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City to Become Open-Air Museum

Avenue of the Sphinxes

Hazel Heyer, eTN  Feb 04, 2010

Egypt’s Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, and Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), along with the governor of Luxor, Samir Farag, did an inspection tour today along the Avenue of Sphinxes extending between Luxor and Karnak temples.

The Avenue of Sphinxes, built by the 30th Dynasty king Nectanebo I (380-362 BC), is 2,700 meters long and 76 meters wide. It is lined with a number of statues in the shape of sphinxes. Hosni added that the avenue is one of the most important archaeological and religious paths in Luxor, as it was the location of important religious ceremonies in ancient times, most notably the Opet festival. Queen Hatshepsut (1502-1482 BC) recorded on her red chapel in Karnak temple that she built six chapels dedicated to the god Amun-Re on the route of this avenue during her reign, emphasizing that it was long a place of religious significance.

Hawass said that developing the avenue of Sphinxes is part of the SCA’s collaboration with the Luxor government to develop the whole city into an open-air museum. He added the SCA allocated an amount of LE 30 million to remove all encroachments and compensate those who own houses and shops along the route, as well as another LE 30 million for excavation and restoration works. Hawass 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 is the excavation and the third is restoration of the area.

The excavation team unearthed a large number of fragmented sphinxes that are now undergoing restoration efforts led by SCA consultant Mahmoud Mabrouk. He will put it on display along the avenue.

The avenue was divided into five excavation sections, each revealing more sphinxes, as well as the cartouches of several kings and queens. Excavators unearthed 650 sphinxes out of the previous 1350, as a number were reused during the Roman period and the Middle Ages.

Excavators unearthed a collection of Roman buildings and workshops of clay pots and statues, as well as several reliefs. One of the reliefs bears the cartouche of Queen Cleopatra VI (51-30 BC). Dr. Hawass believes that this queen likely visited this avenue during her Nile trip with Mark Anthony and implemented restoration work that was marked with her cartouche.

Remains of Queen Hatshepsut’s chapels, which were reused by king Nectanebo I in the construction of sphinxes, have been found along with remains of Roman wine factories and a huge cistern for water.

During this visit, the Minister of Culture and Dr. Hawass will install the piece of red granite belonging to the naos of King Amenemhat I (1991-1962 BC) in its original place in the Ptah temple at Karnak.

This naos was returned to Egypt last October by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piece was purchased by the Museum from an antiquities collector in New York in order to return it to Egypt.

Hawass described this action by the Metropolitan Museum as "a good deed," as this is the first time a museum has bought an object for the purpose of returning it to its country of origin. This action, asserted Hawass, highlights the deep cultural cooperation between the SCA and the Metropolitan Museum, as well as the Met’s devotion to return illegal antiquities to their homelands.

"It is also a kind gesture from the newly-appointed Metropolitan director Thomas Campbell," said Hawass.

Hawass relates the story of this object, which started last October when Dr. Dorthea Arnold, the curator of the Egyptian section at the Metropolitan Museum, wrote an official letter to Dr. Hawass, stating the Met’s desire to offer Egypt the piece. It is a part of the base of Amenemhat I’s naos, the rest of the naos is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.

The piece of the naos was presented to the Metropolitan Museum by a collector in New York, who claimed he bought it in the 1970s. Dr. Arnold discovered that the granite fragment must join with the naos in Karnak, which scholars believe was moved there during the New Kingdom. The piece was subsequently returned to Egypt, and will now be returned to its rightful place.

Avenue of the Sphinxes
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