August 11, 2013

The Rescued Monuments of Nubia

The Rescued Monuments of Nubia
Nubia, the beautiful austere land that once linked Egypt and black Africa, now lies beneath the world’s largest man-made lake. Gone forever are the neat domed houses of the Nubian people, the unique fa9ades of which were decorated with coloured plates. Their villages, places of worship and burial grounds were all doomed to destruction when plans for the building of the High Dam went ahead in i960. The entire population of nearly 100,000 people faced the sorrowful but inevitable fact that they would have to be uprooted and resettled elsewhere.

Nubia Egypt
The people of Egyptian Nubia, some 50,000 in number, started a new life at Kom Ombo, about fifty miles downstream from the High Dam. The Upper Nubians were taken to the eastern part of the Sudan to a place called Kashm el-Girba. By 1971 Nubia had passed into history.

Nubia Egypt
Yet, ironically, it is due to its disappearance that more is now known about Nubia than most archaeological sites, even in Luxor. During the decade when the High Dam was being built, before the waters began to rise, the entire area was subjected to studies on a scale never before witnessed. Engineers, architects, photographers, artists, restorers, archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientists and historians came to study, photograph, document and salvage whatever they could in the most ambitious salvage operation ever undertaken.

Nubia Egypt
The international campaign to save the monuments of Nubia was sponsored by the Egyptian and Sudanese governments and UNESCO in i960. Over a period of two decades, no less than twenty-three temples and shrines were saved. Some monuments were partially saved (the temples of Gerf Hussein and Aksha); one was lifted as a unit of 800 tons, put on rails and dragged up a hill to safety (temple of Amada); several were dismantled in the reverse process used to build them; that is to say, they were completely filled and surrounded with sand; the inscribed blocks were then lifted off the top of the temple. As each layer was removed the sand was lowered to reveal the next layer. After transportation to another site, the temples were rebuilt (the temple of Hatshepsut from Buhen, weighing 600 tons, was thus transported to the new Sudanese Museum at Khartoum in 59 cases aboard 28 trucks). A much more challenging project was the saving of the beautiful monuments of the Island of Philae (page 187), and the project at Abu Simbel represents one of the most outstanding feats of civil engineering in our times.

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