After centuries of being scattered in eight large blocks on the sands at San Al-Haggar archaeological site in Zagazig, a 17m-tall obelisk of King Ramses II will be restored, re-assembled and re-erected to decorate the historic Tahrir Square.
The obelisk is carved in red granite and decorated with scenes depicting Ramses II standing before the gods with his different titles written alongside. After restoration and assembly, the obelisk will be 17 metres tall. It weighs 90 tonnes. It once soared inside the temple of Ramses II at San Al-Haggar whose monuments collapsed after a destructive earthquake hit Egypt in ancient times.
The pieces arrived in Cairo early this week and are under restoration. The transportation of the parts of the obelisk was carried out under tight security by the tourism and antiquities police within the framework of the government’s plan to beautify and develop Tahrir Square as part of the Historic Cairo Development project.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the Ministry of Antiquities completed the first phase of the development project at San Al-Haggar’s archaeological site in September last year. It included the restoration, re-assembling and re-erection, in their original location, of a collection of two obelisks, two colossi and two columns from the temple of Ramses II.
It also lifted the blocks, reliefs, columns, small statues, and stelae laying on the sand at the site to restore and re-erect them onto concrete slabs to protect them for future generations. The artefacts have been laying on sand since their discovery in the 19th century.
Mohamed Al-Saaidi, director of the SCA’s Technical Office, said that the Egyptian mission restored and lifted ancient Egyptian blocks, statues, columns and obelisks onto stone mounts to isolate them from the ground and protect them from subsoil water, salts and moisture, and placed the objects in a better display for visitors.
More of the site’s monuments and artefacts will be restored and assembled in the second phase of the restoration project which just began. The archaeological site of San Al-Haggar boasts many monumental relics and is one of the country’s largest and most impressive sites, leading Egyptologists to dub it the “Luxor of the North”.
In collaboration with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO), the ministry recently launched a project to upgrade the facilities and services provided to the site’s visitors, including the establishment of a visitor centre, the installation of signage, and the development of a website for the site.
San Al-Haggar or Tanis was a royal necropolis during the 21st and 22nd dynasties, housing the tombs of the Pharaohs as well as nobles and military leaders. French Egyptologist Pierre Montet excavated the site between the 1920s and 1950s, putting an end to the enigma of the identification of the site. Some Egyptologists saw Tanis as Pi-Ramses, while others suggested that it was the ancient Avaris.
Montet showed that Tanis was neither Pi-Ramses nor Avaris, but rather a third capital in the Delta during the 21st Dynasty. He also unearthed the royal necropolis of the 21st and 22nd dynasties in 1939, with their unique treasures now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.
“This discovery was not recognised in the way that the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 was recognised because of the outbreak of World War II,” Waziri said. Among the tombs that were uncovered were those of the Pharaohs Psusennes I, Amenemonpe, Osorkon II and Sheshonq III.
The site houses large numbers of tombs and temples. Among the largest is one dedicated to the god Amun. It also houses the temples of deities Mut and Khonsu and Horus along with a collection of obelisks, columns and colossi of King Ramses II.
In December 2017, the ministry launched a comprehensive rescue project to restore Tanis and turn the site into an open-air museum of ancient Egyptian art.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly