In the middle of Egypt's Tahrir Square, more than fifty engineers and a thousand labourers in yellow hard hats have been working 24-hour shifts in a bid to finish the renovation of the famous landmark.
The government plans to turn the 150-year-old square into an open-air museum, with the project set to be finished by the end of this month.
The move is a major part of the development scheme for historic Cairo, which aims to transform it into a touristic archeological destination, especially with the state's plan to relocate government offices from Downtown Cairo to the New Administrative Capital from June.
Since December, engineering equipment including cranes, forklift trucks, and excavators have been installed in various parts of the area by the Arab Contractors.
The state-run company is executing the renovation, along with the ministries of tourism and antiquities, culture, local development, and housing, and the administration of Cairo governorate, among others.
The strategy aims to beautify the famous site, which has been at the centre of many historical and political events in the country’s modern era, via changing the appearance of the main buildings and embellishing it with a host of archeological items, according to the project's general engineering consultant Waleed Mansour.
The finished square will host an open-air pharaonic exhibition or historical pathway that the public can view, functioning as an extension of the Egyptian Museum, which is located on the northern boundary of the square.
The development work covers seven spots in Cairo's largest square, with the most important the roundabout at its centre, known as Al-Sanya in Arabic.
Here, an obelisk and four ram-headed sphinxes will be the prime attractions, Mansour explained.
Another key part of the work is the re-assembly of a 17-metre-tall, 90-ton-obelisk from the era of Ramses II, which was found in the form of eight large blocks at San El-Hagar archaeological site in the city of Zagazig in Egypt's Nile Delta.
Four sphinxes from Luxor’s Karnak Temple have also been transferred to the site.
The square will also be dotted with many pharaonic-era plants such as date trees, olive trees, fig trees, and carob trees, in addition to papyrus, for which the ancient Egyptian civilization was famous.
As for the workflow, “just a few steps are left until everything is finished; 85-90 percent of the planned work has been completed,” Mansour said.
Installing the obelisk in the square's roundabout (photo courtesy of Egypt's cabinet)
A complete makeover
Nestled in the middle of Tahrir’s famous roundabout, the obelisk is set to be the main attraction of the revamped space.
The monument, which is decorated with images depicting Ramses II, alongside hieroglyphics recording his different titles, was transported to the Egyptian capital and re-erected in the square last week.
It has been placed on a high pedestal, to prevent pedestrians from damaging it.
The red-granite obelisk will be circled by a number of artificial waterfalls that will be operational during the coming days, Waleed Omara, the head of project’s designs supervision team, told Ahram Online.
The obelisk is currently flanked by four concrete bases, which will be home to the four Luxor sphinxes.
The sphinxes will be situated to the front and back of the obelisk, Omara said, and also on enough height to protect them from passersby, he noted.
The antiquities will be ringed with three circles of seats that can accommodate up to two thousand people.
Working on the square’s central circle took longer than any other part due to technical challenges. One of the major obstacles the development team faced prior to the beginning of the task was finding an engineering solution to the problem of placing such a heavy obelisk over the ceiling of the square’s metro station, said Mahmoud Rostom, the site's executive manager.
"The installation took a long time because we were working in accordance with tough engineering standards,” he said.
Moreover, the work plan of the renovation includes replacing the square's tiles and sidewalks, painting all metal fences, walls and street posts, planting greenery, and installing marble benches to reflect the Egyptian civilization, with an eye to attracting tourists.
The development mission extends to sites in and around the square like Omar Makram mosque, the Mogamma government building, the Egyptian Museum, the historic building that formerly housed the foreign ministry, and the newly established Tahrir parking garage.
The developments included planting greenery in some spots
The proposal of the Sound & Light Company for the obelisk
In an attempt to preserve the square's harmony, all exterior facades of the square's buildings had been repainted in beige and brown, to give a consistent appearance.
The same step was applied to the area's shops, whose interfaces were redesigned with the same color and style, said Mohamed Saeid, chairman of the National Organization for Urban Harmony.
Furthermore, all advertising billboards had been removed to put an end to the cluttered view on the top of the square's buildings, a matter that was applauded by many people, he added.
The Egyptian government had also delegated the Sound and Light Company, which specialises in lighting archaeological sites, to restructure the lighting system in the whole square, so as to highlight the beauty of the new developments.
The company has finished the lighting of the Egyptian Museum, and most of the external premises facades inside the square, while the remaining parts will be done in the coming days.
The total number of lighting units that will be installed in the square could reach ten thousand, according to Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, head of the company.