UNESCO seeks truth about alleged improper Step Pyramid renovation
Policeman standing near the Step Pyramid - AFP/ Mohamed El-shahed

CAIRO: In response to a recent media uproar about damage caused to the Sakkara Step Pyramid following an alleged improper renovation, UNESCO has asked the Antiquities Ministry for a detailed report on the renovation carried out at Egypt’s oldest Pyramid, AFP reported Thursday.

Tamar Teneishvili, a senior official from UNESCO in Cairo, said the UNESCO World Heritage Center has sent a letter to the Antiquities Ministry requesting a “detailed technical report” on recent restoration work carried out on the 4,600-year-old pyramid; one of six Egyptian sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“UNESCO has also asked if its own 2011 recommendations on the restoration of the pyramid had been followed,” said Teneishvili, according to AFP. She added that UNESCO would wait for the ministry’s report to decide on its future plans.

Earlier this month, several media outlets reported the Step Pyramid had been damaged during “improper” restoration work. The claim was based on a Facebook post by activist Amer Gamal from the Non-stop Robberies campaign, who has criticized Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty for renewing a contract with the same company that was in charge of restoring the pyramid when, according to Gamal, a huge chunk of the pyramid collapsed in 2012.

“The Shorbagy Company is not specialized in archaeological restorations and it has never restored a single site in Egypt,” said Gamal, who pointed out that the company previously carried out the construction of “cafeterias and other modern buildings” at several archaeological sites, including Sakkara.

Gamal also called on UNESCO to sponsor the pyramid’s remaining restoration work.

In a phone interview on Dream 2 TV, Archaeological Documentation Department General Manager Nour el-din Abdel Samad said the minister should have told the Egyptian people the truth about the pyramid’s current condition.

“The pyramid has been altered completely from the outside, in violation of Egypt’s Renovation Law, which stipulates any new renovation comprise less than 5 percent of the renovated structure,” he said.

Following his visit to the Step Pyramid Sept. 5, Damaty denied all allegations and criticized the media for spreading “false rumors” he said were based on “Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated sources.”

“All these repetitions that there are fallen stones inside or outside the pyramid are not true,” Damaty was quoted as saying by the State-run Al-Ahram.

The Step Pyramid was built in the 26th century B.C. to house the mummy of Pharaoh Djoser, the founder of the Third Dynasty, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Amin previously told The Cairo Post.

It is composed of six successively smaller mastabas (benches), one on top of the other, while its structure is attributed to Imhotep, the pharaoh’s vizier and a genius architect who used over 4 million cubic meters of stone and clay in the project, Amin added.

The pyramid was badly damaged in a 1992 earthquake, which caused severe damage to the walls of its burial chamber and the descending passages leading to it in addition to the collapse of a huge chunk of the pyramid’s southern side, according to Amin.

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