of the Osiris Mysteries built by the pharaoh Merenptah.
The Osirion was inspected, and Abdel-Nasser suggested ideas for its development. Studies are underway in order to reduce the subterranean water level in the area, as has been done in the Karnak Temples in Luxor.
About 300 metres from the Seti I Temple is the temple of his son Ramses II. Although the temple is in ruins, its structure and plan can still be seen. The walls of the temple are built of limestone, while its pillars are carved of sandstone. It has a portico, pylons and courts, as well as a pink granite portal, chapels and a hypostyle hall. Its greatest attraction is the brilliantly coloured painted reliefs which are considered to be the finest in any monument built by Ramses II.
After touring the different sites in Abydos Al-Enany discussed ways of developing the whole site and making it more tourist friendly through building a visitor centre and setting up a visitor route. After the inspection tour, he gave the go-ahead to the comprehensive development of the area, saying that a wall would enclose the whole area, debris would be removed, landscaping work done, and the existing monuments integrated into a more accessible and recognisable historical site for visitors.
There will be a new visitor centre and route with signs, maps and billboards bearing information about every monument on the site. A parking area, entrance gate and ticket and information office will also be provided. A lighting system is to be installed to make the site accessible at night.
ATHRIBIS: Al-Enany also paid a visit to the site of Athribis (Al-Sheikh Hamad) located ten km south-west of Sohag where he visited the excavation and restoration work carried out by a German archaeological mission in a Ptolemaic temple built by Ptolemy XII.
The mission is also studying the temple's wall reliefs. During the visit, Al-Enany discussed with the mission measures to open some parts of the temple to visitors in the near future.
Athribis houses a collection of Ptolemaic monuments, among them a temple dedicated to the lion goddess Repyt and a massive gateway of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, who also began the construction of a temple against the slope of a hill. But there are few remains in situ.
A granite temple from the reign of the 26th Dynasty pharaoh Haaibre is also to be found, as well as a structure of Ptolemy IX Soter II with a pylon and enclosure wall. A Roman birth-house is also located in Athribis. It was begun by Ptolemy XII Auletes and completed during the Roman Period by the Emperor Hadrian. The birth-house was dedicated to the god Triphis, and is fronted by a pronaos with two rows of six pillars that are still well-conserved. Behind the pronaos is an open court which may have been surrounded by a colonnade.
Several Roman emperors had their names carved on these buildings, and some of its blocks were used during the Coptic period in the construction of the nearby White Monastery. In the nearby necropolis there is a distinguished Ptolemaic tomb named the Zodiac Tomb, which belongs to two brothers Ibpemeny and Pemehyt. Its ceiling is decorated with zodiacs and it dates to the late Second Century CE.
AKHMIM: The minister went for a short visit to the Akhmim site, where he inspected the open air museum and the restoration work in progress at the fallen colossus of Ramses II.
Mostafa Al-Saghir, a member of the minister's technical office, told the Weekly that a project to restore and re-erect the colossus of Ramses II beside the colossus of his daughter Merit-Amun was now under study.
Although many of the ancient buildings in Akhmim were dismantled to be used in the construction of other monuments in a later period, many of these buildings still exist in their original locations. Among them are a Graeco-Roman temple as well as many fragments of Ramses II statues and the beautiful limestone colossus of Merit-Amun, now re-erected in the open air museum.
The statue is 11 metres tall and depicts Merit-Amun wearing a close-fitting pleated robe and crowned with a modius decorated with serpents and the double feathers of a wife of the god Amun. The museum also houses a beautiful statue of the Roman goddess of love Venus and a collection of stelae and architectural elements from the surrounding structures.
The last stop on the tour was a visit to the long-awaited Sohag Museum, which was launched in the 1980s but has not yet been completed and opened to visitors. Elham Salah, head of the Museums Department at the ministry, told the Weekly that the work achieved in the museum last year was 20 times more than that done in the last ten.
Although the museum building has been completed, she said, work had been put on hold several times. Shortly after laying the foundation stone in the 1980s, the museum land lay fallow for ten years because of a clash over its location. During the 1990s, a new site was chosen and the actual work of construction began. But regretfully it seems that the curse of the pharaohs took its toll, as the work was completely stopped again during the early 2000s because of disagreements on the interior design of some sections of the museum building as well as its displays.
Work then resumed, but in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution it stopped again for security reasons. Now a lack of funding is the reason for the delay. When Al-Enany visited the museum this week, the contractor promised to complete the work by next year if the required funds are provided.
The minister promised to solve the problems that have stood in the way of opening the archaeological site soon in an attempt to open the museum next year. Salah said that the museum would put on show a collection of artefacts that had been unearthed in different sites in Sohag. It would also express the traditions, customs, industry and handicrafts of the inhabitants as well as their costumes and jewellery.
The concept of the museum is no longer dependent on placing artefacts next to each other to illustrate ancient Egyptian civilisation, Salah said. Instead, it provided a broader educational service to visitors and sent out messages that would raise archaeological awareness and loyalty towards Egypt.
It informed Egyptian visitors about how their ancestors had built such a great civilisation through showing daily life, industries and culture, she said. “This is a new philosophy that the Ministry of Antiquities is adopting in order to turn the country's regional museums into more educational, cultural and productive institutions,” Salah said, adding that the idea was for these museums to help educate people about culture, heritage, industry, religions and politics.
Egypt's regional museums have sometimes not fulfilled their true potential because they have often displayed objects without a thematic storyline. This had meant that they had not always attracted their fair share of visitors, she said.
“Every regional museum should reflect the city or town in which it is located,” Salah said, explaining that in the Sohag Museum, for example, the exhibition design provided clear information about the history of Sohag, Abydos and Akhmim as well as the role the rulers there had played in the city and in building ancient Egyptian civilisation.

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