"Pharaoh Ramses II's temple discovered inside Egyptian mosque"

Hot news on Friday 28th September, 2007

Pharaoh Ramses II's temple discovered

Washington, Sept 28 : Egyptian archaeologists have discovered parts of a temple dating back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, inside a mosque in Luxor.

The mosque was erected as a shrine to Muslim saint Abul Haggag in the 13th century AD on the site of an earlier Christian church, which was itself built on top of the ancient temple, the archaeologists said.

Experts said they found the temple while doing repair work on the historic mosque, after a fire damaged 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.

The researchers uncovered sections of columns, capitals, and elaborately inscribed reliefs from one of the ancient temple's courtyards built around 1250 BC.

The previously concealed architectural elements reveal well-preserved hieroglyphics and unique scenes depicting the powerful pharaoh.

Among the most important scenes are those that feature Pharaoh 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.

The discovery is, however, likely to touch a raw nerve among religious leaders, because the newly exposed reliefs contain representations of humans and animals, which are forbidden inside mosques.

W. Raymond Johnson, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago who has seen the newly exposed temple sections, said it became a sort of custom for Christians, and later Muslims, to frequently build their shrines on top of ancient Egyptian holy sites.

Builders of both faiths usually erased or defaced ancient artwork in the temples, but here the newfound reliefs remain virtually untouched, he said.

"We are very lucky that these have been so well preserved," National Geographic quoted him as saying.

He 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," he said, adding that more images and inscriptions are likely to be discovered with the continuation of the restoration work.

The archaeologists are now negotiating with mosque leaders on how to save the inscriptions, and at the same time, preserve the sanctity of the mosque.

Pharaoh Ramses II's temple discovered

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