Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Images Tell the Story of Egypt's Cultural Heritage Crisis

Fresh images from Egypt continue to document the destruction and looting of cultural heritage.

Dr. Monica Hanna, in a video recently posted by Saving Antiquities for Everyone, shows active plundering taking place at Dashur near the ancient pyramid sites. She also spotlights the damage caused to a network of Coptic Christian churches attacked by looters. See the video here.

Christian Manhart, Head of the Museum Section at UNESCO Paris, meanwhile, has provided CHL with the accompanying photos that capture the damage caused to the Islamic Museum of Art in Cairo, a result of last month's explosive blast from a nearby truck bomb.

That attack prompted the Archaeological Institute of America and several other cultural heritage organizations to issue a statement last week expressing dismay about the loss of human lives and the threat to heritage in Egypt.

Manhart partnered with Dr. Regine Schulz, a specialist in Islamic and Egyptian museum collections, and restoration architect Riccardo Giordano to form a joint UNESCO, International Council of Museums, and Blue Shield Emergency Mission team. Along with local heritage authorities and professionals in Cairo, the group members toured the building on Port Said Street in Cairo two weeks ago that houses both the art museum and the Archive Museum of the National Library at Bab el Khalq. The archive holds collections of precious manuscripts, coins, and scientific instruments.

Manhart and his team witnessed the damage first-hand and report both good news and bad news to CHL:
In spite of the shocking first aspect of destruction inside and outside, the mission was pleased to record that the structural stability of the building seems not endangered. However, serious damage was recorded to the coating of the outside façade and almost all exhibition halls of both institutions, as well as to the skylights of the roof. 
First emergency work is required to cover the roof and the windows, in order to make the building waterproof to avoid further damage in case of rainfall. It is also urgent to check and remove [the] loose decoration panels on the top of the facade, which could fall down and injure people walking in the street in front of the building. 
In the Islamic Museum, all showcases and display facilities have been destroyed. 161 objects have been either totally destroyed or so seriously damaged that their restoration will require many years and substantial funding. In particular the precious glass collection, including 9 important lamps from Mosques of which some go back to [the] 9th century has been reduced to rubble, which is being collected and sorted by the staff of the museum, even if at the moment there is no method to restore them. 
Also the ceramic objects have been strongly damaged. The wood objects collection, in particular two unique carved old Mihrabs are already under restoration. The metal collections are only slightly damaged, and can be restored rather quickly by the museum’s staff. 
Fortunately, the conservation laboratories and store-rooms which are mostly in the underground or on the backside of the building are not or only very slightly damaged, they can now entirely be used to safe keep and restore the collections. 
As for the Archive Museum of the National Library at Bab el Khalq, all showcases are smashed, however only [a] few manuscripts and books are damaged, mainly by water from the broken water supply and from glass dust. Most of this damage can be rather easily cleaned and restored, but also this will take many months of work.
Photos: Copyright C. Manhart UNESCO. Used with permission.

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