Promoting Egypt

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 30 Nov 2021

The Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor ceremony that left the world mesmerised last week took more than seven months of work by hundreds of unsung heroes,

The glitzy ceremony promoting Luxor as a great open-air museum
The glitzy ceremony promoting Luxor as a great open-air museum

The magnificent ceremony of the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor last week captivated the world, presenting the resurrection of a cultural tradition that has not been seen for thousands of years.

After decades of being buried beneath the sand and residential areas, the 3,000-year-old Avenue of the Sphinxes is now accessible to visitors, who can explore the 2,700-metre ancient Egyptian Great Processional Path connecting the Karnak to the Luxor temples.

The spectacular reopening celebration that began after nightfall did not only proceed along the length of the avenue, lined on either side by hundreds of rams and human-headed statues with lion’s bodies.

Instead, it extended over the awe-inspiring Theban monuments, the Nile, Nile boats and feluccas, and Luxor’s traditional market and involved horse-drawn carriages, hot-air balloons, and a host of other attractions. It included participants in ancient Egyptian dress and modern costumes, a symphony orchestra, traditional music, lighting effects, professional dancers, and more.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi along with prime minister Mustafa Madbouli and more than 20 ministers, top officials, and around 35 foreign ambassadors attended the city-wide spectacle, which related a story of creativity, history, strength and beauty that made it a trending hashtag on Twitter worldwide.

The world was captivated by the scale and spectacle of the event, but perhaps its true impact came as a result of the tireless dedication to every detail by some of Egypt’s most talented designers, musicians, dancers, restorers, and archaeologists, all of whom had worked to make sure the event was a success.

It was not an easy task. Hundreds of soldiers worked day and night over the last seven months to make the event come true, reviving the ancient Egyptian Opet festival and reopening the Avenue of the Sphinxes to the world in a ceremony that showed off Luxor’s different attractions and promoted it as the world’s greatest open-air museum and making all Egyptians proud of their ancient civilisation.

The present writer is very much aware of the many stories that remain to be told of an event that grew from a simple idea to the magnificent spectacle we saw last Thursday.

The reopening of the avenue in Luxor was the second such event after the successful Pharaohs Golden Parade of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies crossing the streets of Cairo on their last journey from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat last April.

Many people will compare the two events, pointing to the fact that while the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade was a procession showing off the allure of ancient Egyptian civilisation, the Luxor event was a promotional one, promoting the city as a great open-air museum and a distinguished tourist destination.

Reviving the ancient Opet festival meant organising the event along the ancient Avenue of Sphinxes and transporting the barques of various ancient Egyptian deities from the Karnak to the Luxor temples. Another parade along the Nile also took place as illuminated sacred boats floated on the water and Pharaonic music accompanied dance performances.

The fabrication of the three sacred barques that once took the triad of Luxor deities Amun, Mut and Khonso from the Luxor to Karnak temples was another obstacle, as was the careful study of representations of the festival on ancient Egyptian temple walls.

“Inscriptions on the walls of the Luxor Temple depicting the Opet festival were our references for the designs,” said Mohamed Attia, production designer for the Opet parade and the ancient Egyptian singing.

He explained that the designs were inspired by records of the ancient Egyptian parade with a modern twist that did not contradict with ancient Egyptian beliefs or the historical evidence. The three barques were fabricated on a larger scale than the original ones, since each barque was originally five metres long, but the new ones were made to be 14 metres long in order to be more attractive for spectators.

A fourth structure was also made to be a platform for gifts carried during the festival procession.

The most difficult design was for the sacred lake in the Karnak Temple, Attia said. It had taken seven days to complete “as we had to build a stage beneath the water level of the lake in order to give the impression that the dancers were interacting with the water of the lake while using the moon disk as a backdrop. The design of the stage used for the ancient Egyptian singing was inspired by the key of life ankh sign of the ancient Egyptians,” he noted.

“Accuracy was important for every detail, since the planning and preparation stage is the most important. Once this is done, the event is easier to implement,” he added.

The logo of the event could be seen everywhere in Luxor leading up to the event, on the sides of decorations, at the back of stages, at the entrances of temples and in the avenue, on boats on the Nile, and even on horses’ saddles. Behind every piece of art there is an artist, however, and this logo also has its own story to tell.

Meetings were organised with Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and his team with the designer and his team to make sure the logo was historically correct. It is inspired by the deity Amun-Re’s barque with the sun disk in the middle.

Haunting and hypnotic, the singers and musicians taking part in the parade took the world by storm, transporting the audience millennia back in time. Maysara Abdallah, a professor at the Faculty of Antiquities at Cairo University who selected the ancient Egyptian chants, told Al-Ahram Weekly that among the songs performed were three chants, the first reconstructed from an inscription engraved on the walls of queen Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel in the Karnak temples.