Thursday, September 25, 2014

News, Suez Canal: Developments in Qantara

A new rehabilitation project is shaking the dust off ruins that reveal Egypt’s great military history..... by Neviinn El Aref 

Bone remains of worriors in the leberation war
Two weeks ago, archaeologists and heritage officials applauded when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi gave the go-ahead for the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project (SCCDP). The project will widen parts of the existing waterway and create a second, parallel canal. The scheme will not only develop Egypt’s economy and provide jobs, but it will also open up new tourist destinations.

The new waterway is ten km south of Qantara, the eastern gateway to Palestine and Syria in ancient times and the starting point of the famous Horus Road, the longest military road in Egypt and the only one to have retained physical evidence of its ancient fortresses and military structures.

Excavators uncover the Qantara’s forts
Horus Road was a vital commercial and military link between Egypt and Asia and has borne the marching feet of no fewer than 50 armies. From west to east, the pharaohs Thutmose III and Ramses II crossed Sinai with their military forces. From east to west came the Assyrian hordes, the Persian army of Cambyses, Alexander the Great and his mercenaries, Antiochus and the Roman legions, and Arab conquerors led by Amr Ibn Al-As.

“Digging a parallel canal, ten km from one of Egypt’s most important archaeological sites, is certainly good news for archaeology,” Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati told the Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that the project is a good opportunity to spruce up a planned development project for archaeological sites located within the vicinity of the Suez Canal, especially at Qantara.

“The chequered history of Qantara is a reminder of military battles from Pharaonic times to the early 1970s,” Al-Damati said. He added that the development projects at these sites were part of the ministry’s efforts to protect and preserve the country’s monuments by developing and opening new archaeological sites. “This will provide employment, security and tourist income,” Al-Damati said.

A relief of Ramses II before a god – beside - The relief of Seti I engraved on Karnak Temple
Collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) began in February last year when the SCCDP plan was in its initial stages, he said. The ministry provided the SCA with maps identifying the location of archaeological sites, in order to prevent encroachment or destruction of the sites when the new waterway is built.

This is why the digging work is to be located ten km south of Qantara, an area of no known monuments or archaeological sites. No work will take place at Qantara west, he said. “News that the SCCDP is violating one of Egypt’s archaeological sites is unfounded and false,” Al-Damati told the Weekly.

As a first step towards development of the sites and to make them more tourist-friendly, a committee had been set up, which he will lead, to study all the archaeological sites in this area and to see which sites are appropriate for restoration and eventual opening to the public.

A relief depicts Ramses II before the god Geb
“I want to open seven archaeological sites in Qantara, three on the east and four on the west, while the other sites will follow one by one,” Al-Damati said, adding that all of the selected sites will be restored and opened to the public by the time the SCCDP is completed. The three sites in east Qantara are Tel Abu Seifi, Pelusium and the Habwa Fortress. Those to the west are Tel Al-Dafna, Tel Al-Maskhouta, Tel Al-Seyeidi and Ein Al-Sukhna.

A site management component will be included in the development project. It will provide a tourist route so visitors can enjoy the different architectural styles of the ruins, together with information panels and a high-tech security and lighting system.

A visitor centre, bookstore, souvenir shop and cafeteria will be built. Two buildings displaying a “Panorama of Ancient Egypt Fortresses”, similar to the October War Panorama in Nasr City in Cairo, are also planned for the area. Al-Damati told the Weekly that preliminary project work will be carried out by the Ministry of Antiquities. This includes required studies and documentation of the monuments. The ministry plans to sign international cooperation agreements with several European countries in order to complete the actual development work.

A lintel of a door from the reign of king Ramses II
He did not give details of these agreements, but said that they involved countries interested in the area and in the cultural heritage of Egypt. “This is a new tourist site with very distinguished monuments that relate to Egypt’s military history through the different time periods,” Al-Damati said, adding that once work starts a new site could be completed every three months. The scene of several battles: “The development of Horus Road as a tourist attraction has finally gained momentum,” archaeologist Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the archaeological committee of the Horus Road development project, told the Weekly.

During the ancient Egyptian era, Qantara East, the start of Horus Road, was the scene of several battles, among them those led by the pharaohs Ahmose I in his war of liberation against the Hyksos, Seti I in his military campaigns against rebels in Sinai and Canaan, and Ramses II in his war against the Hittites.

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