In his 40-something years as an archaeological excavator on Luxor’s West Bank, Mustafa Al-Nubi has witnessed a flurry of changes.
Tourist numbers have surged, fallen, and then slowly grown again. Local villages have exploded in size. Even the landscape has undergone a radical transformation, as Egyptologists slowly pick their way through the vast Theban Necropolis. “It’s like one big museum now,” Nubi says. “My grandfather would not recognize his own house.”
Yet none of this, he insists, compares to the unusual weather that’s gripped southern Egypt in recent years. Where once he could work much of the dig season – usually from October to April – without breaking a sweat, now his traditional galabeya robe is often stained dark by 10am. Winter can be chilly one day, and stifling the next. Amid periodic downpours at unusual times of the year, Nubi and his colleagues have almost got used to dashing for cover. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “But it was not like this before.”
The millennia-old treasures tell a similar tale. For much of history, conditions around Luxor were almost calculated to preserve its trove of pharaonic riches. With little rain, low humidity, and piles of swirling desert sand that cocooned the ancient temples in a protective bubble, there were few climatic concerns. And with a comparatively small local population, here on a previously isolated stretch of the Nile, there was little reason to suspect that the likes of the Ramesseum might go the way of their crumbling counterparts in densely populated northern Egypt. The pharaohs called their massive mortuary temples the temples of a million years; they were meant to last forever.
All that, however, is slowly beginning to change. Increasingly erratic weather that many largely attribute to climate change is eating away at the ancient stones. At the same time, booming population growth is complicating preservation efforts. After surviving thousands of years of war, invasion, and cannibalization for building materials, the splendours of ancient Egypt might have finally met their match. “We have a fear,” said Mostafa Ghaddafi Abdel Rehim, a senior antiquities official in Luxor. “Like all the world, we have a fear of climate change.”
It starts with the temperature. The temple-heavy expanses of Egypt have always been sizzling during the summer, but it was never this hot – or for this long, both locals and archaeologists say. Some excavation days have had to be cut short, as overheating workers wilt in the exposed digging trenches. In other instances, changing conditions have even forced archaeologists to alter the way in which they document the hieroglyph-dotted walls. “We used to make blueprints using natural sunlight, but starting about 20 years ago, we found it harder and harder to burn the image onto the paper,” said Ray Johnson, director of the University of Chicago’s Epigraphic Survey, which has been working at Madinat Habu temple for almost 100 years. “It was then that we realized that it was getting hazier and hazier.” At Karnak, the gargantuan New and Middle Kingdom complex that dominates the northern approach to Luxor, blindingly bright sunshine has already robbed most of the walls of their color, leaving tourists to crane their necks up at the sheltered ceilings.
Even more worryingly, soaring summer highs also appear to be leaving their mark on the building blocks themselves. Around Aswan, several hours train ride south of Luxor, temperatures that sometimes rise well over 40 C are slowly cracking many of the rose granite structures. The granite expands in the daytime sun, and then contracts overnight in the cooler air. “It can look like a bag of wool. It gets rounder and rounder, and then eventually breaks away,” said Johanna Sigl of Cairo’s German Archaeological Institute. On her dig site at the bottom tip of Elephantine island, mid Nile, several inscriptions, including one in which a senior official records his duties collecting stone for his pharaoh, have more or less disappeared as a consequence.
The effects of climate change will only get more intense, experts say, possibly requiring some tricky decisions about the viability of maintaining vulnerable historic sites.
“In some instances these places are the foundations of a tourism industry that brings a lot of benefits to the local people,” said Mette Wilkie, Director of the Ecosystems Division at UN Environment. “But then you have a lot of buildings that are in the middle of nowhere, and here the situation is much more difficult.”
