Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Ancient and Modern Egypt Come Face to Face

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Ancient and Modern Egypt Come Face to Face

Article excerpt

Prestigious archaeological sites threatened by urban encroachment

In the last few years rampant population growth and urban sprawl have combined to pose an increasingly serious threat to Egypt's archaeological monuments and sites. The ugly side-effects of urban development - water, air and noise pollution, constant vibrations and damage to the environment - are well known to all the world's city-dwellers.

Cairo's older inhabitants remember that only fifty years ago the main road to the pyramids, beginning in Giza Square, ran through fields before reaching the pyramids in the desert. At that time the pyramids could be seen eight kilometres away. Now only a forest of buildings is visible from Giza Square.

Traffic congestion choked the road so severely that another road was built parallel to it, encroaching on farmland which was replaced by more bottlenecks and anarchic ribbon building. There are no car park facilities or garages in these settlements and in some cases there is no running water. In the absence of any kind of town planning, using these two roads can be a hair-raising experience.

To improve the links between Cairo and the new towns around it, the idea was raised of building a huge ring road, 95 kilometres long and 42 metres wide, at a cost of one billion Egyptian pounds. The route of the highway would take it very near the Giza pyramids - an area which has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1979. Nonetheless work on the ring road began in 1986, without prior consultation with the World Heritage Committee and in flagrant violation of Egyptian heritage law, which protects land that might contain historic monuments.

The alarm was sounded in 1994 by the British daily The Independent, which drew attention to the risks posed by the road to any monuments that might be buried in an area where no archaeological research had yet been done. As a result of the debate triggered by the press and subsequent UNESCO intervention, work was suspended until the completion of a study by an expert committee.

This was not the first round in the fight to preserve the plateau of the Pyramids. In the late 1980s UNESCO sent an expert committee to draw up a project to protect the area, including restoration of the Sphinx and construction of a wall between the archaeological site and the nearby villages of Nazlet Essallab and Kafr Elgabal, which had been joined together by urban growth. The,project was abandoned, however, in face of a storm of protest from local interest groups.


The pyramids are not the only pharaonic remains harmed by urbanization. Luxor, one of the world's most prestigious historic cities, is also threatened. The site includes the temple of Karnak, the temple of Luxor itself and the Road of the Rams that joins them on the east bank of the Nile, and on the west bank the Valley of the Queens, with the temple of Hatshepsut and the tomb of Nefertiti, and the Valley of the Kings. …

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