1 August 2010
A conference on the “Role of the universities, NGOs, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and the media, in preserving Coptic antiquities during the period from 1976 to 2009” was recently held in Cairo. The conference was organised by the Italian Institute for antiquities and restoration in cooperation with Tanta University, which is the first university in Egypt to establish a department for Coptic antiquities (studies).
The conference included screening a documentary on the remarkable landmarks of Old Cairo—Islamic and Coptic.
Dr Haggagi Ibrahim, the conference supervisor, said, “Since Coptic literally means Egyptian, so I am a Coptic Muslim. This conference is the most recent of a series that started back in 1976 with one sponsored by Anba Selwanus, the Papal deputy for Old Cairo Churches and Fustat, and was attended by the pioneer archaeologist Abdul-Rahman Abdel-Tawwab.
“It is odd,” Dr Ibrahim added, “that only one Egyptian university—Tanta University—includes a department for Coptic antiquities, neither does the Supreme Council for Antiquities include such a department. It only includes a department for Islamic and Coptic antiquities; the name itself is an aberration since the Coptic historically preceded the Islamic.”
In the heart of the mountain
Dr Ibrahim Ghanim, deputy dean of Tanta University, talked about the Monastery of St Samaan (Simon) the Tanner in Muqattam Mountain east of Cairo. It is not, strictly speaking, a ‘monastery’, but a conglomerate of churches and services situated in the heart of the mountain and serving the local community of garbage collectors. Maged Fahmy Zaki, the vice manager of the Italian Institute reminded how the local community first started when, in 1969, Cairo governor moved the Cairo garbage collectors to Muqattam where they built makeshift tin houses to live in. In 1974 they built their church and, in 1976, Pope Shenouda III made a monetary contribution to the community. With financing from the World Bank in 1984 and infrastructure erected by the government, the tin houses were replaced with concrete buildings and the site became what it is today. As for the ‘monastery’, it now includes six rock-hewn churches and some 40 rock artistic reliefs sculpted in the limestone rocks of the mountain.
Tanta University was responsible for publishing and printing the various research papers presented at the conference. The conference recommended holding such conferences regularly to discuss Coptology, and recommended to establish a specialised department in Coptic archaeology affiliated to the Supreme Council for Antiquities to register and update Coptic antiquities.