Since its founding more than fifty years ago, the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) has been dedicated to fostering deeper knowledge and understanding of the history, culture and civilization of Egypt, from prehisotric times through the present, and to strengthening the cultural and academic links between institutions and individuals in the United States and Egypt. To achieve its aims, ARCE supports conservation and historic preservation projects as well as academic and field research in archaeology, anthropology and sociology.

On this page, we offer four ARCE conservation projects that exemplify the organization's historic preservation and conservation accomplishments. Please click project titles below to learn more.


Quseir Fort

The conservation of Quseir Fort in 1997-1999 and the creation of the Visitors' Center was a collaborative project carried out in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities by the American Research Center in Egypt under a grant from the United States Agency for International Development.

Egypt's Gateway to the East
For thousands of years, the coasts of Egypt have acted as the interface between the Nile Valley and the outside world, with points of entry and exit, lines of defense and sources of raw materials and food.

During the Pharaonic period, ships like those depicted in Queen Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri, Luxor, put in at the natural harbors at the Wadi Gassus near Safaga laden with exotic East African produce from Punt. Under the Ptolemaic and Roman governments, Egypt was at the center of a network of routes connecting Europe through Alexandria to the red Sea, the Indian Ocean and beyond. Quseir el-Qadim, eight kilometers north of the modern town, was one of the crucial ports in the Roman commercial empire from the first century BC until about AD 300.

The city was then abandoned for nearly seven hundred years, but it was revived when trade with India and southeast Asia resumed in the Middle Ages. Imported goods found in excavations at Quseir el-Qadim included Chinese porcelain, silkworm cocoons, peppercorns, and mahogany timbers.

By the mid-sixteenth century, the Indian Ocean was controlled by the Portuguese. In 1540, Don Juan de Castro, a Portuguese swashbuckler later appointed governor of India, sailed up the Red Sea firing his cannon at every coastal town on the way, including Quseir. This, together with the silting up of the harbour, caused the end of Quseir El-Qadim. The new town, the present-day Quseir, became the main harbor linking Egypt with Arabia.

The Fort
Quseir Fort was founded in 1571. It is mentioned in a letter written at Quseir in 1589 and sent to Qasr Ibrim on the Nile in Nubia, where it was found. After Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517, they built forts and garrisoned them with troops along the Nile Valley, in the deserts, and on the coasts. An important reason was to defend the Red Sea against the Portuguese and to protect Muslim pilgrims who embarked at Quseir for the cities of Mecca and Medina. The Turkish garrison probably stayed until the early eighteenth century, by which time contemporary travelers record that the fort was falling down.

In 1799, during Napoleon's occupation of Egypt, French troops modernized and strengthened the fort. The impressive thickening of the outer walls to absorb cannon fire and the new artillery bastion around the south tower show the scale of this work, even though it was left unfinished.

Quseir saw action in defense of the French occupation when two British warships, HMS Fox and HMS Daedalus, bombarded the fort from the harbor. Failing to dislodge the defenders, they mounted an unsuccessful landing party and then retreated.

During the 1820s and 1830s, Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successor Ibrahim repaired the fort and used it as a staging post in their Arabian wars. After this, it remained in use by the Egyptian army and coast guard until the 1960s. Now the fort is open for tourists to visit, complete with signage, panels explaining the use of parts of the fort, a fishing boat exhibit and the opportunity to climb up the ramparts.

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The Cairo Mapping Project

The Cairo Mapping Project has produced a large-scale map of the 5.8 square kilometers area (more than 1,400 acres) that includes most of the historic monuments of the city. All listed historic buildings and more than a hundred unlisted ones are shown in ground plan. Descriptions of all the historic buildings shown on the map, and a list of bibliographical references for each one are included. The complete map was published in 2005. The map will result not only in lasting records of cultural heritage, but will also provide important research and planning tools for historians, architects and urban designers, among others.

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Egyptian Museum Database Development

One of ARCE’s most recent partnership initiatives with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) (formerly the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA)) is the creation and training of the first-ever registrar’s department at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Unlike many of the world’s premier museums, among which it can undoubtedly be counted, the Egyptian Museum has never had an official registrar’s department and has largely relied on decades-old methods of cataloguing and tracking its vast collection of artifacts. For two centuries, acquisitions were hand-written in giant ledger books known as the "Journal d’Entrée."

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as planning and implementation grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ARCE and the SCA embarked on a program to modernize and streamline the Egyptian Museum’s collection management procedures while also training its new registrars in standard museum practices, such as acquisition, cataloging, tracking object movement and location, condition reporting, object handling, inventory, preventive care, loans and appropriate documentation.  

The new Registration, Collections Management, and Documentation Department (RCMDD) of the Egyptian Museum, created and trained under the auspices of this project, now has nine permanent staff members operating a fully functioning collections management system.

The registrars, with the assistance of the ARCE staff, are now carrying out a full inventory of the museum’s objects, tracking object movements, handling much of the work of in-house exhibitions and outgoing loans and fielding requests for object information and reference images from museum and MSA staff as well as from scholars and students. After the break-ins at the museum during the revolution, the registrars and database played a crucial role in determining which items were missing.

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Sabil-Kutab Muhammad 'Ali

In a hot and arid land like Egypt, access to water is a basic need. Provision of water for travelers and neighbors alike is considered a gesture of hospitality, from the time of Ancient Egypt onward. Without central water piping in Cairo before 1900, wealthy men and women endowed neighborhood water taps known as sabils. These varied in architectural magnificence with the wealth of the donor and often provided an upstairs room for a very basic school as well.

