Restoration for historic monastery gets underway in Egypt
“The Islamic-Coptic Antiquities Committee approved the implementation of a restoration program of Al Ahmar Monastery in Sohag in Upper Egypt in cooperation with an Egyptian – Italian group and the American Research Center,” said Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, with the American Research Center finally in-charge of most of the historical agenda.
Muhammad Abdel Rehim, administrator of the ancient area in Sohag, said the Red Monastery represents the emergence of monasticism that began when the
Byzantines persecuted Christians who escaped to the mountains. After this monastery was built, the first ever in the area of Sheikh Hamad, the people who escaped to the mountains built an expanded monastery using stones from Pharaonic temples.
With the maintenance project set for completion by the end of the year, an Egyptian -Rome University team and the American Research Center were in a dispute for a year over repairs of the ancient site. As a result, the schedule was held back.
The monastery is unique in style and deserves a great deal of attention. Abdel Rehim said the Italians found the cross shaped into the Pharaonic Ankh or the key of life. “The Red Monastery has had a great influence over the church in Europe, the reason why the Italians are interested in studying the monastery.” According to Al-Qahera writer Azza Abdel-Aziz, the Islamic and Coptic antiquities sector chairman Dr. Abdullah Kamel said the monastery is located on the site of the Anba Shenouda Monastery. Its walls are made of perfectly-layered small baked bricks. Kamel’s colleague Dr. Adel Abdel Sattar said there’s a wooden roof above the monastery and the pillars are made of granite. The outer walls have two rows of rectangular-shaped windows.
Dr. Saleh Ramadan, the administrative coordinator for the Cultural and Scientific Agreement at Ganoub Al-Wadi University in Upper Egypt and the Rome 3 University said the first problem came when they concluded the agreement. An earthquake left a crack on the dome of the monastery. Previous missions had done no homework on the repairs which resulted in cracks on the pillars as well. “The two universities decided to do a comprehensive study in order to repair the monastery,” said Abdel-Aziz. They wanted their restoration to sustain the building for hundred more years to come for it to be a place people worldwide to visit. Dr. Ramadan surveyed the vicinity and the surrounding areas. Sooner rather than later, he discovered groundwater and industrial pollution elements have seeped through the walls. People have built houses around the monastery leaving it open to damage and environmental threats.
Dr. Ramadan proposed two kinds of repair systems. The first one entailed the repair of the icons and the paintings on the walls. The American Research Center will undertake this part in cooperation with the Italians. The second one, the general repair, which the two universities in Upper Egypt and Rome will undertake includes analyzing the stones and the substances used in building the monastery to prepare suitable substances for plastering, noted Abdel Aziz. “Otherwise the monastery may reject the substances. Dr. Ramadan says the study will be published through the Italian Cultural Institute, and that the repairs will need financing coming from UNESCO or from many donor countries.”
On the squabble between the Rome 3 University and the American Research Center, Dr. Ramadan said: “People working in Sohag are the ones who participated in the study. They belong to Rome 3 University and Ganoub Al-Wadi. When the work started, they found the center was taking part, but realized that the Supreme Council for Antiquities gave it permission just as it gave the Egyptian-Italian mission. This is how the problem came to be.”
After a year of fruitless opposition, the two parties reached a compromise–the American Center to work on the icons only, while the Egyptian-Italian mission restores the remaining section. Abdel-Aziz added: “The two groups now work in the same place, and this has resulted in other problems between them. A committee was formed in order to coordinate the work, and it decided that the American Center mission is to start first. Dr. Kamel states that Egypt welcomes any mission whose objective is to preserve an Islamic or a Coptic antiquity.”
The head of the American mission denies that there were problems between the two missions, closed the Al Qahera staffer.
author: Hazel Heyer