Magazine article The Middle East

Luxor: The Largest Open-Air Museum in the World

Magazine article The Middle East

Luxor: The Largest Open-Air Museum in the World

Article excerpt

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BEFORE THE SUN begins to shed its light--and ridiculous heat--over the many wonders across Luxor, the city's residents are busy preparing for the day ahead. Tourism is their livelihood, involving many thousands of foreign visitors annually to the city that is home to 25% of the world's ancient sites.

On most days, Mahmoud will have opened his small souvenir shop on the East Bank of the Nile--home to the famed Karnak and Luxor temples--as early as 5am, depending on the season and the heat. Although business, he says, has been improving, he and many of Luxor's 200,000 residents are frustrated with the Egyptian government's plans for major redevelopment of the area.

"It needed to be done," the head of Luxor Antiquities at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mansour Boreik, argues. "It is always difficult to get Egyptians to change but if this work isn't done, Luxor could disappear."

Luxor is probably Egypt's second most famous city after Cairo, with its assortment of ancient temples, tombs and museums. Ramses II, believed to be the Pharaoh of Old Testament lore, lived here 3,000 years ago. But all is not well in the 21st-century land of the Nile.

Many Egyptians living on the West Bank of the Nile--home to famous sites including the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut's Temple--have been forced to relocate, despite having lived in the same place for generations.

"Yes, people are going to have to move," Boreik agrees, "but the media and the world, must understand that this is to preserve the history of the place. People have lived on top of ancient monuments and sites for decades; now we need to start excavating and making the area more accessible."

The idea behind the move is to recreate the New Kingdom, depicting Egypt's last Pharaonic era, where the West Bank of Luxor was home to the magnificent tombs of kings and nobles. Kept secret for fear of grave robbers, for years average citizens were not allowed the freedom to cross from their living quarters on the East Bank and even today only single-sail feluccas and a bridge link Luxor's East and West Banks. Archaeologists observe that even the ancient tomb workers were blindfolded during their transport to the West Bank, to ensure they did not know their exact location.

Many 21st-century Egyptians feel the current government is doing the same thing as those ancient kings by forcing them to stay away from the West Bank. But, the government insists, the reasoning behind today's development has nothing to do with restricting freedom of movement and everything to do with facilitating tourism, Egypt's largest source of income.

But even for those who make a living from the tourist hoards, the recent development has proved to a bitter pill to swallow. "The government forced me, my family and my friends to leave our homes for this project," says Mahmoud, "but they did not give us proper compensation for the move."

He claims that an extended family that occupied an entire building was relocated to a single flat with various members of several generations forced to live in a single dwelling.

"It is unfair; families that previously lived in comfort in their own surroundings are now forced to live together, with often ten or more people in one flat," adds Mahmoud. …

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