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Egypt's Istabl Anter rescued

The rich Islamic site of Istabl Antar in Old Cairo is saved from urban encroachment, though late in the day

Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 26 Aug 2012
istabl antar site

Serenity has returned to the rich Islamic site of Istabl Antar in Al-Fustat area in Old Cairo after almost a month of uproar and turmoil. Early this month an armed gang led by wealthy residents of the area invaded the four feddans wide archaeological site, covered the excavation area with sand and began to bulldoze it. The gang divided the land and distributed it among its members in parcels of approximately 800 square metres each. Every member surrounded his part with blocks of stones in order to separate it from the others and started to built mud brick houses.

Ibrahim Abdel Rahman, head of Al-Fustat inspectorate, called the Tourism and Antiquities Police to stop the invasion while the prosecutor-general ordered the removal of all blocks and to return the land to the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA). But only few days ago did the government remove all encroachments on the archaeological site.

“The removal comes too late as residents have ruined the remains of a very distinguished site that relates to the history of the early Islamic era, since Amr Ibnul As right through Mohamed Ali's reign,” Abdel Rahman pointed out. He added that since the 1980s, such incidents had become increasingly common after the increase of urban encroachment on the site of Ezbet Kheirallah where Istabl Antar is located.

Ezbet Kheirallah includes three of Egypt’s early Islamic capitals: Al-Fustat, Al-Askar and Al-Qatai.

In 1985 a French archaeological mission led by Roland Pierre Gayraud started excavation at Istabl Antar area where they discovered remains of a habitat built by a Yemeni tribe on the heights overlooking Birkat Al-Habash at the time of the founding of the city.

A funerary complex houses tombs of notable families of the Yemeni tribe, built between 750 and c.765, was also uncovered.

Gayraud said that studies on the funerary complex revealed that until the late 11th century, the cemetery developed into a small town with organised cobbled streets and adorned mausoleums attributed to patrician houses of the era, with gardens, ponds and even baths. Regrettably, in around 1070, all was destroyed and looted.

Ceramics and glass artifacts were also found during excavations, establishing new chronologies and typologies, as well as other materials such as textiles, papyrus, paper, leather, wood and bone.

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