Egypt staged a gala parade to mark the restoration of the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, a major attraction for its battered tourism sector.
The avenue, between the Temples of Luxor and Karnak, is about 2.7 kilometres long and 76 metres wide. It takes its name from the 1,300 statues lining it on both sides, which date back more than 3,500 years.
Most of the statues depict the sphinx, a mythical creature with a human head on a lion’s body. Other statues represent sacred rams, or lions with the head of a ram.
Zainab Hashish, a professor of archaeology at Beni-Suef University, told Al-Fanar Media that the celebration was “the culmination of a dream” that began in 1949. That year, Zakaria Ghoneim, an Egyptian archaeologist, discovered eight sphinxes and unearthed the Luxor end of the avenue, which had been buried by sand for centuries.
“Since then, excavations of the avenue have continued until the present moment,” Hashish said.
The parade, held on November 27, was the second of its kind this year. On April 3, the mummies of 18 pharaohs and four queens were carried in great pomp through the streets of Cairo to a new museum. (See a related article, “Before a Grand Parade of Mummies, Researchers Learned Much About Them”.)
The celebration marked “the culmination of a dream” that began in 1949, when the archaeologist Zakaria Ghoneim unearthed the Luxor end of the avenue, which had been buried by sand for centuries.
A Message of Support
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Al-Fanar Media that the celebration in Luxor was “a message of support and confidence in the work of Egyptian archaeologists”.
Work to completely uncover the Avenue of Sphinxes began in 2007 as part of a project to transform Luxor into the largest open-air museum in the world. Excavation was halted in 2011 and did not resume until 2017.
The project faced several difficulties, such as the encroachment of a modern residential area and the spread of buildings and agricultural lands around the avenue. A plan was prepared to remove the buildings and compensate their owners.
The restorers engaged in a comprehensive survey of the sphinxes, photographing and documenting each one, then removing the dirt and cleaning them.
Saad Zaki, director of the restoration of antiquities in Karnak, said the team found a large number of intact sphinxes, as well as parts, such as a head or a base.
A Grand Reopening at Luxor
“The condition of those pieces was poor, but we made a painstaking effort to deal with the old restoration, to reassemble them, with modern materials, and to show the original colors of each artifact,” he said.
The Opet Festival
The celebration at Luxor included a re-enactment of the ancient Opet Festival, an annual celebration of the Nile floods which guaranteed a rich harvest.
Luxor, about 660 kilometres south of Cairo, stands on the site of the old city of Thebes, for centuries the capital of the pharaohs. Its concentration of temples, royal tombs and other archaeological and cultural remains make it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country.
The Avenue of Sphinxes dates from the eighteenth dynasty of pharaohs (1550-1290 BCE). Some archaeologists believe its construction began under Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458), the most powerful woman to reign in ancient Egypt.
The celebration in Luxor was “a message of support and confidence in the work of Egyptian archaeologists.”Mustafa Waziri
Secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities
Experts say her successor, Thutmose III (1458-1426), initiated the Opet Festival. Fathi Yassin, director of the Antiquities of Upper Egypt in Luxor, says the celebrations lasted “for a period ranging from 11 to 27 days, and included popular and official ceremonies.”
The rituals included taking statues of the gods along the Avenue of Sphinxes, which also became known as the path of the processions of the gods. Small temples along the way could have been filled with offerings to the gods themselves or to the priests.
Later in Egypt’s history, statues were transported to and from Karnak by boat along the river, rather than carried on land. A royal boat sailed along with the boats of the gods, thus celebrating the coronation of the king and confirming the monarch’s legitimacy.
A Boost for Tourism
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the goals of the restoration project included promoting tourism in Luxor, as well as highlighting its archaeological treasures.
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Tourism is a vital source of jobs and revenue for Egypt. In 2010, the number of foreign visitors reached 14.7 million and revenues topped $12.5 billion. Since 2011, the sector has suffered a number of blows, including the Covid-19 pandemic. Revenue slumped last year to about $4 billion.