Egypt reopens the old sphinx street with the Luxor parade

CAIRO – While Americans enjoy a complete Thanksgiving Day parade after two years of Covid absence, Egypt, nearly 6,000 miles away, is ready to revive a very different cultural tradition that has not been seen for thousands of years.

The country is set to open the 3,000-year-old Avenue of Sphinxes to the public on Thursday in an extensive ceremony in the southern city of Luxor that follows decades of excavation efforts.

The old footbridge, nearly two miles long and about 250 feet wide, was once called the “Way of God.” It connects the Luxor Temple with the Karnak Temple, just up the Nile to the north.

The Sphinxes of Egypt’s Luxor Temple. Mosa’ab Elshamy / AP fil

A spectacular parade is expected to begin after 6 p.m. 12:30 ET will continue along the avenue, which is lined on each side by over 600 framed statues and traditional sphinxes, statues with a lion’s body and a human head.

The extravagant march is expected to include participants in pharaonic attire, a symphony orchestra, lighting effects, professional dancers, both on the Nile, horse-drawn carriages and much more.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is expected to attend the performance throughout the city.

The road was buried under sand for centuries, until Egyptian archaeologist Zakaria Ghineim discovered the first eight sphinx statues in front of the Luxor Temple in 1949.

Efforts to excavate and restore the site continued over the next seven decades and were interrupted several times by political upheavals, such as the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country. perennial autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and led to several years of civil unrest.

“Tonight I will be witnessing one of the greatest events that has ever happened in my lifetime,” Ahmed Hammam, a Luxor tour guide, told NBC News.

Hammam, 47, said witnessing the restoration of the Avenue of the Sphinxes after years of effort was “like a dream.”

“Today will be a day we will talk about for a hundred years to come,” Hammam said. “I hope everyone will enjoy it. Not just here in my hometown, but in all of Egypt and also in the whole world.”

The road is believed to have been built to celebrate the annual Opet Festival in the ancient city of Thebes, now known as Luxor. The festival promoted fertility and included a procession carrying a statue of ceremonial deities from the Karnak Temple to the Luxor Temple.

Ali Abu Dashish stands at the ram’s head sphinxes in Luxor. Courtesy Ali Abu Dashish

“The Opet Festival will be held as it was in the past at the time of the pharaohs,” said Ali Abu Dashish, an Egyptian archaeologist and member of the Archaeological Union, ahead of Thursday’s event.

Dashish said the event should send a message from Egypt to the world that “we preserve and restore antiques.” He added: “I expect it to be a dazzling celebration on a global scale.”

Thursday’s festivities are part of an ongoing push to advance archaeological discoveries as Egypt seeks to revive its fluttering tourism industry.

Part of this effort has included holding spectacular public events like the one to take place on Thursday.

In April, Cairo held an extensive procession, called the Golden Parade, to move 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies across the capital to a new museum.

Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist, called the Luxor site “the largest open [air] museum, the largest archeological site in the world “, which tells the story of Egypt from the 2,000 BC era – known as the Dynasty XI – until the Roman period.

Hawass worked on the restoration of the Avenue of the Sphinxes from 2005-2011, when work was halted by the uprising. He said Thursday’s festival sends an important message to the world that “Egypt is safe and we invite everyone to return to Egypt.”

El-Sissi, 63, led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2013 and was re-elected for a second, four-year term in 2018.

He has sought to restore stability to the main US ally and worked hard to bring tourist dollars back to the country whose economy has been further hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics say he has mouthed on opponents, activists and independent media by doing so.

Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo, and Petra Cahill reported from London.

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