The greatest damage, however, is seemingly done during winter. Though still rare, increasingly frequent downpours are savaging ancient mud brick buildings, most of which have only lasted so long because of limited rain. “Every year, we notice this is more of a problem,” said Christian Leblanc, head of the French Archaeological Mission at West Thebes, who’s directed conservation efforts at the Ramesseum for over 25 years. “Of course it degrades the stone.” Particularly vulnerable are the temple’s half dozen arched mud brick granaries, some of the largest remaining structures of their kind, which are periodically layered with new mud bricks to shield the originals from the elements.
In 1994, a monster storm illustrated the devastation rain can wreak. Hundreds of tombs, including many in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, were swamped, the Temple of Seti I morphed into a lake, and hundreds of traditional mud brick houses collapsed. At Deir al-Bakhit, an early Christian monastery, the rain fell so furiously that it punched drop-shaped imprints into the mud brick. Wary of a repeat and fed up with frequent water-related repairs, most locals have since rebuilt in concrete.
And then there’s the direct environmental impact of human activity. Until the late 1960s, the Nile burst its banks every August, inundating the valley for miles on either side. These were the conditions that the ancient architects knew, and they factored them into their designs accordingly. But after the completion of the Aswan High Dam, the annual flood ended, and with it came a glut of new problems for the temples. Without the regular “cleanse”, there’s no longer anything to clear the salt from the topsoil.
“It eats away at the stone like an acid,” Ray Johnson said. And with more humidity, in large part because of the enormous quantities of water evaporating off the dam’s reservoir, there’s more crystallization, as the salt particles in the temples’ sandstone blocks expand. “So the lower walls of almost all temples are missing and filled instead with a kind of breathable mortar,” Johnson added. From the toes of the Colossi of Memnon, the 700-ton statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, to the periphery of Karnak’s Sacred Lake, faint white saline traces betray the danger at hand.
Population growth, too, has levied a heavy toll. More people means more agriculture, and so instead of the fields around the temples lying dry and fallow for part of the year as they once did, they’re now under constant cultivation. It’s raised the water table throughout the East and West Banks (hydrologists suspect that the dam has also played a part), and swamped the foundations with far more water than they were designed to handle.
“Just look, there are people and water everywhere,” Christian Leblanc said. Many of the central pylons of Luxor Temple, the most centrally located of the great sites, have had to be patched up with cement after the fast-expanding city’s sewage percolated upwards. As Egypt’s numbers surge, already leaping from about 66 million in 2000 to over 95 million now, the pharaonic treasures are having to share their space with ever more houses and sugar cane crops.
“This is a phenomenon across the world, and there will be some areas where we will simply have to give up using land for our livelihood,” Mette Wilkie said. UN Environment is working to tackle climate change and environmental degradation by helping countries embrace low-emissions growth; supporting the sustainable management of forests and other ecosystems; and finding innovative new ways to fund climate action. UN Environment also helps countries adapt to the changing climate, and build their resilience to future challenges.
In Egypt, there is some cause for optimism. In fact, officials have more or less resolved the groundwater issue for the time being. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ministry of Antiquities has installed an extensive drainage network around the key sites, which has seemingly lowered their water levels by up to four meters.
“It has been a big success. The problem is fixed,” said Mohammed Abdelaziz, the ministry’s top official in Upper Egypt. Authorities have ringed many of the antiquities’ zones with walls to prevent further urban or agricultural encroachment, and established four field schools in the Luxor area to teach inspectors how to better treat the treasures and identify potential threats. All this coming at a time of new technological innovations has made some archaeologists quite bullish about the temples’ long-term prospects.
Just to be on the safe side, though, others have stepped up their documentation efforts. If worse comes to the worst, at least we’ll have a record of what’s been lost. “There is more urgency now,” Ray Johnson said. “That’s why we go first to what’s most threatened.”
UNESCO supports removal of Ugandan tombs from endangered list
The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Riyadh until September 25, has decided to remove the site of the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda in Kasubi, Uganda, from the List of World Heritage in Danger following the successful restoration work carried out by Uganda with UNESCO support, the organization said in a press release.
