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Egyptian schoolgirls on a daytrip draw the pyramid of Mycerinus, one of the sites restored and now opened to the public as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the pyramids plateau

Enhancing tour allure

Egypt opens previously-sealed tombs, pyramids

March 4, 1998
Web posted at: 2:48 p.m. EDT (1448 GMT)

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN ) -- In the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the man-lion Sphinx, Egypt opened previously-sealed pharaonic tombs and pyramids from the fourth and fifth dynasties Tuesday, boosting the tourism appeal of the Giza plateau.

Officials also reopened the pyramid of Mycerinus, the smallest of the three Great Pyramids on the plateau, after a year's closure for restoration.

Ten tombs, including those of Mycerinus' son and Debhen, the cleaner of Mycerinus' toilet, and three pyramids -- housing the tombs of Cheops' mother and two of his wives -- were shown to the public for the first time.

"We have tombs with unique architectural style and very important scenes of daily life," said Zahi Hawas, director of the Giza plateau. "We've also opened a lot of kings' pyramids, but today we are opening those of queens. Queens have mystery."

Workmen labored for months in the pyramid of Mycerinus, cleaning graffiti off walls, reinforcing the walls and installing new ventilation and lighting systems. Gaballah Ali Gaballah, head of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, said the efforts were part of an overall refurbishing of the plateau.

"It is a complete clean-up," he said.

Later this month, said Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, the famous Sphinx -- closed for 10 years for restoration -- will be reopened.

"This is all part of the grand opening of the plateau, " he said. "We plan to clear away all stray rocks and sand and open all tombs by the turn of the century."

"Don't be surprised," Gaballah said, "if we announce openings of new tombs every three months or so."

A guard walks through the entrance of the tomb of Yunmin. Yunmin, the eldest son of King Mycerinus, a vizier and a judge, died 4,470 years ago

Attacks puncture tourist balloon

The new openings, Gaballah said, were not a ploy to lure tourists back to Egypt, which saw its lucrative position as a top tourist draw shattered late last year by terrorist attacks.

"This is part of our routine work," he said. "But if something good comes out of it for tourism, we're not going to say no."

Sixty-nine people, mostly tourists, were killed on November 17 during an attack by Islamic militants at the popular Temple of Hatshepsut near the southern city of Luxor. In September, ten people were killed in an attack in front of the Cairo Museum. Tourism plummeted after the attacks, but Egyptian officials said the numbers are beginning a slow rise.

"We are still living a crisis, we have not overcome it," said Tourism Minister Mamdouh el-Beltagui, "... but things are improving."

Gaballah said he hoped the new tombs would "bail us out," while Giza's Hawas said he wanted tourists to know that Egypt is safe.

"I'm telling them that we've upgraded security, for the first time in a good way," he said. "The sites are protected. The measurements of security are wonderful, and I tell the people: 'Come and you'll be completely safe.'"

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