Once again basking in the Egyptian sun after 3,000 years buried under the sand
3,500 years ago when the Egyptian city of Luxor was known as Thebes, the female pharaoh of the day, Hapshepsut [1502-1482 BC] built a ceremonial avenue between the ancient temple complex at Karnak and the now Temple of Luxor. The 18th dynasty Queen Hapshepsut lined the 2,700 metre long avenue with over 600 Sphinx statues on plinths, all with faces fashioned to her likeness.
100 years later, the boy king Tutankhamen, who was renovating the Luxor Temple, continuing the work started by his grand-father Amenhophis 111, also renovated the Sphinx Avenue by paving its way with sparkling white alabaster. Tutankhamen then re-dedicated the Sphinxes and staged another opening ceremony to coincide with the annual Ophet Festival.
In what must have been an amazing spectacle, Tutankhamen and his entourage paraded the full length of the Sphinx Avenue, strewn with garlands of flowers for the occasion.
Twelve dynasties later, Pharaoh Nectanebo 1 rebuilt the Avenue and replaced the sphinxes to carry his likeness. He also added temples and rest stops along the way and re-dedicated the strip with great ceremony.
The Avenue of Sphinxes. Work continues to be ready for October 2011.
Sadly, however, over the next 2,000 years the Avenue was lost. The Greco-Romans cleared a section of the area, building wine factories and workshops using the paving stones as materials. Then centuries of encroaching sand gradually buried what was left. Medieval squatters built houses over the top, some using the Sphinx sandstone blocks as foundation stones and streets constructed to criss-cross the area.
Ten years ago the Luxor Governornate embarked on an ambitious and highly controversial plan to convert the city of Luxor into the world's greatest Open Air Museum. Built up areas around all temples and sites were to be cleared and Luxor was to be restored to look like it did in Ancient times.
The plan called for the mass demolition of historically significant 18th and 19th century era residential housing, every major street widened and thousands of people to be compensated and relocated. Entire villages were torn down. People were forced out of houses their descendants had occupied for generations and the compensation paid did not allow them to re-settle into suitable alternate situations.
Excavating the Sphinx Avenue seemed an impossible task as it lay under one of the most densely populated areas. The main road to the airport ran parallel for a distance and more importantly a very old mosque had to be re-located. And the archeologists were not sure what they would find. Fortunately, after the houses were cleared and they sand removed, they discovered the remnants of enough sphinxes to make restoration worthwhile. Some were complete, some sawn into blocks and able to be resurrected, others destroyed with just the plinths remaining.
The end result will be worth it - if you prefer history presented as a "theme park" The local egyptians who paid the price don't think so and neither do the regular visitors to Luxor who liked the "quaint" vibrant village life that gave the city a soul.
The good news is the restored Sphinx Avenue is scheduled to be completed in October this year. An amazing feat and a wonderful sight to see the statues exposed after all this time. I for one cannot wait to make the walk from Luxor to the Karnak in the footsteps of the ancients.