By Anna Johnson
Cairo - The giant statue of Pharaoh Ramses II will be moved next month from a congested downtown square to a more serene home near the Great Pyramids, in a bid to save it from damaging pollution and traffic gridlock, Egypt's antiquities chief said on Monday.
Exhaust fumes from trains, cars and buses and subway vibrations are eating away at the more than 3 200-year-old granite statue at Ramses Square, its home since the early 1950s when it was taken from a temple at the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.
To try to prevent further deterioration, the 125 ton statue - a popular feature on postcards and guide books - will be part of the new Grand Museum of Egypt, to be located about two kilometres from the pyramids, Hawass said.
'I don't think people will miss it here'
"The statue in that square now has pollution and therefore there is no way (to keep it downtown), we have to move that statue," antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.
Contractors plan to test the move when they transport a replica statue next week. If all goes well, Ramses will make its way through the sprawling city on August 25.
"Statues are not made to be in squares, they are made to be in temples or in museums," Hawass said.
Officials have been talking about moving the statue for more than a decade as experts bickered over where it should be. But Hawass said the Grand Museum location was recently agreed upon and engineers began investigating how to move the statue.
Ramses II was a warrior king who is credited with bringing Egypt unprecedented power and splendour during his 67-year reign. He died in 1225 B.C.
'I don't see tourists coming down here to see it'
Engineers plan to construct a steel cage around the statue and connect the cage to steel beams. Two flatbed trucks will carry the statue through the city, a move that will take several hours, said Ibrahim Mahlab, the chairperson of Arab Contractors, the company in charge of moving the statue.
Once the statue is moved, it will be renovated and wait for its new home to be built. The museum, which also will house King Tut's mummy and other treasures, is not expected to open for at least five years, officials said.
With crews already preparing the statue to be moved, some Egyptians said they thought Ramses was better off near the pyramids and away from the non-stop traffic and pollution.
"I don't think people will miss it here," said Muhammad Said, 26, a computer engineer. "I don't see tourists coming down here to see it. But if they move it to a better place, perhaps more people will value it."
Medical student Marco Gobran, 23, also said he didn't mind if they moved Ramses, especially if it aided with what he saw as one of Cairo's biggest dilemmas.
"Egypt has problems with traffic jams, and moving this will help," Gobran said. - Sapa-AP