Sunday, December 10, 2006

 

Chirac, Mubarak unveil show of sunken Egyptian treasures

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Gulf Times
December 09, 2006

PARIS: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac yesterday unveiled an exhibition of sunken treasures recovered by French underwater explorers and spanning 1,500 years of Egyptian history.

Mubarak, in Paris as part of a five-day European tour, toured the display of 500 rare pieces at the Grand Palais in Paris in company of his wife Suzanne, Chirac and his wife Bernadette.

The artefacts, dating from 700 BC to 800 AD, were recovered by a team of archaeologists led by the Frenchman Franck Goddio, who have been working on the sea floor off Egypt’s coast for the past 10 years.

They include the largest known statue of Hapy, the Egyptian god of the Nile, a 5m colossus dating from 2,000 years ago, which forms the centrepiece of the display along with statuettes of deities, coins and everyday objects.

A total of 8,000 artefacts have been excavated from the Mediterranean depths, from the ancient harbour of Alexandria, the nearby site of Canopus and the lost city of Heraklion some 7km offshore.

The show, ‘Egypt’s Sunken Treasures’, drew almost half a million visitors when it was put on in Berlin earlier this year. It opens to the Paris public today and runs until March 16.

Since Napoleon’s military and scientific campaign in 1798, France has been the leading archaeological player in Egypt but relations with Cairo have often been strained.

Before leaving for the Elysee Palace, where he hosted dinner for Mubarak and his wife, Chirac paid tribute to the co-operation between France and Egypt.

"Both our countries’ rich history plays a part in the mutual understanding and friendship between us," he said. "France and Egypt, solidly rooted in history, share the same spirit of tolerance and respect for cultures."

Mubarak’s visit comes a week after a Frenchman was arrested for trying to sell hair allegedly belonging to the mummy of Ramses II, who reigned in Egypt from 1279 to 1213 BC, sparking an angry reaction from Cairo.

Egypt’s top antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, who has championed the recovery of pharaonic artefacts from Western countries, warned he could demand a formal apology from Paris if the claims prove true.

The man, who placed an ad on the Internet for the hair, claimed it belonged to his father who was part of a team of scientists who analysed the royal mummy when it was sent for treatment in France in 1976 to stop it from deteriorating.

Mubarak, whose trip has already taken him to Ireland, was due to continue on to Germany, wrapping up his visit tomorrow.

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