Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Egypt moves to rescue pharaonic temples from rising Nile


Yahoo News
January 16, 2005

CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt launched a major operation to drain off water from the Nile threatening two prized pharaonic temples in the Luxor region in the south of the country.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities, responsible for the country's historical monuments, said the river's water table had risen due to extensive irrigation of nearby fields, posing imminent danger to the Karnak and Luxor temples in one of the most popular tourist areas of Egypt.

In recent decades, the encroaching salty water has already done extensive damage to the 5,000-year-old complexes.
In certain areas, the waters have risen by a meter and a half (five feet), submersing the base of the renowned columns and jeopardizing the foundation. Meanwhile the salt has faded the brilliant color of the temples and the exquisite statues flanking the columns.

The council's chief engineer, Khaled Abdel Hadi, said that the Aswan Dam, which stabilized the level of the Nile, had largely created the problem.

In the more than 5,000 years since the construction of the temples, the seasonal flooding by the Nile dissolved the salt that accumulated on the columns during drought periods.

But the Aswan Dam, by fixing the level of the water table throughout the year, has increased the temples' exposure to salt, as well as chemical residue from fertilizers and other pollutants from the surrounding sugar cane and rice fields.

Stagnant water around the columns also fosters the growth of bacteria and fungi, compounding the problem.
Authorities initially recommended that farmers change their irrigation methods to spare the two temples but the measures did little to help.

The current rescue plan is expected to last 18 months and calls for the construction of several drainage trenches next to the temples to redirect the flow of excess water and then pump it into a canal.

The operation also revives an old drainage system which had been filled in by local farmers, according to Sabri Abdelaziz, the Supreme Council's chief archaeologist in Upper Egypt, who said the aim was "to resolve the problem once and for all".

Work on the Karnak Temple, Egypt's largest religious complex, began in about 3,300 BC. Later extensions were completed in the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties and later under the Greeks and the Romans.

The smaller Luxor Temple was built 4,000 years ago by the legendary pharaohs Amenhopis III and Ramses II.
But this is the first time over the millennia that the structure has been threatened by the waters of the Nile.

Abdel Hani said that the drainage operation itself posed no danger to the two monuments but that a reserve team of engineers was on stand-by for any emergencies.

Abdelaziz added that the Supreme Council had begun a study for plans to salvage the Esna Temple, on the west bank of the Nile south of Luxor, which is threatened with collapse by a rise in the water table due to the construction of a dam nearby in 1993.

He said there were two options: a pumping operation to lower the water level below the base of the columns or to remove the structure from its foundations and replace it after increasing the height of the base.

Two similar operations were conducted on temples at Philae and Aswan in recent years.

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