LUXOR, Egypt, Nov 6, (AP): Egypt opened three tombs in the ancient city of Luxor to the public for the first time on Thursday, hoping to spur interest in tourism despite the shadow of last weekend’s airline crash in the Sinai Peninsula.
The most significant tomb was that of Huy, Viceroy of Kush under the famed King Tutankhamun. Inside the tomb, wall paintings depict a great festival with southerners from Nubia paying tribute, confirming Egypt’s domination and the authority of local rulers.
“The tomb also shows Huy receiving the seal of his office, and other unparalleled details regarding the administration of Egypt’s most important foreign holdings,” said John Darnell of Yale University. “In many ways the tomb of Huy gives us one of the most detailed and colorful glimpses into the interactions of Egyptians and Nubians during the high noon of imperial Egypt.”
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty said the newly opened tombs, in the Qurnat Marey area of Luxor, are among the most important ones built for nobles of the New Kingdom period, which ended over 3,000 years ago. The opening, planned before the airline disaster, is part of government plans to highlight new archaeological sites to encourage tourism.
The cause of Saturday’s crash of a Metrojet flight packed with Russian vacationers returning home from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is under investigation, but the Islamic State extremist group has claimed responsibility and British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “more likely than not” that a bomb brought down the flight. All 224 on board were killed.
Cameron has grounded all British flights to and from Sinai, stranding thousands of tourists, citing “intelligence and information.” Germany’s Lufthansa Group said later Thursday it was also suspending flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
“It is very sad what happened, but we have to wait or the result of the investigation,” Eldamaty said before descending into Huy’s tomb. “It was not a terror act, it was an accident,” he said, voicing the official narrative that many Egyptians in tourism-dependent areas have come to espouse with a sometimes desperate hopefulness.
Most of the tombs in Luxor are secured against unauthorized entry, but the ministry keeps several open at any given time, rotating access regularly to give them a rest from humidity and visitors.
The two other tombs opened Thursday are known as Tomb TT 277 of Amunemonet, a priest in the funerary temple of Amenhotep III, and Tomb TT 278 of Amunemhab, who was the keeper of the cattle belonging to the temple of the god Amun Re.
Tourism, a key foreign currency earner for Egypt’s economy, is making a gradual recovery after years of political upheaval, but the future would be grim if it’s proven that an Islamic State bomb indeed brought down the Russian passenger plane. In a northern corner of Sinai, the army is already fighting Islamic militants who in recent months claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, but such a revelation would undermine government claims that the insurgency is under control and Egypt is safe for tourists.
The sector was looking to re-launch itself on the world stage this week with a multimillion dollar promotional campaign highlighting the country’s history and all-year sun-worshipping opportunities, primarily in and around Sharm el-Sheikh.
At the World Travel Market at London’s Excel Exhibition Centre, Egypt’s Pharaoh boat-shaped pavilion was one of the biggest and certainly one of the most eye-catching.
Morsi Shehata, general manager of Cairo-based Spring Tours Egypt, which organizes beach vacations in Sharm el-Sheikh and has 12 Nile cruise boats, said the British government’s decision will undoubtedly cause a “negative impact” on his business.
“All this has actually caused a panic among the tourists,” he said at the tourism fair, where he had been hoping for a fresh start following the years of tumult since longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a 2011 popular uprising.
“Of course there are some worries now,” said Shehata, whose company has put up about 65 of its British clients in a hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh as they await news on how they can return home.
Back in Luxor, authorities pushed on with a new exploration that has garnered much interest – the scanning of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, in hopes of discovering a new antechamber.
British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, in Luxor for the scanning on Thursday, speculates that the tomb could conceal two unexplored doorways, one of which perhaps leads to the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, fabled for her beauty and famous since her bust was discovered in 1912.
Eldamaty says infrared thermography will be used to scan the tomb overnight, with another scan at the end of the month and results released by the end of the year, although he doubts Reeves’ theory that Nefertiti’s tomb lies within.
“We will scan to find what is behind the burial chamber,” he said. “I agree with him that we will find something – but not Nefertiti, maybe another grand lady.”