Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ancient Pharaoh Temple Discovered Inside Egypt Mosque

Sections of columns and elaborately inscribed reliefs from an ancient Egyptian temple were recently discovered behind the walls of a mosque in Luxor. The oval relief, or cartouche, at center depicts the name of Ramses II, the pharaoh in whose name the temple was built around 1250 B.C. Photograph courtesy Zahi Hawass, Supreme Council of Antiquities

Ancient Pharaoh Temple Discovered Inside Egypt Mosque
Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
September 27, 2007

Parts of a temple dating to the reign of pharaoh Ramses II have been discovered inside a mosque in Luxor, Egypt, officials report (see map).
Experts restoring the historic mosque uncovered sections of columns, capitals, and elaborately inscribed reliefs from one of the ancient temple's courtyards built around 1250 B.C.
The previously concealed architectural elements reveal well-preserved hieroglyphics and unique scenes depicting the powerful pharaoh.
The discovery is likely to touch a nerve among religious leaders, because the newly exposed reliefs contain representations of humans and animals, which are forbidden inside mosques, the experts said.
The mosque was erected as a shrine to Muslim saint Abul Haggag in the 13th century A.D. on the site of an earlier Christian church, which was itself built on top of the ancient temple, the archaeologists explained.
The discovery was made during repair work on the mosque after a fire damaged part of the structure in June.
"To do this project of restoration, [workers] had to reclean and reopen many things, and this is when the scenes were found, and they are really unique," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
(Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)
Encryptions and Glyphs
Christians, and later Muslims, frequently built their shrines on top of ancient Egyptian holy sites, said W. Raymond Johnson, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago who has seen the newly exposed temple sections.
Builders of both faiths usually erased or defaced ancient artwork in the temples, he said, but the newfound reliefs remain virtually untouched.
"We are very lucky that these have been so well preserved," Johnson said.
Rather than destroying the reliefs, the mosques builders carefully hid them away with a protective layer of straw-reinforced plaster, shielding them from the elements.
"We didn't know we would find the reliefs and the inscriptions in such good condition," said Mansour Boraik, general supervisor of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor.
"The people who built the mosque for Haggag … actually saved the inscriptions and reliefs."
More images and inscriptions will likely be discovered as the restoration continues, he said.
The reliefs are thought to depict the temple's dedication. (Read related story: "Giant Ancient Egyptian Sun Temple Discovered in Cairo" [March 1, 2006].)
Among the most important scenes are those that feature Ramses II offering the sun god Amun Re two obelisks to be installed at the temple's front facade. One of those obelisks still stands at the temple, and the other is now at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Another relief shows three statues of Ramses II wearing his traditional white crown.
Experts say the carved inscriptions provide some of best examples of cryptographic or enigmatic writing, an unusual form of hieroglyphic text in which each glyph could stand for an entire word, phrase, or concept.
"Moral Quandary"
Now that the depictions have been uncovered, archaeologists will likely have to negotiate with local religious leaders who see the exposed renderings in their mosque as a violation of Islamic law.
"There is no damage to the mosque whatsoever, but its a moral quandary because you have these two places of worship, one still alive and one from the past," said Johnson, of the Oriental Institute.
"It's a living sacred space."
Boraik said that his team is in talks with mosque leaders about how to proceed.
"I think all of them understand the importance of these things," he said.
The researchers expect to reach a compromise, they said, which might include retractable coverings or screens over the inscriptions. Removing the ancient features entirely would likely cause damage to the mosque.
"One has to be very sensitive about the restoration work and make sure the people know you are doing something good," said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo.
She added that such issues are common in a country with such a rich religious heritage.
"In a way the mosque is part of the history of the temple—both are significant monuments of antiquity."


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Psycho said...

Pyramids are the most incredible thing that the ancients leave us, today many people believe that they were built by us humans, but there is no evidence of that being true, I think there is more evidence of the pyramids been built by other more intelligent race that lived here before our history began.
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