Aid sought to restore old buildings EGYPY: COPING AFTER THE QUAKE

November 01, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

CAIRO -- The Sphinx is safe, but the younger antiques o Egypt -- the Islamic and Coptic buildings, a mere 5 centuries old -- took a battering in the Oct. 12 earthquake.

Experts see international help as the main hope for the restoration of the grand old mosques and gracious buildings. Egypt sees an opportunity to rescue monuments already suffering from neglect long before the quake.

"I think we may need $1 billion," said Egypt's chairman of antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim Bakr.

The problem may be in rousing public interest. The structures built by sultans and caliphs would be beloved treasures LTC elsewhere. But here they are overlooked by tourists as dusty places on the way to the pyramids.

Egypt, too, has been at fault. Burgeoning Cairo has smothered many mosques. Truck traffic shakes the brittle old walls. Buildings are infested with tiny shops and niches where people live. A leaky water system has made foundations soggy and weak.

So the 4,500-year old monuments of the pharaohs survived with a few loosened stones. But 188 Islam, Christian and Jewish buildings sagged and cracked in the quake. Workmen swarm over them, pounding metal braces under ornate archways and slapping white plaster like band-aids on old walls.

"There is now an awareness of the fragility of these monuments," said Dr. Kent Weeks, a professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo. "Everybody is concerned they will be lost forever."

Mark Easton, director of the American Research Center in Cairo, acknowledges "a lot of cracks were caused by water damage, pollution, whatever, and were only widened by the earthquake.

"But I think we're getting a little too precious if we try to attribute how each crack got there," he said. "These are absolutely fabulous monuments, and I think the international community must restore them."

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