“Tutankhamun Opera” will be a great surprise to world audiences,” says renowned Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass, “It is an attempt on my part to tell the story [of the boy King Tut] in an appealing way.”
Hawass told Daily News Egypt that this new opera recounts the conflict between Egypt and the Kushites who sought to conquer Egypt. In this opera, he imagines that when Tutankhamun was born, the Kushites wanted to take revenge on his father and kill the child. But their attempts failed and the child was able to conquer them and became king.
“Here I have shown that the Kushite people did not originate from Egypt, but came from South Sudan and ruled Egypt only during the XXV Pharaonic Dynasty. I wrote this opera in English, and it was translated into Italian. All the involved musicians, orchestra, and actors are from Italy, and we think of recruiting Egyptians in the cast,” he continued.
Hawass revealed that the costumes and decoration of the opera are still being prepared. The Egyptian government is thinking of performing this opera at Deir el-Bahari on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun.
“I wish it could be performed during the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), as Tutankhamun will be the icon of the museum,” he added.
The interview touched on the impact of last year’s archaeological event on the tourism movement in Egypt. We also addressed archaeological excavations, and Hawass’ new book and encyclopaedia. The interview also tackled some controversial topics including the Tutankhamun tour, and the retrieval of Nefertiti Bust from Berlin.
You have been synonymous with fame and stardom even before social media. What is the secret to this?
The secret lies in my fondness for antiquities. Let me explain that the word love is very simple compared to my fondness for antiquities.
I think what distinguishes me is my fondness for the antiquities that appears clearly while I talk about them, and this enters the people’s hearts locally and internationally. This fondness makes people love to hear me, either locally or internationally.
Earlier, when I say to someone I am an archaeologist, they used to laugh at me, but now the archaeologist has become more important and more famous than film stars, and the key secret is the fondness for my work.
Could we talk in-depth about your new book “Al Hares”?
The book focuses on different stages in my life; each part of my book traces in detail my life. How I was a lazy student and then turned into a lover of antiquities, and how this love changed my life. It also includes the archaeological discoveries that I made and the 22 museums that I started, but could not inaugurate all of them, including the crocodile’s museum in Kom Ombo or that of the Suez Canal.
The book also touched on retrieved antiquities, which was the most important project for me. I brought home more than 6000 artefacts. In addition, it mentions the important personalities I met throughout my life and the prizes I received.
Do you plan to turn the book into a film or TV series? If yes, who can play your character?
I did not think of turning the book into a film or a TV series, but why not, it is really full of events that would make an exciting work. However, I cannot think of anyone in particular to play my character.
Are you working now in any archaeological excavations?
I am currently leading excavations in Saqqara, next to the Pyramid of King Titi, where I discovered a new pyramid and temple for an unknown queen, called Nate. I also found a well containing more than 300 coffins from the New Kingdom, and there are numerous discoveries in Saqqara that will be announced soon.
Far from Saqqara, I am also leading excavations in the Valley of the Kings, especially in the tomb of King Ramses III, which is the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings, approximately 168 feet long and contains beautiful views.
Do you agree that Saqqara is no longer the cemetery of the Old Kingdom and that it had been inhabited in different ages?
Yes, this is true. Saqqara is a very rich and important site. Every inch in Saqqara includes incomparable treasures. Saqqara is known for its Great Pyramids and tombs from the Old Kingdom, especially those from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Dynasties; however, it also contains treasures that go back to the 1st Dynasty until the end of the Roman era.
How far are you from achieving your dream of discovering Nefertiti’s tomb?
I believe that Nefertiti is buried in the Western Valley of the Kings, where King Amenhotep III, and King Ay were buried. I believe that she reigned after the death of her husband, King Akhenaten, and she changed her name to Semenkare.
The new discovery in the Golden City was called “the rise of Aten”. It is the same name as the palace of King Amenhotep III in Malqata. Amenhotep III also called himself “the rise of Aten”. I deduced that Aten was Amenhotep III, father of Akhenaten.
You launched an initiative to retrieve the Bust of Nefertiti from its current residence in Berlin, but unfortunately you did not succeed, so will you try again?
