Silence. Egyptologists Francisco Martín and Teresa Bedman they are not used to hearing nothing but quiet in their home in Al Bairat, on the west bank of Luxor. They are located just 200 meters from the temple of Deir el Bahari and, after twenty years of excavations in the Theban necropolis, they had become accustomed to the noisy air conditioning of the numerous buses that were waiting for tourists in the nearby parking lot. But you know, the pandemic has turned everything upside down and where before the bustle reigned now is the Calm chicha the one who has taken command.
When the country seemed to be rearing its head after the terrible terrorist attacks of the past, the revolution of 2011 or the explosion of a Russian plane in 2015, the coronavirus has once again paralyzed its important tourism industry. «It is an authentic privilege visit museums and monuments alone, but also a shame “, says Francisco Martín, who since 2009 has been excavating together with Bedman and the Institute for Ancient Egyptian Studies the tomb of the vizier Amenhotep Huy, governor at the time of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1360-1353 BC, also known as Amenophis).
The Spanish mission they lead in Asasif is the only one that has defied the pandemic. «It is already a tradition, we have not failed in the last twelve years. At the time of the revolution we decided to stay. The rest did not return because they were scared, but we did, ”explains Teresa. That is why they have just obtained the gratitude of the Egyptian authorities, through the Committee for the Cultural Promotion of Tourism of Egypt.
Tomb of Ramses I
From there they have turned exceptional witnesses of the efforts that the country is making to regain its tourist pulse through openings and overwhelming heritage. A step away from the Valley of the Kings, they have visited the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses I, which reopened in early January after a complex restoration process that has taken years.
Ramses I “belongs to a very special period in the history of Egypt such as the restoration of the orthodox order after the Amharic crisis (the first of a religious nature in history and in which many see the origin of monotheism)”, explains the Egyptologist. Inaugurates the XIX dynasty around 1294 BC. C. for admit to another series of famous pharaohs as it is Seti I and Ramses II, his son and his grandson respectively.
He barely lasts a year and four months on the throne, so his tomb is not very large and is unfinished. However, “there are paintings in the corridor leading to the sarcophagus chamber that are very interesting from an artistic and religious point of view,” explains Martín. «They pick up one of the first representations of the Book of Doors, the collection of funerary texts that was in vogue at that time “, asserts this scientist who points out that the colors, of extraordinary richness, have remained” as new “, despite being 3,200 years old.
Illegally taken out of the country in the second half of the 19th century, the pharaoh’s mummy returned to Egypt and was received with honors from head of state. With great pomp she was transferred to Luxor and, for the moment, that is where she will continue. «I have seen her for 15 days and she has not moved. I do not know if they will later decide to move her along with the other 22 kings who will be in the mummy department of the New Great Museum of Egypt, “says the scientist.
Luxor has also taken the opportunity to update the Temple of Karnak, the largest in Egypt. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the ruins of the Temple of Luxor and the necropolis of Thebes, construction began under the mandate of Intef II, king of the XI dynasty. In the next two thousand years, dozens of rulers remodeled and expanded one of the richest places of worship of antiquity.
The restoration work has focused on the Avenue of the Sphinxes Through which, without coronavirus, millions of tourists pass each year. In this fallow time of the pandemic, they have remodeled 29 statues of rams They represented Amun, one of the great gods of the New Kingdom, symbol of creative power.
Right there the celebration of the Winter Solstice, from December 21 to 23. The Sun illuminates the sanctuary dedicated to Amun-Re in a perpendicular way and sits between the two towers of the entrance to the temple. “It is an astronomical event of the first order, which shows that the ancient Egyptians controlled astronomy and built their monuments according to the calendar and the celestial,” says Martín.
Great Egyptian Museum
Already in Cairo the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum is eagerly awaited. Originally scheduled for 2019, “they plan to make the official opening this year. The exact date has not been given, but I imagine it will be from summer or earlier, ”says Bedman. The authorities want a spectacular event (“They want all the authorities of the world to be present, King Felipe VI is invited”), according to the pharaonic dimensions from the enclosure, the largest archaeological museum in the world.
“Has a surface of 480,000 square meters. They say it has the capacity to hold 15,000 people a day and has conference rooms, movie theaters, restaurants … It is a real city, “said this Egyptologist, who warns that it will take three or four days to see it. «From the museum itself there will be a road that leads direct to the three pyramids of Giza -continues- and the first thing you see as soon as you enter is a huge statue of Ramses II 12 meters high and 83 tons.
Among the thousands and thousands of objects that it will house, the unquestionable jewel in the crown is the tutankhamun treasure. «They are going to unfold it whole, they are going to be able to see the 5,000 pieces with which it was buried. That had never been done before. There was also talk that the mummy was going to move there, but this has not been confirmed and also here, in Luxor, there is a lot of resistance, of course, “Francisco clarifies.
They will also go a good part of the hundred sarcophagi that were recently intact in Saqqara, the necropolis that made headlines in 2020 and promises to continue giving something to talk about in 2021, as evidenced by the important findings of the New Kingdom that Zahi Hawass made public just a few days ago.
And the mission of the Institute for Ancient Egyptian Studies is going to put its grain of desert sand in the Grand Egyptian Museum. «From everything we have been digging for so many years, they have chosen incredible things like an impressive sarcophagus, a precious ivory statuette that is unique, ceramic and many amulets of spectacular quality, ”the researcher proudly states.
In the Old Cairo area, the Royal Coaches Museum also reopens. “It was from Mohamen Ali and it was very neglected. But now they have restored it and it gathers all the chariots of the Mamluk kings. It is very interesting. I will go visit him the next time I go to the city, ”says Teresa.
Sharm El Sheikh Museum
Another leading archaeological museum that has just opened its doors is that of the tourist area of Sharm El Sheikh, thus enriching its beach offer in the Red Sea. «There, planes from Russia and the Eastern countries arrive because it has sun all year round – it is the competence of our Canaries. They have brought some pieces there because people came but did not go to Cairo because they did not get close. I saw it when they were building it and it also has quite a size», Clarifies this specialist.
In short, as Martín points out, “they are making a commitment to heritage. In our case there is no longer a remedy, because it is passion, but someone who loves culture feels that they have to visit it ».