What's New in Egypt

Egyptian Museum Gets a Children’s Wing

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo opened the Children’s Museum with LEGO models beside original artifacts. The LEGO monuments, which previously toured the world, form a permanent collection in the museum. Explanations are simplified for children and are arguably more organized than the rest of the museum. The exhibit depicts scenes of ancient Egyptian life, such as workers chiseling stone as well as monuments like a sphinx, a colossal statue, a god, and a treasure chest. Children can sit in a workshop area to construct their own LEGO creations. The government of Denmark donated the LEGO monuments, and the collection is free.

White Taxis Hit the Streets

Clunky and dirty taxis used to be the bane of visitors and residents of Cairo. The rickety vehicles dating to the 1960s and ’70s often smelled of gasoline and didn’t have air-conditioning in Cairo’s sweltering summers. Many of the taxis did not have doorknobs or levers to roll down the windows, and they often rattled so loudly they sounded as if they were about to fall to pieces. Moreover, they caused traffic jams when they broke down. But what was more frustrating was that the taxis had no meters, so prices ranged greatly depending on the rider. Drivers frequently argued and shouted, demanding unfair prices, particularly for foreigners. All this is disappearing with new white taxis under a plan from the government. Tens of thousands of taxi owners have turned in their old clunkers for new vehicles with metered fares. Just make sure to ask the driver to turn on the meter, and negotiate a price if you take one from the airport.

Third Airport Terminal Opens

The Cairo Airport doubled its yearly capacity of passengers to 22 million with the opening of the state-of-the-art Terminal 3. The new terminal handles all domestic flights and all international flights with state carrier EgyptAir as well as a handful of other airlines. Terminal 3 is composed of 211,000 square meters of floor area with nearly 4,000 square meters of retail space. The wings are linked together with skywalk bridges; a light-rail system is slated for construction to link it to Terminals 1 and 2. The older terminals have also received renovations, including new coffee shops and a mall. The construction of a 9-km (5½-mile) airport access road from the Cairo Ring Road has significantly reduced traffic to the area.

Luxor Monuments Saved from Water Damage

The greatest monuments in Luxor were facing severe damage from water and salt invading their structures. In a process known as capillary action, porous stones suck up underground water. The salt within the water is then attracted to the humidity in the air, forming salt crystals on the stone’s surface. The salt was not only damaging the inscriptions on the faces of the stones, but also threatening to destroy the foundations of the monuments themselves. Archaeologists have been removing the salt by applying acid-free paper and clay to the stones, but the condition worsened. A series of underground pipelines were installed around the monuments on the East and West Banks, through funding by USAID, to drain ground water and save several temples from disintegration.

Sites Added to Endangered List

UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund (WHF) added two sites in Egypt to its list of endangered sites: the Old Mosque of Shali Fortress in Siwa and the New Gourna Village in Luxor, raising the number of Egyptian sites to 14. The white fortress, which stands in the town center of the lush oasis in the Western Desert, is the oldest mosque in the world built of calcified soil. It was constructed in the 13th century by using an ancient technique of naturally hardening earth with salt. The New Gourna Village, also called the Hassan Fathy Village after its architect/social scientist creator, was a pioneering experiment of sustainably developed communities. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Fathy built an eco-friendly village constructed of mud brick by Aswan carpenters skilled in an ancient technique of vaulted roofs. He envisioned a village based on values of community, culture, and environment. Although the village broke ground for anthropologists and sociologists, envious government officials and the villagers themselves, who were unable to sustain the project, stifled his dreams. The village is now mixed between new concrete buildings and the crumbling remains of the original mud-brick buildings.

Temples and Tombs in Saqarra Uncovered

It’s been estimated that some 80% of the world’s antiquities are located in Egypt, while only 20% of Egypt’s objects have been removed from the sand. The perfect example of these astounding figures can be found in the vast cemetery of Saqarra on the Giza Plateau. Temples and tombs have been discovered with regularity in the last few years as the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has led a number of missions in the area. Discoveries include the 4,300-year-old Pyramid of Queen Sesheshet, the mother of Pharaoh Teti, the founder of ancient Egypt's 6th dynasty; a 3,000-year-old noblewoman's tomb complex; and the Pyramid of King Menkauhor, who ruled in the mid-2400s BC.

DNA Studied on Tut and Family

Archaeologists are determined to find out the story of the boy king Tutankhamun. Using what the SCA describes as the only DNA lab in the world dedicated exclusively to the study of mummies, scientists have been examining Tut and his family to figure out his origins. They discovered that, unlike previous hypotheses that the boy died on a chariot while hunting or fighting, he was likely beset by malaria and a bone disorder caused by incestuous parents. It is unknown, however, just who the parents of this frail pharaoh were. The boy reigned almost 3,350 years ago and is thought by some to be the son of the Pharaoah Akhenaton and his wife Kiya, but others say he was the son of Queen Nefertiti, whose power facilitated the ascendency of Tut. The DNA lab has studied three mummies—two female and one male—as well as two mummified fetuses found in Tut’s tomb. These and another “mystery mummy” seem to be raising more questions than answers about Tut’s origin.

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