Tourism is a massive industry in Egypt, thanks to the countrys venerable past it accounts for 11% of GDP, and creates jobs for around 12% of the total national workforce. Chief among Egypts antiquarian attractions are the tombs of the pharaohs, the vast network of lavishly decorative burial chambers for its ancient rulers spread across the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, such as KV62 the final resting place of Tutankhamun. So why, then, is the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities calling for them to be closed?
The Council have been faced with an almighty catch-22. The tombs are extremely fragile and poorly ventilated; with so many tourists funneling through them every year, the quantity of humidity and fungus generated through breath and sweat is gradually eroding the soft stone of the chambers, slowly destroying paintings and carvings thousands of years old. This means that the tombs could disappear in between 150 and 500 years, warns Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, in a statement.
Its a similar problem to that faced by many fine examples of cave art around the world. So whats the solution? In the short term, expedients such as improved ventilation (a project to improve ventilation at the Great Pyramid of Giza, for similar reasons, was undertaken in the early 90s). In the long term, the only feasible expedient might be a similar one to that settled upon at cave complexes such as Lascaux and Altamira building exact replicas nearby. A team of experts is currently using laser technology to examine the tombs in order to build the replicas, adds Hawass, which would then open to visitors in a place near the Valley of the Kings.
Unsurprisingly the most popular tombs are among the first slated for closure, including those of Tutankhamun, Nefertari and Seti I so if you want to see the real things, best get to Egypt soon. Visitor numbers are becoming restricted though, so dont hold your breath (No, actually do hold your breath. Ah, you get the point).
If you’re serious about preserving the wonders of antiquity, however, you might want to do the right thing by the boy king, and visit Virtual King Tut instead.
Picture by Michael Reeve. All rights reserved.