60 years ago, Unesco captained the most ambitious heritage salvage operation in history: the rescue and reconstruction of the Nubian temples that were to be devoured by the work of the Aswan Dam. To the call for help from the Unesco They responded more than a dozen countries, which sent archaeological missions, who struggled to excavate, inventory and move to safe places a good part of the monuments. For the role they played in these campaigns, Egitpo decided to give away some of the temples saved to the United States, Italy, Holland, Germany (presented with the access portico) and Spain. All countries expose them inside museums to ensure their conservation, with the exception of Spain, the only one that shows it outdoors, where the temple of Debod undergoes great contrasts of temperature and humidity, among other problems.
Temple of Dendur. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). NY. USA
The stone of Dendur, identical to that of Debod, “is very soft and has been eroded a lot in the last 2,000 years by the actions of water, wind and people,” explains Diana Craig Patch, the chief curator of the Art Department Egyptian in the New Metropolitan Museum of Art York “The Met presented a proposal to the US Government to protect Dendur inside the museum, because Henry Fischer (head of the Department of Egyptian Art between 1964 and 1992) knew how fragile the reliefs on its outer walls were,” he recalls. Fischer dissuaded the presidential committee that he should decide on the location of placing it on the banks of the Potomac River or the Charles River due to the weakness of the sandstone blocks. They decided to exhibit it since 1978 at the Met, where many people visit it. “We are careful with the way in which visitors enter through the lobby. The strings keep the public away from the exterior and interior decoration. The gateway is protected by transparent panels, both inside and outside, which reach approximately one meter high. In addition, there is a guard to prevent people from hitting or touching the temple. Technicians from the Department of Egyptian Art regularly review the temple and clean the interior, ”says Diana Craig Patch. In 2017 they carried out an intense vacuuming operation of each of the ashlars to eliminate the dust accumulated for years in the structure. The conservative notes that the donation forced the temple to be kept in a space with stable temperature and controlled relative humidity. The museum capsule prevented them from worrying about the deterioration of the ashlars: “Our main concern was whether the stones would be strong enough to resist the reconstruction process.” In the placement process the scientists of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and the National Laboratory.
Ellesiya Temple. Egyptian Museum of Turin. Italy
Commissioned to build in the 15th century B.C. by Pharaoh Thutmose III, it was donated to Italy in 1965 and since then it is inside the Egyptian Museum in Turin. It is one of the stars of the collection. Beppe Moiso, one of the museum’s curators, explains that throughout this time the only modifications he has undergone have been the reconstruction of the floor and ceiling, since it was not possible to recover the originals. The monument is constantly monitored, especially near the joints that were created by the dissection of the rock. Currently, a new surveillance system is underway to detect the smallest alterations in the stone. The temple material is compact enough and has no particular injuries, so it is not considered to be in a vulnerable state, although it is “indispensable” to keep it in stable areas and protected from intense vibrations, such as those caused by traffic. In the Egyptologist’s opinion, a temple like this could not be outdoors in a city, since “atmospheric agents and pollution would favor its rapid deterioration”, since it is built with very soft stone.
Taffa Temple National Museum of Antiquity of Leiden. Holland
The Taffa temple is the star piece of the National Museum of Antiquity of Leiden, west of the Netherlands, which has a remarkable collection of Egyptian art. Dated two thousand years ago, it is made up of 657 blocks of sandstone weighing about 250 tons and measuring 6.5 by 8 meters. It is in perfect condition and located in the hall of the room since the late seventies. There it has a climate and temperature control system. The dust is cleaned every two years. “Like Debod’s, it was a gift from Egypt for having contributed to the rescue of the Nubian monuments of the Aswan Dam. Built at the time of the Roman emperor Augustus, there were two conditions: to install it in an interior protected from the weather, and to contemplate it for free, ”says Wim Weijland, museum director, in a telephone conversation. “We met the first covering an open courtyard at the entrance of the museum. There you can see without having to access the rest of the collection after payment. It is a true icon with several lives before arriving here, because it stood next to the Roman fort of Taffa, and could have been dedicated first to the Egyptian goddess Isis. Then it was successively a Christian, Islamic temple, a house inhabited by ordinary people and a stable. In a way, it is the oldest building in our country, and Leiden tour guides usually include it in their routes. ” Weijland does not pronounce on the deterioration of Debod’s, although he claims to be up to date on what happens “with the buildings of the same Taffa series”.
Kalabscha Gate. Ancient Museum of Egyptian Art. Berlin Germany
The individual embossed blocks of the Kalabsha gate (found in the courtyard of the Kalabscha temple, which was moved by German builders in 1963 as part of Unesco’s rescue operation during the construction of the Aswan Dam) arrived in Germany in 1973 as a gift from the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Federal Republic of Germany. The Egyptian Museum in Berlin was chosen as the permanent exhibition site. In 1973 the individual blocks were rebuilt in the former headquarters of the museum, in the transition from the East Stüler building to the Marstall in Berlin-Charlottenburg. The door is still exactly in this place. Although the Egyptian Museum moved from that place in 2005 (it was exhibited in the Altes Museum from 2005 to 2009, and in the Neues Museum on the Museum Island of 2009), the door remained in its original location, however, because found no place in the current presentation of the permanent exhibition. The door will find its definitive place in the fourth wing of the Pergamon Museum, which is expected to be completed in 2032. Until then it will remain in the aforementioned Charlottenburg location, which houses since 2007 the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection (part of the Gallery National of the National Museums of Berlin). Following the mandate of Egypt to keep it open to the public permanently, the door has been able to be visited continuously since 1973. There are no known examples of archaeological heritage of this nature that are exhibited outdoors in Germany.
With information from Lorena Pacho, Isabel Ferrer and Enrique Müller.