The Egyptian pyramids are under threat from unplanned governmental projects

The Egyptian regime, the only remaining wonder among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is forging two expressways across the pyramids plateau to revive and expand a project that has been pending since the 1990s due to international outrage.

The pyramids, the most prominent Egyptian tourist destination, and its valley, are registered as a scientific UNESCO heritage site. The two highways are part of the plan to split the infrastructure throughout Egypt, led by the army with the support of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is building a new capital and harnessing all Cairo’s roads to reach it without effort, according to observers. The northern road passes through the desert 2.5 kilometres south of the pyramids; the southern road passes between the step pyramid of Saqqara, one of the oldest pyramids of Saqqara and the Dahshur area, which includes the leaning pyramid of Senefru and the red pyramid. The two roads, which will divide the plateau into three parts, will cross a section of Memphis’ ancient city, one of the world’s largest and most influential cities for about 3,000 years.

Critics of the two roads say they could cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. Some Egyptologists and environmentalists say that the two highways will threaten the safety of the pyramid’s plateau and pass over archaeological sites that have not yet been discovered. They warned that the project causes pollution that could erode antiquities, leave garbage, and exposing the closed area full of archaeological treasures to looting.

Saeid Zulfiqar, a former senior UNESCO official who visited the southern highway section two months ago, said: “I was astonished at what I saw.” “All the work I have done over the past 25 years is now called into question,” he added. Zulfikar led a successful campaign in the mid-nineties to stop the construction of the northern road, which is one of the extensions of the first ring road in Cairo.

UNESCO said that it had requested more than once detailed information on the new plan and asked to send a monitoring mission. Meanwhile, the authorities say they will carefully pave the two roads, improve transportation lines, connect new urban areas, and bypass Cairo’s traffic congestion.

Google Earth images showed that work began more than a year ago in desert areas far from public places, and became clearer by March. On a recent visit, journalists saw heavy equipment in the fields and on bridges. Hundreds of palm trees were piled up on the ground, uprooted.

The southern highway, part of the Second Ring Road in Cairo, will connect Media Production City in Sixth of October (west of Cairo) with the New Administrative Capital (east of Cairo), through 16 kilometres in the desert, over the pyramids plateau, agricultural lands and a corner of Memphis.

An Egyptologist in the area said: “The road passes through ancient tombs that have not yet been discovered for the thirteenth family, about which there is not much information, and steps away from the pyramid of Bibi II, the pyramid of the dagger and the mastaba of Pharaoh.” This man was among six Egyptologists who spoke, most of whom refused to be named for fear of losing their permits to work in the archeology field. One of them said that ancient statues and stone blocks inscribed with hieroglyphs began to appear since work on the highway began.

Memphis, which is believed to have been founded around 3,000 BC, when Egypt was united, faded but was not abandoned when Alexander the Great moved the capital to Alexandria in 331 BC. It extends over an area of more than six square kilometres as the largest inhabited city in the ancient Nile Valley.

British Egyptologist David Jeffress, who has been working in Memphis since 1981 and participated in a mission for the Egyptian Exploration Society, said, “The new road is currently approaching the commercial areas of the old city, and its harbour walls and the former site of an ancient Nile scale used to measure the annual flood.” As it threatens a Roman wall, it was once adjacent to the Nile: “Few people know about it,” says Jeffress.

Another Egyptologist said, “Memphis has always been neglected, even by Egyptologists, because it is a complex site to explore.” “But it is vibrant, full of temples, archives, administrative buildings, and industrial areas,” he added.