Date and Author unknown - but thought to be November 2008
Down the slopes of the Theban Necropolis on the west bank of the River Nile lay a string of interconnected villages that comprise an area known as old Qurna. Inhabitants of these villages have lived for long years in mud-brick houses that well suited their lifestyle. But there was one problem with these houses - they were built over ancient Egyptian tombs on the Theban hills.
That was enough for Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities to require the locals to be evicted from their homes in order to excavate the hill-carved tombs that represent the resting place of ancient nobility. The Nubians of al-Gurna were not easily convinced of the idea of being relocated, especially as their fathers had gone through a similar experience when Nubia was evacuated before its submersion under Lake Nasser in the l960s as a result of the High Dam project.
The construction of the new Gurna cost State's coffers some LEl70 million ($30.8 million). Inaugurated last year, many families have moved to their new houses to start a new life a few kilometres from their old residences. The new village has ended a 50-year battle between officials and inhabitants to remove squatters from one of the archeological-rich sites on the west bank in Luxor. However, the village of Gurnet Marie remained a hotbed of dissatisfaction and was not easily evacuated. A few weeks ago, the eviction process of l50 houses, that lie over more than 500 tombs, began.
The families have been discontent with the alternative offered them by the City Council. The City Council had to cut off electricity to encourage residents to leave their homes. As Samir Farag, Chief of Luxor City told the local al-Mussawer magazine “the evacuation was non-negotiable because the State cannot allow squatters to continue living above invaluable archaeological wealth”. Omar Sehri, a sculptor who seems to carry the genes of his artisan forefathers, had to leave his modest two-room home where he had lived with his family and his brother's for years. Sehri, who makes a living out of selling his plaster sculptures, had resisted being relocated like many other families of the village claiming that the new residences were not, as they put it 'up to the standard'.
In 2004, the west bank of the Nile in Luxor was proclaimed an archaeological reserve where all kinds of construction activities are now prohibited. According to a republican decree issued in l981, the land adjacent to Thebes necropolis is listed a public utility, whereby building is not allowed. However, the first decree related to this part of Luxor was issued by King Fouad back in l925 according to which all land recognised as part of the Thebes necropolis was deemed State-owned property of an archaeological nature. The vacated houses of Gurnet Marie will not be bulldozered, as other houses were. They will be left in situ as an open museum that would render a realistic picture of the Egyptian village life as it has been led for 200 years.
According to Ali el-Assfar, Director of el-Gurna Archaeological Zone, the houses, especially the facades, will be restored using the original Nile silt with which they were built. Some of the houses, however, could be used as motels for day-use only, as the SCA rejects the idea of establishing sewerage grids so that water and humidity would not harm the monuments of the west bank. “Once encroachments are removed from the west bank, a French expert will embark upon re-planning of this side of the Nile,” said Samir Farag, the Chief of Luxor City, noting that a plan to lower subterranean water in the west bank has been initiated at costs totalling LE60 million ($l0.8 million) in collaboration with USAID.