Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Debod: The pharaonic temple in Madrid

Ahram Online (Mohammed Elrazzaz)

With two photos.

In the Parque del Oeste in Madrid tourists can visit the Temple of Debod, which originally stood on land that was flooded after the building of the Aswan High Dam

It’s a sunny day in Madrid. In the Parque del Oeste (Western Park), a couple of teachers herd a group of excited young school kids dressed as Pharaohs into the long queue to enter Debod, one of three Pharaonic temples in Europe.

A visit to this ancient Egyptian site, reassembled in a European city, raises questions about whether  sacredness is site-specific. Is it lost when the geo-cultural context is altered?

The temple of Debod may provide an answer. The setting is a perfect one from an aesthetic viewpoint: the temple dominates a beautiful park, surrounded by an artificial pond, in an attempt to recreate the original context.

A closer look reveals that it is not that perfect from a conservation perspective, because – unlike other Pharaonic temples outside Egypt - Debod is set in the open, subject to Madrid’s polluted air and extreme weather conditions.

Why Madrid then? What brought the temple to Spain in the first place? The answer takes us back to the Egypt of the 1960s, and to the epic UNESCO campaign to save the monuments of Nubia from being lost forever.

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