Nubiana

PART II 170 fissured Abu Simbel sandstone, and find a way to consolidate it. Otherwise, in a kind of giant conjuring trick, the contact with water would cause the colossus and other marvelous relics of the glories of the pharaoh to vanish in a great cloud of sandy sediment. The commission of Egypt and UNESCO were particularly interested by two projects which seemed more technically sound than the others. A seemingly simple proposal was made by France: to erect a sand and rock barrier to protect the monument but the idea was soon discarded. It would have been impossible to make the barrier absolutely impermeable and it would have permanently damaged the environment in which the temples were situated. The most intriguing idea, put forward by the Italian company Italconsult, was to raise the temples by cutting the rocky hill against which they abutted into blocks, and then building concrete caissons around them. To do so the company proposed using a series of devices, including a battery of hydraulic jacks – 440 for the Great Temple and 94 for the Small Temple – operated simultaneously beneath a pre-stressed concrete platform. It was a truly unprecedented challenge: the Great Temple weighed 265,000 tonnes while the Small Temple weighed 55,000. As we have seen, lifting such huge friable stone blocks would have required exceptional skill and precision. And the sand in the hourglass had already started flowing inexorably: in 7 or 8 years at most the waters of the Nile, which were already rising rapidly, would be 64 meters higher. Another critical factor that eventually led to the rejection of this proposal was its extrav- agant cost. Although it envisaged the adoption of a hydraulic system, the removal and raising of the temples, including the work on the barrier, would have cost no less than $90 million. Unfortunately, the financial resources mustered by UNESCO came nowhere near that sum. In the end, Egypt and UNESCO opted for another project, presented by a European consortium, which involved segmenting the temples and sculptures into blocks of different sizes, up to a maximumweight of 30 tons each, and thenmoving them65meters higher up and setting them 180me- ters further back, above the water, on an artificial hill coveredwith the original rosy stone, thus recreating the natural landscape. In this way the two temples would be situated on a gorge that closely resembled the one that would soon be swallowed up by the waters and would retain their orientation to the sun. The commission initially discarded this scheme. They considered it to be feasible, but it required great care, meticulous attention to detail and extraordinary expertise. However, given the difficulties of implementing the other plans, the commission talked about the idea and eventually approved it. The work was entrusted to a consortium formed by the Italian company Impregilo, now known as Salini Impregilo, the Egyptian company Atlas (both 20%), Hochtief, a company based in Essen and Sentab-Skanska, a Stockholm-based firm (both 24%) and the French Grands Travaux de Marseille (12%). The Italian company was entrusted with some of the most delicate and complex operations, including the dismantling of the temples cut into more than a thousand blocks and their faithful reconstruction, in addition to the construction of the artificial hill. A newsletter issued by the Italian group in 1963 relates: “The exceptional technical nature of the work is accompanied by an exceptional form of executive collaboration, which will involve us, together with German and Swedish companies at the highest level, in a new form of international collaboration. The experience is bound to leave indelible traces on our management at a technical and organizational level.” A budget of $36 million was earmarked for this bold initiative. Egypt would cover a third of the total cost, the Americans offered to provide the same amount and the 113 coun- tries mobilized by UNESCO would supply the remaining third. Private donations would cover any shortfall.

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