In 2010, a fierce fire devastated the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda at Kasubi, which are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The site was subsequently inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, allowing for the development of an ambitious reconstruction program. The plan was led by the Ugandan authorities and implemented in close cooperation with UNESCO and with the financial support of the international community.
This reconstruction program was completed in the summer of 2023, enabling the site to reach the desired state of conservation. On Tuesday, the Member States of the World Heritage Committee confirmed that the reconstruction had been successfully implemented by taking the decision to remove the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda at Kasubi from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
At the same time, the UNESCO Committee refused to include the “Volcanoes of Kamchatka” in the list of endangered cultural heritage. This is reported by the press service of the deputy chairman of the Russian government.
Thus, most committee members, including Ethiopia, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mali, South Africa, Oman, Rwanda, Qatar, and Zambia, noted Russia’s efforts to improve the protection status of the Kamchatka Volcanoes site.
The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 1,157 sites in 167 countries.
The purpose of the List of World Heritage in Danger is to raise awareness of the threats to the outstanding universal value of a property inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to mobilize all stakeholders to take action to save it. Inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger prompts the development of a dedicated action plan and opens the door to international financial aid.
Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever
“The Town of Greenwich is honored to partner with C. Parker Gallery on its 10th anniversary,” says Fred Camillo, the First Selectman of Greenwich, Connecticut. “The arts play a pivotal role in our community, and this new exhibition features spectacular artists who harness the power of art to raise awareness about our environment.” The exhibition is titled Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever and the month-long series of events kick off on September 7th in honor of the United Nations’ 4th annual International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies ‒ https://www.unep.org/events/un-day/international-day-clean-air-blue-skies-2023.
The Gallery will also support environmental awareness activities throughout the next four weeks, until the show’s closing date of October 8th. Tiffany Benincasa, the owner/curator of the Gallery, selected artworks that showcase the majesty of our heavenly horizons by six major artists: Rick Garcia (rickgarcia.com), Kay Griffith (kaygriffithart.com), Lisa Cuscuna (lisacuscuna.com), Hamilton Aguiar (hamiltonaguiar.com), Felicity Kostakis (felicitykostakis.com), and Stephanie Paige (stephaniepaigestudio.com).
Opening Reception Sept. 7th – featuring a special appearance by Jamil Ahmad, United Nations Environment Programme – unep.org
The Gallery will present an Opening Reception on Thursday, September 7th at 6:30 p.m. featuring a special appearance by Jamil Ahmad, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs of the United Nations Environment Programme – https://www.unep.org/people/jamil-ahmad. Space is limited, RSVP is required in advance to email@example.com. The Gallery is ideally located at 409 Greenwich Avenue, in Greenwich, Connecticut (just a 45-minute train ride from New York City).
“We are thrilled to kick off C. Parker Gallery’s 10th anniversary season with this powerful new exhibition Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever, featuring six of our Gallery’s leading artists who share our passion for nature’s beauty,” says Tiffany Benincasa, the owner of C. Parker Gallery. “We live in this beautiful part of the world, and our summer started with some of the worst air-quality days in history due to the wildfires, bringing this issue to the forefront. We are giving back to the community by joining forces with the United Nations’ International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, and we invite everyone in the Tri-State region to help make a difference alongside these environmental artists. They remind us of the need to safeguard our skies and foster a healthier planet.” A portion of the exhibition sales proceeds will be donated to Greenwich Green and Clean and the Greenwich Youth Conservation Program, in honor of the Gallery’s 10th anniversary. During his remarks at the exhibition’s Opening Reception, the U.N.’s Jamil Ahmad will speak alongside regional leaders from: Connecticut Working Together for Clean Air, the Greenwich Conservation Commission; the Greenwich Sustainability Committee; the Greenwich Tree Conservancy; the Greenwich Land Trust, and Greenwich Green & Clean.
