CAIRO — The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced Sept. 22 that the joint Egyptian-German archaeological mission working on the Temple of Esna in Luxor governorate (south Egypt) has restored several inscriptions, drawings and colors in the temple’s ceiling.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Tourism, the discovery of the inscriptions and drawings of the Esna Temple’s ceiling is part of the project to restore the temple and reveal its original colors.
The secretary-general of the state-owned Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mustafa al-Waziri, said in a statement Sept. 22, “The drawings and inscriptions that were revealed are of great importance, as they represent the cycles of the sun and moon gods in the night and day during their journey in the other world.”
The drawings include "a scene representing the cycle of the sun god and the battle against his enemies, and another of an old man symbolizing the sun during sunset," Waziri said. Another inscription represents "the row of deities of the lunar days, such as the idol Geb and the goddess Nut, and other inscriptions depicting the journey of the gods of the sun and the moon in the other world.”
The Temple of Esna, near the west bank of the Nile River in the city of Esna in southern Egypt, was begun during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius in the first century AD and finished in the era of Emperor Decius between 249-251. It was dedicated to the ancient deity Khnum, who is usually depicted with the head of a ram.
The director of the restoration team, Ahmed Imam, told Al-Monitor, “The Temple of Esna is one of the most important temples in Luxor and all of Egypt, because it includes a collection of bright colors. ... The colors did not fade away and have maintained their luster.” The restoration team includes 30 members, all Egyptians.
In late 2018, he said, the team began technical tests, and “then we started the actual restoration operation, which revealed the wonderful aesthetic of the ceiling. We used approved chemicals that do not affect the original shape of the patterns and colors, and a set of different brushes and some other restoration tools to remove mud cysts. We were successful in preserving the colors without affecting their quality.”
The colors and inscriptions on the temple’s ceiling were obscured by mud, bird droppings, spider webs, and thick soot, Imam said, the result of at least two fires over the centuries.
“The Esna Temple is one of the most important temples in ancient Egypt," Hussein Abdel Basir, director of the Antiquities Museum at the state-owned Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told Al-Monitor. "It is good to start paying attention to it and restoring it in the current period, after having been neglected for years.”
By studying the temple's ceiling and columns, "we can learn many things about religious life in Pharaonic Egypt,” he said. And there are other temples in Upper Egypt that can be restored "so that their beautiful original colors and inscriptions reappear. This would allow us to see the greatness of ancient Egyptian art."
A source at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, who declined to be named, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is already working on a comprehensive project to restore archaeological sites in a several areas, especially in Upper Egypt, in a bid to open the sites for visitors.” The sites include the tombs of the nobles and the Qubbet el-Hawa (Dome of the Wind) in Aswan, which began in July], and the statue of King Thutmose II in Karnak Temple, begun in August.
Abdel Rahim Rihan, an archaeological expert and member of the History and Antiquities Committee of the governmental Supreme Council of Culture, told Al-Monitor that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities realizes the importance of restoring Luxor-area sites, because “the city is one of the top tourist destinations for Nile cruise ships and has many diverse monuments. Facelifting the city’s monuments will be a new addition to tourism in Egypt.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Sept. 12 that the government aims to increase tourism revenues to $30 billion annually, from about $9 billion last year. According to a report by Asharq website in May, tourism contributes up to 15% of Egypt’s economic output, and is a major source of foreign exchange, along with the Suez Canal, expatriate remittances and exports.
“Restoring archaeological sites is a golden opportunity to increase the number of visitors, which will boost the tourism sector in general because tourists usually do not visit unrestored monuments and sites,” Abdul Basir said.