Egypt is building two highways across the plateau of the pyramids outside Cairo, reviving and expanding a project that was halted in the 1990s after an international protest.
The Great Pyramids, the best tourist destination in Egypt, are the only surviving of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the plateau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The highways are part of a boost in infrastructure led by Egypt̵
The northern highway will cross the desert 1.6 miles south of the Great Pyramids. The southern highway will pass between the stepped pyramid at Saqqara – the oldest pyramid – and the Dahshur area, home to the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid.
Each highway appears to be about eight lanes wide. Construction began more than a year ago in desert areas, largely out of the reach of the public, and became more visible around March, Egyptologists and Google Earth images show.
Critics say they could cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s most important heritage sites. Authorities say they will be carefully built and improve transport links, linking new urban developments and bypassing congestion in central Cairo.
“Roads are very, very important for development, for the Egyptians, for the interior of Egypt,” said Mostafa al-Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. “Know that we take good care of our antique sites all over Egypt.”
Some Egyptologists and conservationists say the highways will disrupt the integrity of the pyramid plateau, pave unexplored archeological sites, generate pollution that can corrode monuments, generate debris, and expose seized areas full of hidden archeological treasures.
Al-Waziri said the existing roads are much closer to the pyramids and carry many tourist buses. “That’s why we’re doing a lot of development,” he said, noting plans to use electric tourist buses on the plateau to avoid pollution.
The highways, which will divide the plateau into three, will cross a section of ancient Memphis, one of the largest and most influential cities in the world for almost 3,000 years.
“I was amazed by what I saw,” said Said Zulfikar, a former UNESCO senior official who visited the southern highway two months ago. “All the work I did nearly 25 years ago is now in question.”
Zulfikar led a successful campaign in the mid-1990s to halt construction on the northern highway, a branch of Cairo’s first ring road. UNESCO has said it has asked for details of the new plan several times and has asked for an observation mission.
The state press center asked Reuters for further comments on the plans to a communications adviser to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which could not be reached.
Memphis, which is said to have been founded around 3000 BC, when Egypt was united into one state, was eclipsed, but was not abandoned when Alexander the Great moved the capital to Alexandria in 331 BC. NO.
The new road is approaching the ancient city’s shopping districts, its port walls and the former site of an ancient Nilometer used to measure the height of the annual flood, said David Jeffries, a British Egyptologist who has worked for Memphis for Egypt Research Society since 1981.