Yes, I am currently preparing a complete document on this case, showing how this unique piece was illegally taken out of Egypt. This file will be signed by the intellectuals of the country, in addition to renowned personalities to show our right to recover the Bust of Nefertiti; then, we will also fight to retrieve the Rosetta Stone and the zodiac of the temple of Dendera.
You always say that archaeology is full of secrets, so what are the latest secrets that Egypt unveiled using modern technology?
Archaeology is full of secrets, and modern technology helps a lot. We made CT scans and DNA analyses for all the royal mummies. It reveals the story behind each of them. It helps us to discover new secrets about ancient kings and queens.
For example, it was discovered that Ramses V died of smallpox, and Seqenenrê Râa died from seven fatal blows to the face.
The year 2021 witnessed huge celebrations, topped by the Royal Mummies Parade and the reopening of Luxor’s Avenue of Sphinxes. How did these events impact the tourism sector?
Of course, these festivities had a very positive impact on tourism. The eyes of the world have turned to Egypt. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities took full advantage of these events to promote Egypt as a tourist destination.
How do you see the partial inauguration of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC)?
I would have preferred a complete inauguration of the museum, but due to lack of funding, the ministry was only able to inaugurate two main rooms. I hope that the rest will be opened in the coming months.
What do we have on this year’s agenda?
An international scientific conference will take place on 4 November in Luxor which will bring together scientists from all over the world to present papers on all the details of Tutankhamun on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Apart from the scientific side, we are thinking of organizing a celebration at Al-Deir Al-Bahari with a parade similar to that of the Rams road during which the opera Tutankhamun that I wrote will be played.
Egypt will also issue a coin and a postage stamp for Tutankhamun. Egypt is preparing for a huge celebration and the whole world is preparing films on this occasion, and I hope that the Egyptian TV will prepare and produce a film on this occasion.
In brief, 2022 will witness a remarkable celebration headed by GEM inauguration and the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
How do you see the GEM?
The GEM will be the largest and most important museum in the world. It represents a message to the world that we are protecting our antiquities.
It is a huge cultural institution that includes two large halls of Tutankhamun and three other huge halls, a museum of Khufu boats, museums for children, and a cinema.
The whole area surrounding the museum is witnessing significant development. With the opening of the Sphinx Airport, tourists will be able to visit the GEM and the Museum of Civilization at the same time.
People have some concerns that the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir will be negatively affected by the inauguration of GEM and NMEC. What do you think of such concerns?
This will never happen. The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir is well-known around the world for its ancient building, showcases, and varied collection which tells the story of Egyptian art from Ancient Egypt to the Roman era. It will remain the main destination for tourists, as it will contain treasures not less important than the transferred collections, such as the splendid collections of Tanis, Yoya and Toya, and others.
Is it possible to transfer the mummy of the boy king from his tomb in Luxor to display it at the GEM?
This matter is being discussed at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, but they have not decided on it. But I support the idea because it will be safer for the mummy.
What are the latest updates on your planned encyclopaedia of the Pyramids?
I have completed the entire encyclopaedia of the Pyramids. It consists of eight parts, of which four parts have been published by Nahdit Misr, and the other four will be published also by Nadit Misr later. A huge celebration will be held for this encyclopaedia, because it is the first one in Arabic language about the Pyramids.
I collected all the studies, excavations, and research done in the region of the Pyramids, bearing in mind that the newest reference for students on the Pyramids was written by Ahmad Fakhriqui in 1963.
Could you tell us more about the Zahi Hawass Center for Egyptology and its goals?
It is a centre affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It aims to increase the awareness of the Egyptians about archaeology.
Through this centre, I visit the different universities in Egypt, rotary clubs, and schools, to talk about the greatness of Egypt, to increase their archaeological awareness and even teach Hieroglyphics. Also through this centre, I have lead digs at Saqqara and in the Valley of the Kings.
You were the first Egyptian to receive the Emmy Award from Hollywood in 2006, how did you see this prize?
I participated in a film with the American director David Jackson about the tunnel that I discovered in the tomb of King Seti, which is located 173.5 meters underground.
The discovery was like an adventure, and then I was surprised that I won the Emmy Award for Best Actor. I was the only one from outside the film community to receive this award.