Site management: The response to tourism — II

Zahi Hawass , Tuesday 23 Nov 2021

Proper site management could go a long way towards solving the problems of conservation, restoration, and tourism at Egypt’s archaeological monuments,

Carrying out site-management plans proved to be difficult due to the growth of adjacent urban villag
Carrying out site-management plans proved to be difficult due to the growth of adjacent urban villages, the number of visitors flocking to the site, and the tourist-carrying camels and horses

Archaeologists in Egypt are generally unaware of the pressing need for the protection of archaeological sites from tourism.

The term “site management” might profitably be introduced to those involved in the administration of these sites throughout the Middle East, for it could save them from the inherent dangers that mass tourism introduces. It could also be used to prepare sites for conservation and restoration, artefact recording, and training programmes, and it may be of considerable use to archaeologists doing scholarly work. One successful example of it has been applied to the Giza Plateau in Egypt.

The only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that remains standing today is the Pyramids of Giza. The site contains the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, eight subsidiary pyramids, and thousands of Old Kingdom tombs. The Great Sphinx also lies on the site in an Old Kingdom quarry. This was carved out of the bedrock core that was left after the rock around it was cut away to build the temples and tombs in the various pyramid complexes.

An example of the success of proper site management at the Giza site concerns admissions, which used to be handled in such a way that tourists who had not purchased a ticket could still wander around the Plateau, though they were not allowed to enter the monuments. Tour companies were famous for bringing visitors to walk about without paying any fees. The site-management plan thus called for an entrance gate to monitor buses and cars and to ensure that all tourists on the plateau had purchased admission tickets.

The decrease in foot traffic and the increase in revenues were more than worth the cost and maintenance of the entrance gate.

The site of the Giza Pyramids is the only site in Egypt for which a site-management plan has been put into effect to date, with this taking place in 1988. Carrying out the plan proved to be difficult due to the growth of adjacent urban villages, the number of Egyptian visitors flocking to the site during national holidays, the tourist-carrying camels and horses which at present have uninhibited use of the site, and other tourist and conservation problems.

Before 1988, a plan for site management had not, to my knowledge, been applied to any site in Egypt. Four phases were planned for Giza, as I explained in an earlier article. But Giza is only one of several major sites in Egypt that are in indisputable need of protection. Two of the most important are Abu Simbel and Luxor.

Abu Simbel: The site of Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt contains two important temples, those of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari.

In the 1960s, the UN cultural body UNESCO sponsored a worldwide campaign to save these monuments when they were threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The campaign demonstrated how many nations were willing to cooperate to preserve their common human heritage.

UNESCO also deserves credit for saving these temples from the destruction that is all too often a byproduct of urban development. The damage caused by tourism to the temples of Abu Simbel is well documented. At one time, it was not uncommon for more than 2,000 tourists to visit the temples in an hour and a half. At one point, a large stone fell from the ceiling of the Ramses Temple, no doubt loosened by the loud voices of tour guides, visitors touching the temple walls, camera flashes, and the heat and humidity introduced by so many bodies in a small place.

In addition, the exhaled carbon dioxide affects the durability of the stone itself.

Complicating the problem has been the lack of communication between the tourist authorities and antiquities personnel. The site of Abu Simbel is easy to manage, however, and a site-management plan could be readily applied to benefit both tourism and temple preservation. The authorities of the Aswan governorate, tourism officials, the antiquities police, development authorities, and the airlines should meet and discuss a preliminary plan for site management and its relation to tourism.

A sensible plan for Abu Simbel would include a cultural centre near the site to explain the history and archaeology of the temples and the story of the modern technology involved in moving and saving them by UNESCO. The story might be explained through a short documentary or giant-screen Imax film. The centre should contain guidebooks and sell copies of artefacts related to Ramses II, thus becoming an attraction to tourists while at the same time providing funds for preservation.