On November 25, Egypt witnessed a grand ceremony on the occasion of the inauguration of the historic Rams Road in Luxor, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in attendance. The city contains one-third of the world's monuments, which the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities described as "the largest open museum in the world."
Under the supervision of the Ministry, more than 100 Egyptian students, trainees, volunteers and graduates of various faculties of antiquities as well as the Institute of Restoration participated in the National Project for the Restoration and Opening of Rams Road and the restoration of the Great Pillars Hall in Karnak.
The project was to restore Rams Road which extends for 2.7 kilometers along the Nile from Luxor Temple to the Karnak Temple. In ancient times, the road witnessed the ancient Egyptians' celebration of one of their most important religious holidays, namely, the Opt Festival.
The project's goal was to complete and assemble the missing parts of the statues on the Road of Rams. At the archaeological site in Karnak, it aimed to restore the 12 pillars in the Great Pillar Hall as well as to beautify the 122 pillars in the Temple. The pillars in the Great Pillar Hall are 20 meters tall while the other pillars are 10 meters high. The purpose of the restoration was to reveal the beauty, exquisite colors, inscriptions and hieroglyphic writings that were inscribed thousands of years ago.
ANTIQUITIES RESTORATION PROCESS
Among those who worked on the project are three passionate women who are archeological restoration specialists, Sahar Al-Aas Saqqaou, Doaa Ali and Neama Zanaty. They graduated from the Faculty of Archeology, Restoration Department. They also participated in many foreign archaeological missions. They are now working with the expedition team of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Chicago (Chicago House), preparing for their master's degree and are very ambitious regarding their careers.
The Chicago House mission is to document the archaeological and restoration works in the Habu region on the western bank in Luxor. It consists of foreign and Egyptian members, and it runs a program every year for graduates of the Department of Restoration for the training, maintenance and preservation of antiquities.
"For example, a wall like this is old with damage factors. These factors include bird droppings, salt and cracks, and there is other damage due to moisture, groundwater, cracks or earthquakes," said Sahar Al-Aas Saqqaou, antiquities restoration specialist.
What restoration specialists do is reduce these damage factors. Each damage factor has specific tools, materials and techniques. Because if the material exceeds the stone’s resistance, it will penetrate into the color trace and cause staining and other damage to it.
"The engravings on the Karnak Pillars were hidden by dust and dirt. I worked there on removing them and completing a previous restoration from long ago that was not good with a new filling, using forceps, scalpels, and chemicals," Sahar added.
"I have worked in the hall of Karnak for two months. We examine the artifact’s condition and intervene according to whether it needs mechanical or chemical cleaning. Mechanically, we use brushes, sticks of wood with cotton, or scalpels. The chemical way is by using materials such as distilled water, alcohol, and materials complementing the color trace, so as not to damage it, and to preserve the color of the trace left by the ancient Egyptians," Doaa Ali, archeology restoration specialist, informed Majalla.
Archaeological documentation is an essential part at the start of the restoration process. It can be done by photography, drawing and video, and by checking previous reports and documentation, all with the purpose to protect the workers and the antiquities. This will also allow specialists to know how others were working and the condition of the artifact before they start working on it.
"We can summarize the process in steps. Primary strengthening: If the condition of the artifact requires strengthening before restoration. Then, mechanical restoration begins with removing mud calcifications, wasp nests or salts by brushes," Neama Zanaty, archeology restoration specialist, said to Majalla.
"Third, treating cracks with liquid mortar. The fourth stage comes as a complete process using internationally known materials and within the framework of well-known international protocols specifying the type and proportions of materials," Neama added.
Before the last step of showing colors, they work on chemical cleaning, which is a crucial step. Caution must be taken when starting it by doing experiments and gauging the concentration of chemicals in the formulations. Then, lastly, they apply color strengthening by preserving permanent color fixation from the degranulation of stone.
"Most people think that we have painted the pillars. This is not right. We used no colors, what we see are the basic natural colors of the stone itself," said Sahar to Majalla.
"I was fascinated by the transformation of patterns and colors from something filled with salt and mud accumulations into a beautiful shape," Neama added.
IS RESTORATION A DIFFICULT TASK FOR A WOMAN?
The field of antiquities is an exciting and broad field, especially restoration because it is mainly practical. Restoration is not only for stone, but also includes walls and wood. "We learn how to make and restore oil paintings, do ceramics and various interesting projects, and we also study Islamic and Egyptian antiquities besides our practical study," Sahar said.
"The difficulties were at the scaffolding sites because the height of the pillar was twenty meters or more, but from our love of history and work, we were happy, and we did this with passion and love," said Doaa to Majalla.
Sahar stated that most of those who worked with her in Karnak were girls. "Women had a major role. I was working as if I were working in my home. I wanted to do my work in the best way and, thank God, I saw this in the eyes of my family, friends and all the people who watched the celebration," she added.
"I want to tell all girls to do what they want to achieve — go out, work and travel without letting their fear prevent them. They should bear in mind that a person must fail to learn and succeed," said Sahar.
"The moment I saw that my family and friends were proud of me, I was flying in the sky, so I did not despair and continued because a moment like this makes it all worthwhile. A woman's weapon is her work and study."
Archeology graduates hope that they will be employed by the Egyptian government and participate in more restorations like the Road of Rams. Working in private projects is not stable employment because each project has a specific timeframe, after which they may have a difficult search to find more work.
According to a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the "Luxor... The Road of Rams" event will be held every year, targeted to promote tourism in Luxor and highlight its diverse tourist and archaeological components.