Ancient Pharaoh Temple Discovered Inside Egypt Mosque

Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
September 27, 2007

Parts of a temple dating to the reign of pharaoh Ramses II have been discovered inside a mosque in Luxor, Egypt, officials report (see map).

Experts restoring the historic mosque uncovered sections of columns, capitals, and elaborately inscribed reliefs from one of the ancient temple's courtyards built around 1250 B.C.

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

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

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

The discovery was made during repair work on the mosque after a fire damaged part of 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.

(Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

Encryptions and Glyphs

Christians, and later Muslims, frequently built their shrines on top of ancient Egyptian holy sites, said W. Raymond Johnson, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago who has seen the newly exposed temple sections.

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

"We are very lucky that these have been so well preserved," Johnson 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.

Continued on Next Page >>


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