This sabil was established in 1820 by Muhammad 'Ali Pasha in commemoration of his son Tusun. The bow-fronted building is lavishly decorated in marble, wood and gilded bronze. It is covered by a wooden dome decorated with paintings inside. Its style is an example of transition from traditional Ottoman achritecture of Cairo to the buildings of Muhammad 'Ali's period, which is based more directly on the imperial style of Istanbul. The development of the attached school building reflected the transition from a traditional Quranic elementary school, or kuttab, to a modern school.

The ARCE preservation project started in September 1998. After structural and conservation work in the monument had been completed, the building was adapted for housing a permanent educational and interpretative exhibition. The installation of the exhibit was completed in June 2004; the monument is now open to the public.

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Bab Zuwayla

This important historic structure is the monumental southern fortified gateway of the Fatimid city of Cairo. It was constructed in 1087-92 of ashlar masonry. In 1415-20, Sultan Mu'ayyad Shaykh built the adjacent mosque to the west and added tall minarets to the two rounded towers of Bab Zuwayla.

After an extensive preparatory and documentation phase in 1995-97, on-site work started in May 1998. The conservation of the wooden gates, towers and minarets was finished in April 2002, and the monument opened to the public in September 2003, complete with a self-guided exhibit.

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Karnak and Luxor Temple Conservation

The Karnak and Luxor temple complexes on the East Bank of the Nile at Luxor are, without a doubt, iconic symbols of ancient Egypt. Yet, rising ground water has, until recently, been slowly destroying these sites. In 2006, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) funded a groundwater lowering project at the two temple complexes. Now, with a new multi-million dollar USAID grant add-on to the Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Program (EAC), ARCE has begun an essential monitoring and conservation project at the two temple complexes.

Begun in April 2007, the project calls for the monitoring of the east bank temples’ structural integrity as the water recedes from the foundations, the active conservation of damaged blocks, the construction of a conservation laboratory for the use of conservation staff of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), a training program for Egyptian conservators who will be maintaining the sites into the future, investigation and intervention at the Sacred Lake of the Karnak Temple and the Sacred Lake of the Temple of Mut at Karnak, and cleaning the remaining painted relief sculpture of Ramesses IV in the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak. All work within the Karnak Temple enclosure walls is being conducted in concert with the SCA, the Franco-Egyptian Center, Chicago House of the University of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, and the Johns Hopkins University.

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Monastery of St. Anthony, Monastic Cell Conservation

In 2004, renovations at this working monastery on the Red Sea coast unearthed remains of an earlier church and monastic cells beneath a 14th-century church floor. Archaeological recording and conservation work was subsequently carried out, and in 2008 a glass floor was installed over the conserved remains and interior lighting was fitted to create a display space below the floor of the present-day church. An information panel about the display, in English and Arabic, was created in early 2009.

The monastery is a popular destination for both foreign tourists and Egyptian pilgrims with an interest in the lives of the ancient monks who first populated the desert. This means of preservation and display is an innovative example of site management that enables both secular and religious visitors to see from above the early monastic remains preserved below. 

View 1:08min Quicktime video of Zahi Hawass touring Monastery of St. Anthony (29MB)

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New Book Chronicles Decade of Conservation Work in Egypt

In 1992, a serious earthquake damaged many historic buildings around Egypt. In response, the United States Agency for International Development, upon the authority of the U.S. Congress, provided funding for a first-of-its-kind program of historic preservation and conservation to address the needs of the damaged antiquities. The American Research Center in Egypt was chosen to administer the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) and began work on the first projects in 1995.

Over the next ten years ARCE, with support from the American people through USAID, and in collaboration with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, oversaw more than 50 projects that helped to preserve Egypt’s rich and world-renowned legacy of cultural heritage. Both Egyptian and foreign experts worked side by side on projects ranging from pre-history to the Ottoman period.

The achievement of these partnerships is detailed in a new book, "Preserving Egypt's Cultural Heritage: Conservation Work by the American Research Center in Egypt 1995-2005," edited by Randi Danforth. The Hon. Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Egypt, hosted a reception at the Ambassador’s residence in Cairo on February 10, 2010 celebrating the book’s release.

"The U.S. Embassy in Egypt is very happy to share in the celebration of the publication of a wonderful book marking ten years of work undertaken by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Supreme Council of Antiquities," the Ambassador said in her remarks. "As both partners and neighbors, the U.S. Embassy and ARCE have worked together to foster a strong relationship and exchange of knowledge between the United States and Egypt."

Through stunning photography and detailed essays, Preserving Egypt’s Cultural Heritage records the important first decade of the on-going collaboration between USAID, the SCA, and ARCE to preserve Egypt’s historic monuments and to provide training for Egyptian antiquities personnel.

About the Book

Featured projects include work on prehistoric sites in the Sinai; conserving an early dynastic funerary enclosure—one of the oldest structures in the world; conserving the shattered sarcophagus of Ramesses VI; cleaning exquisite Greco-Roman mosaics in Alexandria; cleaning and conserving brilliantly colorful Coptic wall paintings in the world’s earliest Christian monasteries; conserving splendid Islamic buildings in Historic Cairo; and the training of a new generation of Egyptian archaeologists.

The book documents these important projects with in-depth histories and over 225 full color images. It is distributed by The American University in Cairo Press and can be ordered from Amazon here.

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