Egypt reopens Avenue of the Sphinxes in historic step for tourism

Tourists arrive in Egypt to reopens fabled public square to the public after it was closed to visitors

Visitors will be welcomed into Egypt’s fabled public square, the Avenue of the Sphinxes, for the first time in nearly four years, marking the reopening of an iconic landmark in the country’s tourism industry.

Officials from Egypt’s ministry of tourism, as well as foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries, gathered at the scene on Sunday to commemorate the reopening of the intersection, where hundreds of Egyptians, from minstrels to pharaohs, including King Ramses II, the father of Ramses the Great, used to convene.

“This event is extremely important,” said a ministry official, Gaber Omar, speaking at the event. “This is the first time in nearly four years that we are able to publicly re-open a gateway to Egypt.”

The road connecting Mam el-Fekiah Square with the Cairo museum, which has not been accessible since April 2014, was covered with an “unruly” sand cover until now.

This is the first time in nearly four years that we are able to publicly re-open a gateway to Egypt Gaber Omar, tourism ministry

The address, stretching from the ancient sites of Luxor to Suez, intersects the Grand Bazaar where some of the world’s most valuable tourist items are sold. Onlookers were stunned when they saw the famous intersection for the first time since 2014.

“This is an important event. The Egyptians should have this entrance back,” said Faiza Zein, a 36-year-old journalist from Beirut who was in attendance. “They should have it opened for everyday tourists and not just at VIP events.”

Egypt announced in November 2018 that it had passed an updated antiquities law that would help unlock public access to many of the country’s archaeological sites and was due to be ratified this month.

Residents of the suburb of Heliopolis, some of whom moved to new homes when Mam el-Fekiah had been closed, watched with surprise as tourists were escorted across a bridge into the rebuilt junction.

“This is a very symbolic bridge,” Zein said. “It is quite an impressive process for the Egyptians to renovate their heritage.”

The road was closed in 2014, ostensibly for construction of a bridge, but many locals believed the checkpoint had been formed to keep out their children. Protests erupted in the area in January 2014 as children were allegedly stopped from crossing the bridge, and discontent grew as Reuters released footage showing hundreds of students, dressed in school uniforms, being ordered through a newly constructed checkpoint.

It’s unclear how much time tourists will now spend in the area. Abu Khaled, a 29-year-old IT executive who did not give his last name, said he would spend at least three hours visiting the area but thought businesses would only benefit from the increased foot traffic.

“If the [government] renovates the rest of the metro stations in Egypt, this will be very helpful to business,” he said.

Asam Abd Al-Muttair, who works in marketing, agreed.

“I’m glad to see this open,” she said. “We still need to expand the way we promote the area, but we will benefit and tourism will continue in Egypt.”

The Reuters photo agency said it is collaborating with the government to digitise old papyrus documents, which represent a wealth of data on modern Egypt.

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