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New nominations to the UNESCO List

« Egypt is nominating a new set of ancient Egyptian and Ptolemaic monuments for UNESCO’s World Heritage List » writting by Nevine El-Aref.

Egypt is to submit proposals for three major archaeological sites in Egypt to be considered for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, a list of the world’s main sites and monuments managed by the UN’s educational, cultural and scientific organisation, writes Nevine El-Aref.

Ahmed Ebeid is the director of the Ministry of Antiquities office that led the team to prepare the nominations. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry has selected three major archaeological sites in different locations: Pharaoh Island in Taba, the Old City of Alexandria and the Ptolemaic Temples in Upper Egypt.

Ebeid said the nominations were prepared by a team from the Ministry of Antiquities in collaboration with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Alexandria governorate and a number of NGOs, as well as archaeologists at the selected sites. The nominations include full details of the selected sites, maps and photographs.

“Putting these archaeological sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List is a very important step, based on the ministry’s keenness to register the largest number of Egypt’s archaeological sites possible on the list in order to secure maximum protection matching their importance and uniqueness,” Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany told the Weekly.

He said the sites were earlier placed on UNESCO’s Tentative List and that now was the time for them to be put on the Permanent List.

Pharaoh Island in Taba: This is a small island located south of Taba, just 250 metres inland from the Egyptian Red Sea coast. It is surrounded by coral reefs and dominated by the Salaheddin Fortress, originally built by the Crusaders in 1115 CE.

It was seized and expanded by Salaheddin Al-Ayyubi in 1170 to protect the country against Crusader invasions from Palestine, as it was feared that the Crusaders might attempt to head for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. The fortress was also used as a customs point to control trade coming from Asia.

In 2012, the fortress and the wall surrounding it was restored. Missing and damaged stone blocks were replaced with new ones matching the originals. A new lighting system was also installed.

Ebeid said Pharaoh Island has been on UNESCO’s Tentative List since 1989 because of its distinguished architecture and the fact that the fortress was an important witness to the region’s history.

Old City of Alexandria: This site includes important archaeological sites in Alexandria, including Kom Al-Shuqafa, Kom Al-Dikka, Pompey’s Pillar, the Roman Amphitheatre, the Old Alexandria Lighthouse, sunken archaeological sites in both the Eastern Harbour and Abu Qir, and the Islamic Cistern of Ibn Al-Nabih.

The sites, Ebeid said, have been on UNESCO’s Tentative List since 2003 because of their exceptional international importance. They are important testimony to Graeco-Roman civilisation, considered one of the most important ancient civilisations in the world.

Kom Al-Dikka is a large archaeological site, covering some 40,000 square metres, located in downtown Alexandria, in front of the train station. It consists of an amphitheatre, a Roman settlement including limestone villas with mosaic flooring, baths with cisterns, and a bust of Alexander the Great. Since 1960, a Polish-Egyptian team has been excavating and restoring the site.

The Roman amphitheatre on the site has marble seating for 700 to 800 people and includes brick and stone galleries and a forecourt with two areas of mosaic flooring. During Ptolemaic times the amphitheatre was a park in the form of a hilly pleasure garden with a limestone summit carved in the shape of a pine cone. Roman villas and baths later encroached on the area.

The amphitheatre has been twice restored, once in the late 1960s and then again in the 1980s. It is the only monument of its kind in Egypt. The residential quarter of ancient Alexandria was located to the north of the site. There were public baths, cisterns, houses, shops and streets. The recovered baths are huge and were probably constructed by the Roman emperor who offered them to the city as a gift. The well-preserved bath area is constructed of red brick.

There is a complex of private Roman villas on a lower level to the east. These date from the first century CE and belonged to high-ranking officials or wealthy people who could afford to build such structures.

Kom Al-Shuqafa is the largest and most important Graeco-Roman catacomb-type necropolis in Egypt. Its name refers to the mounds of shards found in the area. These included the shards of terracotta jars, containers and plates that visitors left after visiting the necropolis. These containers contained food and wine that were consumed by visitors during their visits.

The catacombs of Kom Al-Shuqafa date back to the second century CE and have a mixture of ancient Egyptian, Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman decorative elements, a common feature of Alexandria at the time.

Pompey’s Pillar is a 25-metre red granite column constructed to honour the Roman emperor Diocletian at the end of the fourth century CE.

The Alexandria Lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and was once one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. It was built during the Ptolemaic period but damaged in earthquakes between 956 and 1323 CE. Its stone blocks were used to build other monuments, including the Citadel of Qayt Bey. In 1994, French archaeologists discovered further remains on the seabed of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour.

