Pollution forces Egypt to move statue of god-king

CAIRO: Ramses II, son of the Sun god, the greatest warrior king and the most prolific builder of ancient Egypt, has been defeated by the rumble and fumes of modern traffic.

His monumental pink granite statue outside Cairo central rail station has all but vanished within a sarcophagus of scaffolding erected to enable experts to prepare it for removal next year to a less polluted site outside the city.

Discovered in 1883 near Memphis, the ancient pharaonic capital, the statue was moved to Cairo in 1954 and has been a landmark ever since.

But the station square, reputedly the most polluted place in Egypt, is fouled by the exhaust fumes of an estimated 900,000 vehicles which jostle and blare their way through it every day, and as long as a decade ago the first of many plans was made to move the god-king.

Director of works Khaled Nasr says Ramses will be unbolted from his concrete pedestal by the end of the year and will begin his journey in February to the site of the Great Egyptian Museum which is to be built near the pyramids of Giza.

The statue is more than 11 meters tall and weighs 80 tons, and before it can be moved it must be checked for signs of damage which might cause it to break in transit.

Khaled Abdel Hadi, director of restoration at Egypt's Higher Council for Antiquities, said the statue was in danger of collapsing due to traffic vibrations, while humidity and exhaust fumes had begun to deface the cartouches which enabled archaeologists to identify it in the first place.

Experts have carried out a surface examination and, when it is finished, the statue will be X-rayed to see whether it has any internal cracks.

The short journey from central Cairo to the museum site on the southern outskirts of the city is expected to last three days and nights and to cost an estimated 6 million Egyptian pounds ($1 million).

The massive statue will be lowered into a metal casing, itself weighing no less than 25 tons, and carried by military tank-transporters, recalling its removal to the city half a century ago.

In 1954, a group of young army officers led by Colonel Gamal Abdel-Nasser had overthrown King Farouk and abolished a monarchy which had become too closely associated with foreign powers.

Nasser wanted to use Ramses to symbolize the authentically Egyptian roots of the new republic.

The statue was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd and the square in which it was erected was immediately renamed in honor of the pharaoh, instead of Farouk's mother, Queen Nazli.

In its early days, the statue and the fountain at its feet were visible from afar, but they were gradually hemmed in by a mass of overpasses and pedestrian bridges that were meant to ease the flow of people and motor traffic around and across the square but in fact aggravated it.

Ramses II reigned over Egypt for 68 years, from 1304 to 1236 BC, and is believed to have lived to the age of 90.

Ramses II covered the country with monuments to his exploits and his mummy, on display in the National Museum in Cairo, is one of the country's biggest tourist attractions.

By Karim El Fawal, Agence France Presse





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