“I selected these six artists because their work represents the highest ideals of character, compassion and environmental consciousness,” says Tiffany Benincasa. The artist Rick Garcia’s work ignites a sense of purpose and invites viewers to join hands in safeguarding the skies above us. His art captures the essence of optimism, transcending the confines of space and time ‒ exploring the boundless grandeur that the horizon holds. Garcia’s art was commissioned by the United Nations Postal Administration. His stamps brought awareness to the growing extinction of the rainforest and its inhabitants and the vanishing supply of freshwater, earning him the prestigious award of “Most Beautiful Stamp Series of 2003.” As a past official artist to The Grammy Awards, his creations influenced the look of the live broadcast and graced the covers of the official program book, posters, and apparel. His work for The Grammys included portraits of Destiny’s Child, Ricky Martin, Coldplay, Santana, Celia Cruz, the Black Eyed Peas, and Imogen Heap. Garcia created a new work for this exhibition in Greenwich at C. Parker Gallery, titled Tree of Anila.
Benincasa chose Kay Griffith for this exhibition because: “Her artworks dance with life, capturing the movement of air and the ever-changing hues of the sky.” Griffith’s work was selected this year for the London Art Biennale. She embraces the color blue with unwavering dedication. A color synonymous with both the heavens and the purity of air, blue becomes the primary vehicle for her expression, as she conveys the awe-inspiring expanse of our atmosphere. Her work has been described as complex, haunting, and exhilarating. “These artworks celebrate the expanse above us, from cerulean mornings to indigo evenings. Each canvas tells a story of hope, resilience, and the potential for change, reminding us of the optimism that comes with every new day,” says Benincasa. Lisa Cuscuna’s works are an invitation to escape into a realm where the sky knows no bounds. Her surrealism features ethereal clouds suspended in hypnotic skies, invoking a sense of wonder and serenity, portraying the sky with the hues of a thousand dreams. Cuscuna’s artworks capture nature’s essence, and remind us that the sky’s purity is a gift worth protecting. “This exhibition not only showcases the sheer beauty of our skies, but also serves as a call to action to support the United Nations Clean Air initiative. By leveraging our place of influence, we can encourage each individual to add their voice and collectively we can make a difference,” says Benincasa.
The work of Felicity Kostakis (a local Greenwich artist who hails from Australia) captures the essence of sunrises over tranquil scenes, where the sky’s reflection kisses the water’s surface. The gentle ripples in the water mirror the delicate balance that exists in nature. Her singular hues blend seamlessly into the sky. As the world grapples with the consequences of air pollution and climate change, these works by Kostakis invite us to reflect on the clarity and purity of the air we need. Her resin abstracts urge us to explore the layers and textures as we would examine the layers of our biosphere. Resin, a liquid medium that transforms into a solid, mirrors the transformation our environment is experiencing due to human impact. Originally from Brazil, the work of Hamilton Aguiar runs the gamut between seascapes, landscapes, florals, and abstracts to evoke the natural elements. The sights and limitless vistas, smells, and sounds of the coast serve as tangible points of inspiration. The landscapes in Aguiar’s painting became uniquely accentuated after the artist settled in Miami. The nature and climate of the Tropical ecosystems appear emphatically in his paintings. Stephanie Paige’s love for nature has inspired a mesmerizing series, masterfully created with thick, textured acrylic on canvas. Her depictions of the environment reflect her personal journey into connecting to the world through meditation and presence ‒ cultivating gratitude, and existing in the moment, with the peace and harmony of our relationship with nature. Compelling meditation circles and serene sunsets invite the viewer to appreciate our planetary splendor. “This gallery show reminds us that we share a collective responsibility to protect the skies above and the air we breathe,” says Benincasa. “We are excited to partner with the United Nations to support this initiative. International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies aligns with our gallery’s mission to lend our voices and support to important environmental issues that impact everyone around the world.”
Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever
Art Exhibition (Sept. 7 – Oct. 8) at the C. Parker Gallery
Kicks off the Gallery’s 10th anniversary season with
International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies
Chef Gary Mehigen: A worthy cultural Ambassador to the world
Chef Gary Mehigan is an esteemed Australian chef, renowned for his culinary expertise and engaging presence. With a wealth of experience, he gained widespread recognition as a co-host on the popular television series “MasterChef Australia.” His journey in the culinary world began in the United Kingdom, where he trained under Michelin-starred chefs. Gary’s passion for food extends beyond cooking; he is a devoted advocate for sustainable practices and authentic culinary experiences. His warm personality and genuine love for exploration have made him a beloved figure in the global food scene.
Chef Gary Mehigan serves as a cultural ambassador to the world through his culinary ventures. With his deep appreciation for diverse cuisines, he bridges cultures by showcasing how food embodies the essence of a nation’s heritage. As he explores global flavors and techniques, he not only celebrates the deliciousness of each dish but also promotes cross-cultural understanding. By delving into local ingredients, traditions, and cooking methods, Gary highlights the inseparable link between food and culture. His culinary explorations serve as a medium to connect people worldwide, fostering appreciation for the richness and diversity of global culinary traditions.
Tell us more about what you have been doing these past few months.
In recent months, I’ve prioritized a successful collaboration with Conosh, a federal company, conducting impactful online classes amid India’s lockdown. Notably, a Sardo cuisine class drew an unexpected engagement of around a thousand participants. This partnership has thrived since last September, featuring eleven dinners and evolving into master classes, with an exciting upcoming collaboration at Dubai’s Versace Hotel. Conosh operates as an order and delivery platform, educational hub, and special events platform, showcasing diverse culinary talents. Aligned with my Masterchef background, I’m committed to fostering culinary dreams and small-scale enterprises. Looking ahead, a Dubai dinner collaboration and National Geographic’s “India’s Mega Festivals” series filming in October await, solidifying my connection with India.
Why are you the right person to be featuring in India’s Mega Festivals” when you are Australian yourself?
The decision to feature an Australian chef heading up a series on India’s mega festivals might raise questions, yet there are specific reasons why I am the right fit for this role. When initially approached with this concept, I wondered why they would want an Australian for an Indian-focused series. However, having previously collaborated with the same producer, her insight shed light on the matter. She emphasized my genuine fascination with India, evident in my enthusiasm for its cuisine and travel experiences.
The producer believed that my unique perspective and fervor for India could create a compelling narrative. This series ventures beyond my culinary expertise, delving into travel and culture. As I immerse myself in each festival, it becomes evident that these celebrations are inseparable from their culinary traditions. From witnessing thousands praying at dawn to observing the making of local delicacies like Savion on Hyderabad’s streets, the connection between food and festivals is undeniable.
The producer appreciated the genuine interest I bring to the table, and I’m humbled by her remarks about the “sparkle in my eyes.” The journey of filming mega festivals has been transformative. While I’ve always found India captivating, this experience has deepened my appreciation for each auspicious occasion. Sitting amidst the crowd during rituals or festivities, I’ve encountered a diverse range of people—those attending for tradition, community, connection, or simply a sense of belonging. This human element resonates profoundly with me.
What has truly resonated throughout this journey is the human connection—the intricate layers of celebration, devotion, and the profound impact these festivals have on people’s lives. Despite being an Australian in an Indian context, my passion for discovery and connection has enabled me to bridge cultural gaps and celebrate the universal aspects of these experiences.
Have you also filmed in Mathura in India?
During my time spent filming in Mathura, India, over a span of ten to twelve days, I witnessed a profound and intricate connection that the locals share with the 40 days of holiness, dedicated to Radha and Krishna, their revered deities. What struck me was the authentic and palpable manner in which these figures are woven into the very fabric of their lives, akin to cherished family members. The devotion exhibited is not merely a superficial practice; it’s a constant presence in their daily existence. From morning conversations to continuous engagement throughout the day, this relationship is sustained every day of the year.
