August 25, 2006

Statue of Egypt pharaoh rolls to new home

By Summer Said

CAIRO (Reuters) - A massive statue of one of Egypt's
greatest pharaohs, Ramses II, rolled through the streets of
Cairo to a new home near the Pyramids on Friday to escape the
corrosive pollution of its former spot in a crowded transit

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to bid
farewell to the 3,200-year-old red granite statue, which weighs
83 tons and was wrapped in plastic and thick padding for the
painstakingly slow 35 km (21 mile) journey, which took 10

Only the face was visible.

"We are going to miss you. Cairo will never be the same
again," shouted 23-year-old Ahmed Sami as the statue started

Ramses II was a powerful imperial ruler and prolific temple
builder who ruled Egypt from about 1304 to 1237 BC.

Cairo residents waved from their windows and balconies.
Some were in tears. Others climbed buses, cars and mosques to
get a view of the statue, which had stood in a square outside
Cairo's main railway station for over half a century.

Thousands of policemen deployed along the route. The statue
was mounted upright atop a purpose-built vehicle and secured
inside a gyroscopically-mounted iron cage.

"It was a very successful journey and we did not stop for a
second," said Ahmed al-Gharabawi, the main vehicle driver.

"The 10-hour journey was the best time of my life. I have
never seen thousands of people singing all night and walking
for miles just to say goodbye to a statue," he told Reuters.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities took the decision to
move the statue following a decade of discussions after the
statue had deteriorated, mainly due to exposure to exhaust
fumes and the vibrations caused by rail and vehicle traffic.

"I'm quite sure that if you look at the statue now, you
will see it is smiling," Zahi Hawass, head of the council, said
after the statue reached its new home at the site of a planned

The museum, near the ancient pyramids in Giza, will hold
some of Egypt's most treasured antiquities, including the mummy
of King Tutankhamun.

The pharaoh Ramses II presided over an era of great
military expansion in Egypt. He is a popular feature on
postcards and his statue is a famous backdrop for scenes in
some Egyptian films. Ramses II is also traditionally believed
to be the pharaoh mentioned the biblical story of Moses.