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Giant Ramses Statue Flees Central Cairo Pollution

The massive statue of Ramses II statue begins transfer early 25 August 2006 from Ramses square in the heart of Cairo. A metal frame was fixed around Ramses II in a bid to guarantee maximum safety during the move of the giant red granite statue which has been for years suffering from pollution in crowded downtown Cairo. Photo courtesy of Khaled Desouki and AFP.
by Alain Navarro
Cairo (AFP) Aug 24, 2006
Defeated by pollution in Africa's largest metropolis, the colossal statue of Ramses II -- the greatest warrior king in ancient Egypt -- is to be moved from a congested central Cairo square to a spot near the Pyramids and closer to its original site.

After years of controversy and logistical headaches, the 100-ton pink granite statue will be tranferred in one piece during a high-risk overnight operation through the streets of the capital on a 90-foot (27-metre) motorised convoy.

The pharaonic convoy was to begin moving at a snail's pace at 1:00 am Friday (2200 GMT Thursday) on a 35-kilometre (21 miles) journey to its new home at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is to open soon near the Giza Pyramids.

The transfer will be broadcast live on Egyptian public television but a planned ceremony was cancelled because of the violence in Lebanon, the authorities announced recently.

"Ramses will be happy now," said Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt's antiquities. "He would have been unhappy in his tomb knowing that the statue was staying in such a mess where nobody can see him anymore."

The monumental statue of the most prolific builder in pharaonic history has all but vanished behind a sarcophagus of protective plastic and scaffolding, as Cairenes trickled to Ramses square to pay their last respects to what had become one of the capital's most recognisable landmarks.

The transfer was practised last month with a fake statue, because Hawass said he "would not allow mistakes" and would take "all responsibility on himself."

Some Egyptian archeologists, politicians and intellectuals have opposed the transfer, alleging it was decided under US pressure because Ramses -- believed to be the pharaoh who oppressed the Jews and forced Moses to take his people out of Egypt -- was perceived as an anti-Israeli symbol.

In an interview with AFP, Hawass dismissed that view -- relayed by one of his predecessors in the Egyptian press -- as "totally stupid, cheap demagogy".

Discovered in 1883 near Memphis, the ancient pharaonic capital, the 36-foot (11-metre) statue was moved to Cairo in 1954.

Two years earlier, a group of young officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown British-backed King Farouk and abolished a monarchy which had become too closely associated with foreign powers.

Nasser wanted to use Ramses to symbolise the authentically Egyptian roots of the new republic.

"It was chopped up in eight pieces and reassembled. Not a single archeologist was present. It was the decision of a military dictatorship," Hawass said.

In its early days, the statue and the fountain at its feet were visible from afar, but they were gradually hemmed in by a mass of overpasses and pedestrian bridges that were meant to ease the flow of people and motor traffic around and across the square but which in fact aggravated it.

The square, which lies outside the city's main train station, is reputed to be the most polluted spot in Egypt.

Ramses II, from the 19th dynasty of pharaohs, reigned over Egypt for 68 years, from 1304 to 1237 BC, and is believed to have lived to the age of 90.

He covered the country with monuments to his exploits and his mummy, on display in the National Museum in Cairo, is one of the country's biggest tourist attractions.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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