Behind the first pylon of the Karnak Temple stands a collection of 48 ram-headed sphinxes carved in sandstone waiting for admirers.
After 12 months of restoration work, 29 of them have now regained something of their original look.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), described the project as “the biggest in five decades”, adding that the restoration work had started in December 2019 shortly after the relocation of four of the sphinxes to Cairo’s Tahrir Square as part of government efforts to develop it.
During the transfer, the restorers had realised that the ram-headed sphinxes were not in good condition and were suffering from deterioration. Studies revealed that some parts had been lost, probably owing to faulty restoration work carried out during the 1970s during the installation of the sound and light system at the Karnak Temple.
The restorers at that time had used the wrong materials and had installed the sphinxes on top of mounts made of cement, mud bricks, pebbles, and rubble, which had negatively impacted the statues because they had caused the absorption of subterranean water into the original sandstone bases of the sphinxes, turning them into sand.
Some sphinxes had crumbled as a result, and some had lost some of their parts. Fungi and weeds had also grown among them.
In order to restore the sphinxes, a project had been launched in December 2019, Waziri said, with the first phase being inaugurated with the completion of the restoration of 29 ram-headed sphinxes on the southern side. Work was continuing to restore the 19 statues on the northern side.
Head of restoration at the Karnak Temple Saadi Zaki, who led the restoration team, told Al-Ahram Weekly that before starting the restoration work, each statue had been scientifically examined and documented to define its condition and the extent of any deterioration.
All the sphinxes were removed for mechanical cleaning, consolidation, and restoration using internationally approved restoration materials. New mounts were fabricated to install the sphinxes and return them to their original location.
The statues were discovered between 1895 and 1942 by French and Egyptian Egyptologists, according to Egyptologist Salah Al-Maseikh. They were originally located before the temple’s second pylon, but during the reign of king Taharqa (690-664 BCE), they were removed to their current location, giving space for the king to build his own temple within the open court.
At the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor the tomb of king Ramses I (KV16), founder of the 19th Dynasty, has also been reopened to the public following restoration.
The walls and inscriptions of the tomb were cleaned of bird deposits and soot and the colours strengthened.
The tomb was discovered in 1817 by the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni. It is 29 metres long and consists of a short corridor that ends in a burial chamber containing a granite sarcophagus.
It has magnificent wall decorations depicting scenes from the Book of the Gates. The burial chamber has distinguished scenes showing the boat of the sun god being dragged by four figures and others representing the king kneeling before the spirits of the gods Pe and Nekhen.
Ramses I was not born royal. He was a deputy of the army during the reign of king Horemheb, when he was called Paramessu. As Horemheb was childless, Paramessu was appointed as his successor, ascending the throne as Ramses I and founding the 19th Dynasty.
His mummy is on display in the Hall of the Glory of Thebes in the Luxor Museum.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.