Egypt’s Historic Tahrir Square to Unveil Major Revamp

Cairo is Preparing a Royal Procession of Mummies to Celebrate the Opening of the Iconic Square
A picture taken on March 25, 2020 shows Egypt's landmark Tahrir Square in the capital Cairo. (Getty)

Egyptian authorities are preparing to officially open Tahrir Square, Cairo's most famous public space, following months of renovation works.

The country is preparing a major royal procession of mummies to celebrate the opening of the iconic square. The spectacle features 22 royal mummies, belonging to Egypt's most famous pharaohs, including King Ramses II and King Merneptah. They will be accompanied by 17 ancient coffins due to be transferred from the nearby Egyptian Museum to their new home in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat.

Costing more than $2 billion (roughly $125 million), the museum will become the world's largest museum devoted to a single civilization. The 2,500-square meter structure will house some of the country's most precious relics as well as exhibitions of both ancient and modern art.

The renovation to the area that bore witness to the political change that swept through the country in the past decade began in September last year.

Egyptian authorities have invested 150 million Egyptian pounds ($9.4 million) in the extensive efforts to upgrade the appearance of the square itself and the surrounding area.

Four ram-headed sphinxes have been taken from the Karnak temple in Luxor to the capital's busy traffic roundabout where they have joined a pink granite obelisk dating back 3,000 years.

Antiquities officials say the obelisk will add historical value to the symbolic square at the heart of the capital.

"Major squares around the world strive to achieve greatness by publically displaying symbols of the ancient Egyptian civilization," Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the executive arm of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Majalla. "Egyptians want their cherished square to display an ancient obelisk like major cities around the world."

The obelisk and the sphinxes are small details in the grand overhaul which includes the introduction of a new lighting system on painted buildings overlooking the square. Hundreds of palm trees have also been planted on the streets leading up to the square. 

Cairo Governorate officials say that the Tahrir Square upgrade is part of a national plan to overhaul downtown Cairo and turn it into a tourist destination.

"The area has many attractions, and we are trying to make the most of this by promoting it as a tourist site," Ibrahim Abelhadi, Cairo's deputy governor told Majalla.

The area around the square is an open-air museum containing dozens of wonders, including the Egyptian Museum, a 118-year-old building that holds over a 100,000 ancient artefacts.  It is also home to old buildings that date back hundreds of years, most of which are modelled after architecture in Paris and Rome.

"We also wanted to preserve these buildings to protect our rich and diverse architectural heritage," Abdelhadi said.

Over the past months, Cairo Governorate authorities have painted and renovated 300 of downtown Cairo's 500 ancient and monumental buildings, restoring some to their original designs. Some of the streets of downtown Cairo have been turned into pedestrian-only zones. 

Development plans included rejuvenating and standardizing the facades of buildings and shop signage, which are now delightfully nostalgic of the one-time cosmopolitan flair of downtown Cairo where bars, cafes and nightclubs flourished along the boulevards attracting adventurers from around the world.

Those visiting the center of town will experience a memorable tour which explores Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum, and the streets of one of the most architecturally rich areas in Egypt. 

However, the Tahrir Square upgrade has been met by concern, especially from some of the nation's archaeologists who express reservations about the transfer of the ancient artefacts to the highly-polluted area.

"The presence of the obelisk and the sphinxes in this area will cause major damage," archaeologist Ziad Morsi told Majalla. 

Antiquities officials say, however, that they have studied the suitability of the new location well.

"The studies showed the square to be fit for these antiquities," Gharib Sonbol, a senior official at Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities official, told Majalla. "If squares are unfit for antiquities, why are there antiquities in most European squares, including ancient Egyptian obelisks?"