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Ramses statue, Cairo landmark for 50 years, gets new home

March 12, 1997

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ After presiding over Cairo’s busiest square for more than 50 years, a 60-ton statue of Pharaoh Ramses II will move across Egypt’s sprawling capital to a quieter home near the Giza Pyramids.

Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzoury announced the plan in remarks published Wednesday. Officials said the statue would be moved by June to ease traffic congestion and to prevent the statue from being damaged by pollution.

But even hauling the 3,200-year-old granite statue out of the square may not save it from the ravages of Cairo’s pollution. Archaeologists say the statue’s future home is not much cleaner.

Ramses II, who died in 1225 B.C., is credited with bringing unprecedented splendor to Egypt during his 67-year-reign.

Standing on the edge of a rectangular fountain, his statue is a famous Cairo landmark, appearing on postcards, tourist maps, guide books and in scores of Egyptian movies.

But his likeness has become a victim of Cairo’s suffocating air pollution and gridlock traffic. Both abound at Ramses Square, the statue’s home since the early 1950s when it was taken from a temple at the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. The square is also a major bus stop and includes the city’s main railway terminal.

The statue is washed regularly, but it takes just a few weeks for the greasy exhaust to coat its surface. It is not known what structural damage, if any, the statue has sustained.

Cairo Gov. Omar Abdul-Akhar said the project was vital to reduce pollution levels and ensure smoother traffic flow. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said two German experts were coming to Cairo next week to gauge the harm done to the statue by pollution.

But experts say even the new site is becoming congested with traffic as Cairo _ a city of 17 million people _ spreads into the surrounding desert.

``The statue must return to its place of origin where it belongs,″ said Zahi Hawas, a government archaeologist in charge of the Giza area, also home to the Memphis temple.

``When ancient Egyptians made those statues, they made them to stand at temples, not squares,″ he said. ``They are moving it to the outskirts of Cairo. In 50 years or less, the area will be like downtown Cairo. So, where to then?″

Samia Galal Saad, an environmental professor at the American University in Cairo, said the need to move the statue shows how successive Egyptian governments have done little to solve Cairo’s choking pollution.

``If this plan will help the statue,″ she said, ``what will help the humans?″

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