After more than seven decades of stop-start attempts to excavate a nearly 2-mile ancient walkway in the southern city of Luxor, Egypt will finally open the 3,000-year-old Avenue of Sphinxes to the public Thursday in a glitzy ceremony.
The full stretches of the 1.7 mile long and about 250 feet wide avenue, which connects Karnak Temple with Luxor Temple, have been uncovered in the ancient city of Thebes, with its distinctive sphinxes and ram-headed statues lined up on both flanks.
In recent years, Egypt has stepped up its efforts to promote its archeological discoveries as it strives to revive its ailing tourism industry, which took a fresh battering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One element of this approach has been recreating ancient settings in flamboyant ceremonies, which were first introduced when Egypt held what was dubbed a “royal procession” to parade 22 mummies through the streets of Cairo as they were being conveyed to a newly inaugurated museum last April.
Construction of the Avenue of Sphinxes began during the New Kingdom era and was completed during the reign of 30th Dynasty ruler Nectanebo I (380-362 B.C.), but the road was buried under layers of sand over the centuries.
“The amount of rubble that was removed over the decades was up to 8 meters high. Every layer of sand tells us a story about that avenue,” Mostafa el-Sagheer, the head of Karnak’s Antiquities Department who oversaw the project to excavate the last stretch of the avenue, told ABC News.
The first trace of the avenue was found in 1949 when Egyptian archeologist Mohammed Zakaria Ghoneim discovered eight statues near the Luxor Temple, el-Sagheer said, with 17 more statues uncovered from 1958 to 1961 and 55 unearthed from 1961 to 1964 — all within a perimeter of 250 meters.
From 1984 to 2000, the entire route of the walkway was finally determined, leaving it to excavators to uncover the road. It was never a walk in the park, however.
Urban development meant hundreds of homes, as well as mosques and a 115-year-old Evangelical church, had to be demolished to make way for the road.
The political turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising in Egypt further complicated efforts to complete the restoration project, stalling it for several years before it was resumed in 2017.
“From 2017 to 2021, the final 20 or 25% of the road was excavated,” el-Sagheer said.
Most of the original 1,057 statues in the avenue have been recovered. They are divided into three shapes, the first being a body of a lion with ram’s head that was erected over a nearly 1,000-foot area between the Karnak Temple and the Precinct of Mut during the reign of New Kingdom ruler Tutankhamen, famously known as King Tut.
The second shape is a full ram statue, built in a remote area during the reign of the 18th dynasty’s Amenhotep III before being later moved to the Temple of Khonsu in the Karnak complex.
The third shape, which comprises the biggest chunk of the statues, is one of a sphinx (a lion’s body and a human’s head), with the statues stretching over a mile from the Precinct of Mut to the Luxor Temple. They were erected during the tenure of Nectanebo I.
El-Sagheer said the ancient Opet festival would be also relived during Thursday’s celebrations.
The festival primarily involved a procession in which shrines of the “triad of deities” — supreme god Amun-Re, his consort Mut and their son Khonsu — were paraded by priests on wooden barques from Karnak to Luxor in a symbolic recreation of their marriage.
“During this journey, people of Thebes would line up on both sides, with military marches and music playing, dancers performing and oblations offered,” el-Sagheer said.