While Mathura’s vibrant atmosphere might appear to tourists as a colorful spectacle filled with exuberant celebrations, my experience delved much deeper. In conversations with one of the line producers, who had worked in Mumbai, I gained insights into the profound significance of Mathura’s devotion. He revealed that his return to Mathura was driven by the absence of this connection and devotion he had felt in Mumbai. This authentic relationship with the deities and the unbreakable connection with the rituals had led him back to Mathura, and he expressed his intention to remain connected. Such stories resonate deeply with me, evoking a powerful emotional response.
Indeed, these encounters in Mathura have left an indelible impression on me. The genuine devotion and intricate ties that individuals nurture with their spiritual beliefs transcend the surface level of festivities, stirring a profound sense of awe and reverence within me.
How can the food industry be more sustainable?
Well, that’s certainly a substantial question, one that resonates deeply with me. In my perspective, the path towards a more sustainable food industry involves collective efforts, even if they appear modest at first glance. The crucial starting point is fostering awareness regarding the origin of our food. When we select items at the market or supermarket, having an understanding of their source, cultivation methods, and seasonal availability is paramount.
For instance, I’ve observed that in Australia, despite the middle of winter, cherries from California are available in supermarkets due to the demand, challenging the concept of eating seasonally. Encouraging small changes is pivotal. Opting for free-range eggs or embracing the local bounty in accordance with each region’s seasonal produce are examples of such steps.
Looking at the bigger picture, we must acknowledge the repercussions of the global green revolution. While it initially averted widespread starvation, it led to an industrialized food system that demands revisiting. Our focus should shift towards rediscovering our historical dietary patterns that have sustained us for millennia with minimal environmental impact.
This shift is already manifesting through various avenues. Chefs in India are revitalizing forgotten indigenous foods, cultivating unique strains of crops like millets and championing sustainable practices. Social media and television wield significant influence in shaping perceptions, and major corporations are recognizing their role in steering consumer choices towards more sustainable options.
While the subject is expansive, it underscores our shared responsibility. Small changes can have far-reaching impacts if we collectively commit to them. Choosing products that adhere to sustainability standards and supporting companies that foster change are meaningful steps. I understand that shifts made by large corporations can reshape entire supply chains, even as chefs and individuals also contribute in their own ways.
In essence, the journey towards a sustainable food industry involves weaving together the threads of awareness, choice, and responsibility. As we ponder the foods we consume, we are not just making choices for the present, but also shaping the future for generations to come.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My journey into the culinary world was subtly guided by my grandfather, a retired chef. Observing his vibrant interactions within our community, I gradually grasped the profound impact of his people-centered approach to life. As I participated in his culinary endeavors, I recognized the immediate satisfaction of crafting flavors and sharing them with others. This realization, coupled with my inherent inclination to nurture, ignited a passion for cooking. The joy of giving and the delight of creating something delectable became my calling. From my grandfather’s legacy to my innate desire to connect through food, my path as a chef was forged.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Certainly, I’d like to emphasize my current state of contentment and fulfillment in my journey. These days, I find myself truly relishing the present moments and appreciating every facet of my experiences. My visits to India have been particularly transformative, aligning perfectly with my career and personal evolution. I’m at a juncture where I can fully immerse myself in the intricacies of interactions and connections, a luxury I treasure.
One poignant memory that encapsulates this phase occurred during the filming of mega festivals in Kolkata. I was perched atop a truck, surrounded by the essence of the goddess Durga’s procession—the rhythmic drum beats, the aroma of incense, and a sea of devoted souls. The profound connection I felt with the people and the culture was beyond words. Such instances highlight the depth of my relationship with India and its people.
This phase of life brings an immense sense of satisfaction, as I continue to explore new culinary landscapes and form meaningful connections. If you happen to see me on the streets, please feel free to say hello. Sharing moments with fellow enthusiasts who appreciate the wonders of travel and food is always a delight. The mutual joy that these experiences bring serves as a common thread that unites us all.
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