Monday, September 8, 2014

Story of Step Pyramid (4): Min. of Antiquities dismisses Sakkara criticism, says MB responsible

CAIRO: The Antiquities Ministry has charged that widely circulated reports of mismanagement at the restoration project at the Sakkara Step Pyramid are neither the work of activists, local journalists at Al-Masry Al-Youm and Egypt Independent, or international outlets that picked up the story like Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, but actually part of a larger plot by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The pyramid is absolutely safe and these rumors reveal the plan of Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers to obstruct and downplay the Antiquities Ministry’s recent accomplishments and unsettle public opinion,” Youssef Khalifa, the ministry’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department head, was quoted as saying by Youm7.

During the past few days, Egyptian activists from the Non-stop Robberies campaign have criticized Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty for renewing a contract with the same company that was in charge of restoring the 4,600-year-old pyramid when, according to the activists, a huge chunk of the pyramid collapsed in 2012.

Amer Gamal from Non-stop Robberies said that the Shorbagy Company, tasked with the restoration since 2002, has been “unsuccessful” in all the other restoration projects it has undertaken during the past 10 years, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported Wednesday.

“The company is not specialized in archaeological restoration and it has never restored a single site in Egypt,” said Gamal, who pointed out that Shorbagy previously carried out the construction of cafeterias and other modern buildings at archaeological sites including Sakkara.

He alleged the company also violated Egypt’s Renovation Law, which stipulates any new renovation comprise less than 5 percent of the renovated structure. “If the ministry is so confident, it should release technical reports as evidence,” he added.

In his visit to Sakkara Sunday, Damaty met with the site’s restoration project head Mostafa el-Ghamrawy, and inspected the ongoing renovations at the rock core body of the pyramid’s exterior. The restoration will also work with restoring underground corridors leading to the site’s burial chamber, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported Wednesday.

“The latest restoration techniques have been used in the interior of the Step Pyramid but since the exterior has to be entirely authentic, a blend of a strong mortar, made from components similar to those used by ancient Egyptians, was used to hold thousands of stones together,” Damaty said.

“[Sakkara] is not just the oldest pyramid in Egypt, it is the most ancient surviving stone structure in the history of mankind; it is not just Egyptian heritage, but world heritage,” Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Amin told The Cairo Post on Aug. 31.

The Step Pyramid, a world-heritage site listed by UNESCO, was built in the 26th century B.C. to house the mummy of Pharaoh Djoser, the founder of the Third Dynasty, Amin said. It is composed of six successively smaller mastabas (benches), one on top of the other.

The structure of the Step Pyramid is attributed to Imhotep, the pharaoh’s vizier and a genius architect who used over 4 million cubic meters of stone and clay in the project.

The pyramid was badly damaged in a 1992 earthquake, which caused severe damage to the walls of its burial chamber and the descending passages leading to it, Amin said, in addition to the collapse of a huge chunk of the pyramid’s southern side.
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