A site in Luxor, Egypt will become one of the world's largest open-air museums when part of a $11 million project is complete in March, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) said today in a statement.
Already announced by Dr. Sabry Abd El Aziz, head of the SCA's Egyptology sector, in a 2008 Discovery News exclusive interview, the project involves the restoration of a 2.7-km (1.7-mile) alley that connects the grand temples of Luxor and Karnak on the east bank of the River Nile.
Lined with a number of statues in the shape of sphinxes — thus the name "Avenue of Sphinxes" — the alley was built by the 30th Dynasty king Nectanebo I (380-362 B.C.), who replaced an older path dating from the Eighteenth Dynasty (1550-1292 B.C.).
The pathway was the location of important religious ceremonies in ancient times. One of the most important was the Opet festival, whose main event was a procession with a cult statue of Amun carried from Karnak to Luxor, the site of the ancient city of Thebes.
"The avenue had some branches with rest places and shrines. Queen Hatshepsut recorded on her red chapel in Karnak temple that she built six chapels dedicated to the god Amun-Re along this route," Sabry Abd El Aziz told Discovery News.
Indeed, remains of the chapels built by Hatshepsut (1502-1482 B.C.), then reused by king Nectanebo I in the construction of sphinxes, have been found along with remains of Roman wine factories and a huge cistern for water.
During the first part of the excavation, in which about a third of the pathway has been dug up, Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed 650 sphinxes out of the original 1350, and several reliefs.
One of the reliefs features the ancient symbol of Cleopatra (51-30 B.C.). According to Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Cleopatra likely visited the avenue during her Nile trip with Mark Anthony and implemented restoration work that was marked with her cartouche.
The fragmented sphinxes are now under restoration. Soon they will be placed on display along the avenue.