CAIRO: While stunning archaeological revelations are expected to make headlines by the beginning of 2009, archaeology-enthusiasts were let down by unfulfilled promises of exciting excavations made in 2008.
What marked the year 2008, however, were the landmark restorations that highlighted archaeological events, especially in the field of Islamic architecture.
Islamic architectureOn top of the restorations list stands Islamic architecture which targeted Al-Moez li Din illah Street. This is the first phase of a major plan aimed at reviving Islamic Cairo which started with refurbishing 62 Islamic monuments including Cairo’s 1,000-year-old walls and gates.
The area, which is emerging as the biggest Islamic open museum in the world, was inaugurated in November by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. The street, which extends between Al Footuh and Zuweila gates, runs through Al Nahasin area, Khan El Khalili, the Gold Market, the Madaq Alley as well as Suqaria Alley – two streets that made up the titles of Egyptian Nobel-Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s novels.
Al-Moez Street comprises some of Egypt’s most outstanding mosques, Islamic schools, palaces, cemeteries and hospitals, all of which date back to the Fatimid, Ayyubbid, Mamluk and Ottoman dynasties that ruled Egypt for over eight centuries. The second phase of the restorations will take place over the next two years.
Restoration efforts also included Sabil Aboul Abass and Shaikhoun Mosque, two Islamic buildings located in Al Khalifa area close to Ahmed bin Toulon Mosque. Both were restored and opened to the public in September 2008.
DiscoveriesZahi Hawass, head of Egypt s Supreme Council of Antiquities, previously told the press that the year 2008/9 will mark Egypt’s golden year in terms of major archaeological discoveries.
Significant archaeological discoveries in 2008 include the intact statue of Queen Tiy, a powerful Pharaonic queen from ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty and wife of King Amenhotep III.
The statue was unearthed in March at the site of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The 3.6-meter-tall quartzite figure was found attached to the broken-off leg of a much larger colossus – a 15-meter-tall likeness of Amenhotep III seated at his throne.
Also in November 2008, a 4300-year-old pyramid that dates back to the 6th dynasty was unearthed at the Sakkara area. The pyramid was the tomb of king Titi’s mother, the first of the 6th dynasty’s royals.
The Egyptian team that made the discovery dug down 20 meters of sand to reach the pyramid which, according to Hawass, is one of the most important excavations in modern time.
Although Hawass announced in April 2008 that efforts were in full swing to unveil the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra, yet the excavations targeting the mind-boggling tomb believed to contain the couple’s burial place haven’t led to any substantial results yet.
This is a discovery that’s bound to cause ripples worldwide if it leads to the mummies of the most memorable lovers of ancient times.
Excavations will be underway in January 2009, to unearth the gate of the tomb believed to be lying underneath a temple located 50 km to the west of Alexandria, Hawass told the press.
He added that a statue belonging to the Macedonian queen, as well as some coins that carry her image, were unearthed at that temple.
MuseumsThe year 2008 also saw the construction of new museums or the start of projects to build them, the most significant of which is the one allocated to the underwater archaeology in Alexandria.
According to news reports, UNESCO began late this year collecting donations that will be used to raise funds for the construction of the Underwater Archaeology Museum in the coastal city.
French architect Jack Roget put the final touches on the designs of the museum that will be constructed offshore opposite the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
It will consist of a fiberglass dome surrounded by four towers shaped like the ancient Alexandria Lighthouse.
The visitors will be able to view the entire ancient sunken city of Alexandria by walking through the fiberglass tubes that will run through the streets and alleys of the city.
While experts regret that the Greek-Roman Museum and the Royal Jewelry Museum in Alexandria as well the Islamic Museum in Cairo remain closed to the public, Hawass announced that 19 new museums including the Royal Jewelry Museum will be inaugurated soon.
Some of these include the Akhenaton Museum in Minya, the Suhag Museum, The Fayoum Faces Museum, the Mosaic Museum in Alexandria, the Textile Museum in Islamic Cairo as well as others in Rashid and Suez.
He noted that efforts are underway to construct the Grand Egyptian Museum in the Pyramids area, which is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2012.
The museum will be constructed over an area of 117 acres to highlight 100,000 ancient Egyptian pieces including the Sun Boats as well as the memorable statue of Ramses II, both of which will move to the museum.
The Egyptian Civilization Museum in Fustat is currently in its last stages as the Egyptian Museum will only house artifacts relating to the ancient Egyptian art.
Stolen antiquitiesEver since a UNESCO agreement was reached regarding stolen antiquities, 5,000 pieces of stolen monuments were retrieved by Egypt, Hawass previously told the media.
In early December, dozens of ancient artifacts stolen by a former US Army helicopter pilot were returned to the Egyptian government during a ceremony in Manhattan. The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is currently negotiating the return of the mask of Nefr from the Art Museum in Saint Louis.
Negotiations are currently taking place between the SCA and the British Museum, the Louvre and the Boston Museum to borrow respectively for three months the Rosetta Stone, the Zodiac and the statue of the architect who designed the Great Pyramid, Hawass said.
In 2008, King Amenhotep III’s eye returned to Egypt after it was removed from one of his colossal statues when a fire broke out in 1972 at his temple located in the west bank of Luxor.
The eye was sold to the Swiss Museum in Basel by a German antiquities dealer who had in turn bought it at an auction after it was offered for sale by an American trader.
Exhibitions overseas Hawass said that there are currently two Tutankhamon exhibitions in the US and another two for Egyptian sunken monuments in both Spain and Japan.
Exhibitions of Egyptian artifacts abroad have generated $350 million during the last five years; $9 million were generated by King Tut every six months.