A visionary idea, a new frontier
Progress runs in a straight line: slowing it down is difficult and changing its course is virtually impossible.
Yet, at times, human ingenuity and modern technology can alter its course and prevent its precious and unstoppable advance from canceling the traces of a glorious past. This was the miracle that was achieved during the early 1960s in the Nile valley, the cradle of civilization, the natural basin around which Egyptians and Romans, Copts and Muslims had built villages and opened up new trade routes. This immense heritage risked being flooded by the Nile after the Egyptian government started building a great dam to bring about a significant increase in the country’s energy production and accelerate growth and development.
The dam held out the promise of bringing progress and improvements to millions of lives. But it came up against thousands of years of history, threatening to destroy the two temples of Ramesses II which stood near Abu Simbel.
When, at the request of the Egyptian government, UNESCO launched an appeal to rescue the temples, it immediately became clear that the companies bidding for the contract would not only have to put their engineering know-how at the disposal of the project, but would also have to meet the challenge of tackling progress itself and its laws. The decision to join the small team of firms invited to carry out the project was a challenge for Impregilo, now Salini Impregilo, and all the engineers and technicians who had worked with us on major infrastructure projects around the world.
Dismantling two temples, reassembling them elsewhere and perfectly reconstructing the landforms around them was a visionary idea and represented a new frontier for our sector.
It would have to achieve unprecedented levels of excellence to prevent this heritage from being damaged or even lost forever. It was a unique opportunity to gauge the levels that the industry had reached. And it was also a chance to experiment with a form of international collaboration that was unusual for the time, bringing together the cutting edge skills and experience available on the global market for major public works.
Saving the two temples of Ramesses II was a victory for everyone involved: the Egyptian government, which built a dam of strategic importance for its development without jeopardizing its artistic heritage; UNESCO, which showed the world the importance of protecting and preserving the past for present and future generations; and key global players, who added an unforgettable chapter to the history of the infrastructure sector through peerless teamwork.
Today, 50 years after this achievement, Salini Impregilo is still proud to have written a few pages of that story. It remembers with admiration all those people who, with their unique abilities and skills, achieved this remarkable feat.
Today we can admire how human intervention succeeded – an unusual occurrence – in rerouting progress without slowing it down, simply by changing its course to avoid losing a piece of human history forever.
Chief Executive Officer of Webuild (Previously Salini Impregilo)