Zahi Hawass Attends Opening Ceremonies For Islamic Monuments and New Visitor Centre at Deir el-Bahri

, Director General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), recently attended ceremonies marking the reopening, after major restoration work, of a number of Islamic monuments in Cairo. It follows his appearance at similar ceremonies recently marking the completion of a number of big-budget developments in and around the area of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

Islamic Monuments

The restored Islamic monuments all in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area of Cairo include The Al-Imam mosque, the Al-Layth mosque, the Al-Set Meska mosque, the Ali Labib house and the well zone of Youssef, at the Salah El-Din Citadel.

The Al-Imam mosque, which dates from 1048 AD, was used for the burial of people who wanted to be laid to rest beside the Imam, whose grave is nearby. Architectural work has been carried out on the structure, and a rest house added, where people can hold funerals and recite the Koran. The Al-Set Meska mosque built in AD 1339 in tribute to sultan Al-Nasir Mohammads loyal wet-nurse has meanwhile been restored to its former glory after being heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1992. The 18th century Ali Labib house has been purchased and returned to its original style, and there are plans to eventually turn it into a school or library teaching hieroglyphs or Islamic and Coptic history.

Karnak Visitor's Centre, Egypt. Image Credit - Sean Williams.Hawass has been accused in the past of overlooking Egypts Islamic history in favour of its pharaonic past; his backing of these facelift projects which, together, over six years the SCA have funded to the tune of 9.5 million EGP (over 1 million GBP) will go a long way to answering his critics. A new lighting system at the Salah El-Din Citadel is also on the long-term agenda, and the first phase of that project the lighting of the mosque of Mohammad Ali was unveiled too. Hawass was evidently impressed. It captivated me and all those who saw it, he wrote on his website blog. When people witness the beauty of this light, it will capture their hearts and make them forget their troubles.

Pharonic Monuments

The opening of a new visitor centre at Deir el-Bahri and the re-opening of the Youssef Abul-Haggag mosque after major restoration work were among the completed projects Hawass inaugurated as part of his recent ceremonial tour around the area of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. He also highlighted progress in a number of other ongoing projects, including the conversion into a museum of the rest house used by Howard Carter while excavating the tomb of King Tut. The combined budget for all of the work is a hefty 127 million EGP (over 14 million GBP).

Valley of the Kings Visitor's Centre, Egypt. Image Credit - Sean Williams.Hawass was joined by Samir Farag, head of Luxor City Supreme Council (LCSC). First up was the small run-down mud-brick residence used by Carter while exploring KV62 in the 1920s. Its being restored in a four month project by a French team, at a cost of 1.121 million EGP (about 124,000 GBP). It will feature two rooms displaying items left behind by Carter and Lord Carnarvon such as tools, instruments and items of furniture as well as a photographs and diagrams relating to their historic investigation. Its hoped that the museum will be finished by November 4, just in time for the 86th anniversary of Carters discovery.

Deir el-Bahri now boasts a neat car park and a visitor centre where tourists can view photographs, a short film and a detailed scale model of the site.

The inauguration of the site management programme at Deir el-Bahri was next up. Previously, the area surrounding the 4,000 year-old complex of mortuary temples and tombs on the west bank of the Nile was a mess polluted and swamped with ramshackle, unlicensed bazaars. Now it boasts a neat car park, and a visitor centre in which tourists can view photographs, a short film and a detailed scale model of the site. Theres also a caf, a bookshop and an area for 52 licensed bazaars (the rest have all been cleared out). A small electric railway leads to and from the temple complex.

A large wall will eventually surround the various Luxor monuments on the Niles west bank, to protect them from various threats. That was inspected too, as was, in the evening, the first test of another new lighting system, the 52 million EGP (5.25 million GBP) one which upon completion will stretch six kilometres from the Valley of the Kings to Deir el-Bahri, lighting up the various sites along the west bank of the Nile such as the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, various mortuary temples and Deir el-Bahri itself. This will further boost their accessibility to tourists, by allowing them to all be visited after nightfall.

The final stop was to open the freshly restored Youssef Abul-Haggag mosque, which was built in the 1286 on top of one of the original parts of the Temple of Luxor to commemorate the Sunni Sheikh Youssef Abul-Haggag. Over the centuries, cracks had spread across the mosques walls, and the foundations had been rotted by a leaking water fountain; a 14 month, 13.4 million EGP (approximately 1.5 million GBP) project has seen it returned to its former glory.

Hawass additionally took the opportunity to announce that a scheme to protect the Tombs of the Nobles on the west bank which he warned is in danger of being destroyed within 100 years without drastic action is to be implemented, using a Spanish grant of 150 million euros. He also again highlighted future plans to build replicas of the tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I and Nefertari. This is the only way to ensure that these tombs will be preserved for eternity, he commented on his website.