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In the Pharaohs' footsteps
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 01 - 2011

Inspection of the last phase of the Avenue of the Sphinxes development project and the discovery of the missing parts of the colossal double statue of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his wife Queen Tiye, now on display at the Egyptian Museum, are the most recent news items from Thebes, reports Nevine El-Aref
Following five years of recreating the Avenue of the Sphinxes that once connected Luxor and Karnak temples, the processional route is now back near as can be conjectured to its original appearance. In February visitors to Luxor will be able to walk along the historical avenue in much the same way as the ancient Egyptians did in the days of the Pharaohs.
The magnificent aspect of the route, where priests, royalty and the pious walked in procession to celebrate the annual Opet festival, is being rekindled. Many of the 1,350 sphinxes with human heads and the bodies of lions that once lined the avenue have been restored.
On the day of the Opet festival priests trod the paving stones from Karnak to Luxor bearing a wooden bark holding the shrine of the triad of deities: Amun-Re, Mut and Khonsu.
The 2,700-metre-long Avenue of the Sphinxes was built during the reign of Pharaoh Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty. It replaced one built in the 18th Dynasty, by Queen Hatshepsut (1502-1482 BC), as she recorded on the walls of her red chapel in Karnak Temple. According to this record Hatshepsut built six chapels dedicated to the god Amun-Re on the route of the avenue during her reign, which emphasises that it was long a place of religious significance.
Sadly, however, over the span of history the avenue was lost, subjected to destruction as some of its sphinxes were destroyed while those sections of the avenue that were distant from both temples were covered with sand and buried under random housing.
Within the framework of the Ministry of Culture programme to restore ancient Egyptian monuments with a view to developing the entire Luxor governorate into an open-air museum, a project was planned to recover the lost elements of the avenue, restore the sphinxes and return the place to how it was in the days of ancient Egypt.
To check on the work achieved in the avenue, which will be opened next month by President Hosni Mubarak and the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), last Monday embarked on an inspection tour of the site.
Hosni told reporters that developing the Avenue of the Sphinxes was part of the collaboration between the ministry and the SCA with the Luxor governorate to develop the whole city into the open-air museum. He continued that the SCA had allocated the sum of LE30 million to remove all encroachments and compensate those who owned houses and shops along the route and had to be relocated, as well as a further LE30 million for excavation and restoration work.
Hosni explained that the work was carried out in three phases; the first was to build a low wall alongside the avenue in order to preserve it from any further encroachment, the second phase was the excavation, and the third was restoration of the area.
The excavation team unearthed a large number of fragmented sphinxes that are now undergoing restoration in an effort led by SCA consultant Mahmoud Mabrouk. Once restored, they will be placed on display along the avenue.
"It is really a great project and what has been achieved was like the way the Pharaohs worked," Hosni said.
Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly that the avenue was divided into five excavation sections, each revealing more sphinxes as well as the cartouches of several kings and queens. Excavators have unearthed only 650 sphinxes of the original 1,350, since many were reused during the Roman period and the Middle Ages. Of those that were found, 216 were very well preserved while the others were cut or broken into several parts.
Archaeologists have unearthed a number of Roman buildings and workshops used for the manufacture of clay pots and statues, as well as several reliefs. One of the reliefs bears the cartouche of the famous Queen Cleopatra VII (51-30 BC). "I believe that this queen probably visited this avenue during her Nile trip with Mark Anthony and implemented restoration work that was marked with her cartouche," Hawass said. He added that remains of Queen Hatshepsut's chapels, which were reused by Pharaoh Nectanebo I when the sphinxes were installed, have been found, along with the remains of Roman wine factories and a huge water cistern.
Mabrouk said the original avenue was now resurrected and would soon appear just as it was before. It will be planted with species of plants and trees to match those that grew in ancient Egypt.
However, there are still some obstacles to overcome before all the parts of the avenue can be connected together. A mosque and two churches stand in the way, as well as a side road and the settlement of Naga Abu Asab.
Luxor Governor Samir Farag told reporters that another location had been allocated for both the mosque and the church, and that within a year new ones would be built in their new positions. As for the residents of Naga Abu Asab they will be compensated and rehoused.
In the area of the Medinet Habu temple on the west bank of Luxor, Egyptian archaeologists have come across six missing pieces of the colossal double statue of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his wife Queen Tiye, which is currently a centerpiece of the main hall at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The missing pieces were uncovered 130 years after Mariette discovered the double statue in 1889 at Medinet Habu. The fragments were found during excavation work by an Egyptian team under the direction of Hawass.
Hawass said that when the statue was first discovered, an Italian team restored the statue and filled in the missing pieces with modern stonework. The pieces from Amenhotep III that were recovered come from the right side of his chest, the nemes headdress, and the leg. The pieces of Queen Tiye that were uncovered include a section of her wig and pieces from her left arm, fingers and foot. A small section of the base of the double statue was also found. The measurements of the six recovered fragments range from 47cm to 103cm. These pieces are currently being held in one of the side courts of Medinet Habu, but will soon be taken to Cairo for restoration and placement into the colossal statue at the Egyptian Museum.
Archaeologist Abdel-Ghaffar Wagdi, the supervisor of the excavation at the site in Luxor, said the pieces of statuary were found as part of a project to lower the ground water on the west bank of Luxor. These six pieces are only a few of nearly 1,000 statuary fragments that have been found dating from the Pharaonic to the Coptic era. All the pieces found to date are being stored in the west bank magazines for documentation and restoration.


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