On the southern side of the Nile in Upper Egypt lies the governorate of Sohag with its rich archaeological sites going from the early ancient Egyptian era right through the Ptolemaic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods.
However, despite its distinguished and monuments and historical landmarks, the governorate is seldom visited by foreign tourists.
To promote the governorate’s archaeological sites and encourage tourists to pay a visit to its monuments, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has launched plans to develop its sites and to make it more tourist-friendly, upgrading its facilities management as well as continuing the goal to preserve and conserve them.
Earlier this week, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and top officials from the ministry inaugurated two archaeological sites in Sohag after their development. These were the Al-Hawawish Necropolis in Akhmim and the Athribis Temple (Al-Sheikh Hamad) located 10km southwest of Sohag.
The restoration and development of both sites was completed over two years and carried out in collaboration with the Sohag governorate represented by the Local Development Project for the development of Upper Egypt. The projects were financed by the World Bank.
Eman Zidan, assistant to the minister for museums and archaeological site development, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the work involved developing services for visitors on both sites, such as installing explanatory panels and producing brochures and pamphlets equipped with QR codes that allow visitors carrying smart phones to read information in Arabic, English, German, French, and Dutch.
Sohag sites inaugurated
In addition to a number of sunshades, benches have been installed on the visiting path for the convenience of the guests. Toilets and rubbish bins designed for recycling have also been installed.
The sites are accessible for people with special needs through the rehabilitation of pathways, booklets in Braille, film translations in visitor centres in sign language, and other services that improve the visitor experience. A parking area, cafeteria, ticket office, visitor centre and administrative headquarters have also been provided.
Precautionary measures to be adhered to during visits have been supported by the provision of masks, sterile materials, and temperature-measuring devices, in addition to maps that include archaeological and tourist attractions in Sohag. Surveillance cameras have been installed, a cafeteria constructed, and there are now several bazaars.
The restoration work at Al-Hawawish includes the installation of new stairs and ramps to facilitate visits to the tombs. Wall paintings and inscriptions inside the tombs have been consolidated, restored, and cleaned of smoke, dust, and bird deposits.
El-Enany announced that all Egyptians will be given free entry to both sites and guided tours until the end of March to raise archaeological awareness among local inhabitants.
He said that the ministry was working hard to develop services provided in museums and archaeological sites around Egypt in order to improve the visitor experience, preserve Egyptian antiquities, promote tourism, and raise archaeological awareness.
Due to the government’s sustainable development policies, the upcoming period will witness a great leap forward in the development of services at museums and archaeological sites across Egypt, he said.
Within the framework of the digital transformation project for museums and archaeological sites, the ministry is activating an electronic-reservation system by activating electronic payments by cards, electronic wallets, and contactless cards at museums in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
They will be introduced at other museums and sites shortly.
Elsewhere in Sohag, the Sohag National Museum was inaugurated some years ago, 29 years after laying its foundation stone, the Abydos Temple area was developed, the groundwater level was reduced at the Osirion Temple, and the colossus of King Ramses II in the open-air museum in Akhmim was restored and re-erected beside the colossus of his daughter Merit-Amun.
The Athribis Temple houses a collection of Ptolemaic monuments, among them a temple dedicated to the lion-goddess Repyt, a massive gateway of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes, who also began the construction of a temple against the slope of a hill where there are a few remains in situ.
A granite temple from the reign of the 26th-dynasty king Haaibre is also to be found, as well as a structure of Ptolemy IX Soter with a pylon and an enclosure wall.
There is also a Roman birth-house began by Ptolemy XII Auletes and completed during the Roman period by the Roman emperor Hadrian.
Sohag sites inaugurated
The birth-house was dedicated to Triphis and is fronted by a pronaos with two rows of six pillars that is still in good condition. Behind the pronaos is an open court that may have been surrounded by a colonnade.
Several Roman emperors had their names carved on these buildings, with some of the blocks used during the Coptic period in the construction of the nearby White Monastery.
In the nearby necropolis, there is the distinguished Ptolemaic Zodiac Tomb belonging to two brothers, Ibpemeny the younger and Pemehyt. Its ceiling is decorated with two zodiacs and dates to the late second century CE.
The Al-Hawawish Necropolis is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Sohag. It contains more than 900 rock-cut tombs dating back to the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. Nearly 60 tombs still preserve inscriptions and funerary scenes depicting offerings, the daily life of the deceased, dancing, hunting, and agriculture.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly