When Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced the resumption of work at Djoser’s Step Pyramid in Saqqara this week, after some four years’ delay, the decision was generally applauded. But some archeologists are raising concerns about the company chosen to do the restoration.
They accused the ministry of negligence in awarding the work to the Al-Shorbagi Company, which, they say, was responsible for the earlier collapse of a block of the 4,600-year-old Step Pyramid.
Amir Gamal, representative of the Non-Stop Robberies pressure group, accused the company and the ministry of not following international restoration standards because they built a new wall around the pyramid. International rules prevent such new additions being made, he said.
Gamal added that the company, hired in 2006, had not finished the work by 2008, as specified in the contract. “Meanwhile, the condition of the pyramid has been going from bad to worse,” he said.
“The company does not specialise in restoration, and it has never carried out restoration work in Egypt,” Gamal said, adding that the Al-Shorbagy Company had previously only built cafeterias and other modern buildings at archaeological sites.
Regretfully, the sands of time have taken their toll on the Step Pyramid. Most of the outer casing is gone, the core of the masonry has disappeared in some places, and deep cracks have spread over the walls and ceilings of the pyramid’s underground corridors, while several parts of the queen’s tunnels, found beneath the pyramid’s main shaft, have collapsed.
For safety reasons, the pyramid is closed to visitors.
Various projects were proposed to save the monument, but it was only in 2003 that the then Supreme Council of Antiquities gave the go-ahead for the restoration work. The aim today is for work at the site to be completed by 2015 and for the area to be developed for tourism.