Damaged Egyptian "Mecca" To Be Restored

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But arable land comes at a premium in Egypt, where desert makes up the majority of the country. Today most of the country's population are clustered around the Nile River.

"In Egypt, because there are so many monuments, the area for living is restricted by nature," Dreyer said.

As a result, local farmers have begun to reclaim land in the Abydos desert up to the walls of ancient temples.

(Read how Egyptian farmers are "greening" the desert.)

Of course the living have their rights, Dreyer pointed out.

"We can't say we'll make all of Egypt a museum for ancient culture and living people starve or die."

Special Importance

Despite the recent growth in farms, much of the damage to the structures happened decades ago. Rapid population growth in towns near Abydos has led to construction around the region's monuments, ruining some of them.

In the 1970s the government moved all the inhabitants within the archaeological zone and compensated them. Their empty homes, however, are still standing.

For example, only the stump of a pillar from the temple of Ramses I remains today—and it stands inside the living room of a vacant house.

As part of the new effort, however, architects will remove the empty houses, clean up rubble, landscape the area, and build a new visitors' center. Archaeologists will create a plan on how to protect the monuments.

"There are certain sites—and Abydos is one of them—where one must be really careful because of the special importance that is the cultural heritage of mankind and of Egypt," Dreyer said.

Original Design

Architects on the project say their plans respect the site's original design.

The edge of Abydos formed a clear demarcation between the town for the living and sacred structures for the dead, said architect Tarek Waly.

"The line between life and death, the Nile Valley, and the desert—you can see it," Waly said.

He believes the sacred line that divided the farmland and the tombs dissolved when townspeople moved into the site in the past, and he hopes to restore it.

"If you cross the line you enter into the other life. This has to be clear on our minds."

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