By Rany Mostafa
CAIRO: Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty has inaugurated the reopening of the 2,500-year-old Temple of Hibis, which is the largest and best preserved temple in Egypt’s Western Desert, Ahmed Mutawa, director of the ministry’s Archaeological Sites Development Department, told The Cairo Post Thursday.
“The third and last phase at the Hibis Temple restoration project, worth 30 million EGP ($4.3 million), has been completed and the temple will be opened for the public in November after decades of renovation,” said Mutawa.
The 71 million EGP project started in 2007 and included the restoration of the temple’s walls, carvings and paintings along with the drainage of groundwater present from the agricultural lands surrounding the temple, Mutawa added.
Located in Al-Kharga Oasis 600 kilometers southwest of Cairo, the temple dates back to the reign of Persian King Darius I in the 27th Egyptian Dynasty (c. 525 B.C.), and was also used as a garrison until 330 B.C., former Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Abdel Halem Nour el-Din told The Cairo Post Thursday.
“A Sphinx avenue flanks the façade of the limestone temple and goes through its gates, courts and sanctuary. It also contains evidence of use in later periods, including the early Christian and Islamic periods, when the temple is strongly believed to have been used by Muslim Pilgrims en route to Mecca,” said Nour el-Din.
Being surrounded by agricultural lands, the Hibis Temple has been severely damaged during the past five decades due to the groundwater and the locally rising water table caused by farming and irrigation activities in the area, according to Nour el-Din.
“In June 1999 and due to the temple’s deteriorating conditions, the then head of SCA, Gaballa Ali Gaballa, decided that the Hibis Temple had to be dismantled and reassembled on a higher and safer spot, two kilometers to the southwest of its original location,” Nour el-Din added.
In late 1999, Zahi Hawass was appointed as secretary-general of the SCA. He visited the temple and decided to conduct the renovation work of the temple without moving it.
“From the first time I visited the site I could see that if the temple was moved it would be destroyed. The reliefs and the stone blocks were badly restored in the past and were very fragile,” said Hawass on his personal website.
To avoid problems from the surrounding agricultural fields, the SCA bought all the land around the temple to provide a safe zoning area, according to Hawass.
“Today the temple is beautifully restored and remains in its original location… I still think that this is one of the best decisions I ever made as secretary-general,” Hawass added.