The Ibn Al-Nabih Cistern is located in the Al-Shalalat area of Alexandria and was used to store water.

Ptolemaic Temples in Upper Egypt: These include the temples of Esna, Dendara, Kom Ombo and Edfu and have been on UNESCO’s Tentative List since 2003.

Esna Temple is in the town of Esna, 50 km south of Luxor. The temple was primarily dedicated to the Nile god Khnum and later to a number of other deities, including Neith, the goddess of magic; Satet, the goddess of the Nile; and Menhet, the lion goddess.

The 18th Dynasty pharaoh Tuthmosis III laid the foundations of the temple but it was completed in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, from 40 to 250 CE. The names of those who built it are inscribed on the temple walls.

The ruins of the temple include a pillared hall with 24 pillars beautifully decorated with lotus and palm capitals. The walls are covered with four rows of reliefs showing Ptolemaic and Roman rulers dressed in Pharaonic costumes and making sacrifices to the temple god.

Dendara Temple is in Qena and covers an area of 40,000 square metres. It is considered one of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt. It is a massive pile of awe-inspiring ancient Egyptian and Graeco-Roman architecture.

It was known in ancient times as the “Castle of the Sistrum” or “Per Hathor”: literally, “The House of Hathor,” the goddess of love, joy and beauty. According to early inscriptions, a structure was erected to Hathor at Dendara during the reign of the Old Kingdom pharoah Khufu (2547-2524 BCE).

Inscriptions in a later temple at Dendara also mention that Pepi I of the Sixth Dynasty (2343-2297 BCE) constructed a temple on the site. Later additions and modifications to the Temple of Hathor were undertaken by several New Kingdom rulers (1549-1069 BCE), including Tuthmosis III, Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep III, as well as Ramses II and III.

The temple seen today was built on the ruins of the older one during the late Ptolemaic period. Ptolemy XII Auletes (the father of Cleopatra VII), whose name is found in the crypt, is associated with the building of the temple.

During the Late Period and Graeco-Roman period several hypostyle halls, columns, kiosks and birth houses were added to the area by Nectanebo I, Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy X, and Ptolemy XI, as well as by the Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Nero.

Among the most important scenes on the temple walls are those on the ceiling of the hypostyle hall, which still retains much of its original colouring. This is decorated with a chart of the heavens, including zodiac signs and a depiction of Nut, the goddess who swallowed the sun disc in the evening and gave birth to it again at dawn.

The inner hypostyle hall, known as the “Hall of Appearances,” is decorated with scenes that show the pharaoh in ceremonies related to the temple’s construction.

The Kom Ombo Temple is in Aswan and was built during the reign of the Ptolemaic pharaoh Ptolemy VI and was dedicated to the worship of two deities. The southern half was dedicated to Sobek, god of fertility and procreator of Hathor and Khonsu, and the northern half was dedicated to the falcon god Horus.

Later additions were made right up to the Roman era, most notably by Ptolemy XIII who built the inner and outer hypostyle halls. Over millennia, much of the temple was destroyed by Nile floods, and by earthquakes and builders who used its stones to construct other temples and sanctuaries.

The Crocodile Museum is located near the temple on the east bank of the Nile. The museum displays a collection of 22 crocodile mummies of different shapes and sizes that have been placed on sand inside glass showcases to show how crocodiles lived on the banks of the Nile. The mummies were carefully selected from among 40 that were discovered in Aswan.

A number of crocodile coffins, wooden sarcophagi, foetuses and crocodile eggs are also exhibited, along with stelae and statues of Sobek with a human body and a crocodile head. Replicas of Sobek’s original tombs and niches are also on show. Sobek mummification processes are also illustrated, as are a funerary ceremony and burial in the necropolis.

Edfu Temple is on the west bank of the Nile in the town of Edfu and is also considered one of the country’s best-preserved sites. The temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and was built during the reign of Ptolemy III and completed during the reign of Ptolemy XII. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Graeco-Roman era.

The temple’s inscribed texts provide details on its construction and the mythical interpretation of this and other temples in the “Island of Creation”. There are also scenes and inscriptions relating the story of the age-old conflict between the gods Horus and Seth in ancient Egyptian religion.

The remains of a pylon found to the east of the temple reveal that the construction work progressed during the New Kingdom under the reigns of Ramses I and II and Seti I.

The temple was abandoned after the Roman Empire became Christian and paganism was outlawed in 391 CE. It lay buried up to its lintels in sand until the 1860s when French archaeologist Auguste Mariette excavated it.