afrol News, 11 December - Egypt's most important sites are experiencing major trouble, a new report suggests. All the three reviewed Egyptian World Heritage sites were in danger of losing the values that originally brought them into the prestigious Unesco list, and they were worst rated in the Middle East and North Africa region. The threatened sites include the Pyramids of Giza, the Islamic district of Cairo and the historic cities of Thebes and Luxor.
In a review of 94 major World Heritage sites made by the George Washington University in cooperation with the 'National Geographic' journal, the major historic and tourist attractions of Egypt are all among the bottom-25 of the list, receiving from 50 to 58 out of 100 possible points. In the Middle East and North Africa region, no heritage sites are equally poorly maintained, and on the African continent, only Ethiopia's rock-hewn churches at Lalibela get a poorer score.
And the review - which is published for its third time - spells trouble for both some of the world's major cultural heritage sites and for the backbone of Egypt's tourism industry. The world-famous pyramids are worst off, having degenerated into a tourist trap of vendors and its surroundings being flooded by Cairo's encroaching suburbs. Travellers are advised to see the worst-off sites on the list before it is too late.
The Pyramids of Giza, including the Sphinx, are known as one of the world's most spectacular sites. "Nothing anyone has read or seen can truly prepare one" for this visit, one of the report's experts notes. But the visitation pressure here is enormous, and vendors of souvenirs are a constant distraction.
"Of all the major sites in the world, this is the one where the most people seem to come away disappointed," another expert noted. "The slums march right up to the base of the pyramids, the smog gets worse every year, and the touts are relentless. Not a pleasant experience for visitors." Other reviewers repeat the "hassling" by vendors and the "very visible encroachment of urban areas in the vicinity."
The fantastic age-old pyramids - which were inscribed into the Unesco list already in its first decade, in 1979 - have yet to be put on Unesco's official "World Heritage in Danger List". But the report's conclusion may warn Egyptian authorities that an over-exploitation of the tourism potential and a lack of urban planning may soon put the pyramids on that list. Unesco also removed World Heritage sites from its list when conservation schemes are not followed up on.
But the Giza pyramids are not the only world heritage Egyptians are accused of not preserving well enough. The Islamic district of Cairo, which also was let into Unesco's list in 1979, is being almost as poorly valued as the pyramids. The reviewers however are more divided on their evaluation, some of them appreciating the "heat, dust and chaos" as a sign of livelihood and "balance".
Most reviewers however miss a policy for conservation and deplore the "very limited information for tourists" in this historic Cairo neighbourhood. "The air is polluted and the buildings need repair and restoration. There is no planning, and newer buildings are not in harmony with the old. When 'restored,' the older buildings seem too new, almost glossy," one observer notes. Another one agreed that sustainability is "very problematic."
Finally, the southern Egyptian historic Nile resort of Thebes and Luxor gets strong criticism from the experts - but also a lot of praise for its imminent values. "Fascinating like the pyramids, and the area around still has a lot of authenticity," one reviewer says. But he adds: "The main problem of the site is the people factor - the local merchants, taxis, etc. are harassing tourists too much and giving a bad image to the area."
Another expert complains about "serious concerns" because of "overcrowding at sites" with obvious capacity limits. Further, "damage to sites now and over time is of great concern." He concludes there are "too many visitors, too many vendors, and too many boats on the Nile."
Egypt still has its main attractions in its historic sites, which is the major reason for most tourists choosing to visit the country. While most arrivals now come to the moderns Red Sea resorts, with a total lack of history, the knowledge of having the pyramids, Luxor and Cairo at accessible distance causes many travellers to choose Egypt instead of the Canary Islands or Morocco.
Endangering the World Heritage status of its major historic sites therefore poses a threat to Egypt's economy. No wonder, therefore, that Cairo authorities are investing in improving their conservation of these global history sites. Especially the Giza area is experiencing great investments into restoration and a relocation of the Egyptian Museum from Cairo.
This is also praised by the experts: "The most notable news is the construction of a new home for the Egyptian Museum, perhaps the greatest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world. This may have dire consequences for Cairo, but should be a benefit for the Pyramids region of Giza. The design looks, on paper, very smart. Protection of the Sphinx rates high, and the control of illegal vendors keeps the area from devolving into mayhem."
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