ROME — Nearly 3,000 years ago, Sint al-Shabab, which is now Cairo, was home to a set of domes with a spectacular mix of Egypt’s ancient hieroglyphic symbols, Egyptian sculpture and Roman design in an area now called Al-Dossira.
It became, as a historian once put it, “a most convenient haven for a trade between ancient Rome and Egypt.” An archeologist wrote in the late 1800s that it was probably home to the most monumental Egyptian antiquities in the world: “This ancient house of Egypt was built by magnificence, on a physical scale that has never been surpassed.”
On Sunday, these are relics, and before them, hope for reconstruction, reclamation and recovery of this “utopia” on the Mediterranean shore. On June 10, when the late Pope Shenouda III presided over a grand celebration of the Aftos,” Avenue of the Sphinxes,” as the government calls it, archeologists and the Egyptian government opened the place to millions of passers-by on the eve of a reopening event on Tuesday and for the next two months.
Five years in the making, the project is meant to “rehabilitate and preserve, above all, the public aspect of these sites,” said Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou in an interview.
The project “is part of the city’s renewal, to make this whole area more impressive,” said Zohair Mahmoud from the National Museum of Antiquities, Egypt’s main museum. The museum is on a different side of the road, about one kilometer away, just an hour’s drive from the city.
By having visitors and tourists from around the world come here, Mohamed Salah and the Pharaohs, Egypt is aiming to show that it, along with Europe, has “great modern museums and museums that show their values,” Mahmoud said.
In a corner of one of the domes, a monument to the three pharaohs, Tutankhamun, Amenhotep III and Amenhotep II, stands. Antiquities Ministry officials said that most of the sarcophagi have been placed on the ground floor of the domes.
On the other side of the road, next to an ancient checkpoint with four stone gates, there is a large burial place with three murals about the history of Egypt. Workers covered the murals with cloth until their extraction from the structure began on March 17, 2017.
Archaeologists said they aim to restore the murals and build a structure to protect them. They said that some of the murals may have been destroyed by fire during Egypt’s 1952 revolution.
In the floor of the other temple along the Avenue of the Sphinxes, the Egyptian Institute of Architecture and Design has carried out an intense study on the textiles of the stucco, painted on and built into the walls, that makes up the worship hall and concludes that it, along with the other two domes, is approximately 3,100 years old. It will be removed and put back to the viewing level.
The Egyptian Institute of Architecture and Design manages other treasures in the area, including the “Koura-Arabi” collection of ancient mosaics that was destroyed by an earthquake in 697 B.C.
The government has announced a special fee to visitors who want to access the Avenue of the Sphinxes. It will be set according to the number of kilometers of the road they will pass in an afternoon: 45 kilometers for drivers, 25 kilometers for those walking.
Egypt has worked for the past six years to raise foreign investments in tourism, an important part of its economy, which is recovering from a disastrous tourism period in 2014 that was marred by terrorist attacks.
Amr Wagdy, who was appointed the head of Antiquities Ministry in March 2017, said he will keep working for five years.
The pyramid of Phoenician priest Phoeniciansles, built about 250 B.C., will remain in place and be restored.
“It is a great mistake,” Wagdy said, “to demolish the pyramid, for it is part of the overall landscape. You would have a mess on your hands, rebuilding. Then you have to re-dispense with it.”