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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2005 > Article Detail

MARGINALIA

The Near-Destruction of Giza

Jean-Daniel Stanley

Figure 1. In addition to being a self-taught engineer...Click to Enlarge Image

Few visitors to the Giza plateau are aware that the pyramids, Egypt's Old Kingdom treasures and testaments to early pharaonic history, were almost dismantled about 170 years ago. It is hard to imagine that these ancient structures, the most popular tourist sights in Egypt, were nearly sacrificed as part of the plan to modernize that country. Yet, shocking as the idea now seems, Egypt's absolute ruler at the time seriously envisioned and nearly executed the project. To understand what transpired, and to place this story in historic context, one must return to early 19th-century Egypt. In 1805, an Ottoman commander of Albanian descent seized power and, with his Ottoman mandate, became the viceroy of Egypt with the rank of pasha. Muhammad 'Ali Pasha controlled the country until his death in 1849, and the dynasty he founded held power for more than a century. Muhammad 'Ali's reign was particularly energetic and presaged the development of Egypt into a modern state. The many "wishes" he expressed during his 44 years at the helm were clearly understood as commands, and many pertained to large-scale public projects throughout the country.




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