Last night I watched a fascinating documentary about Tutankhamun’s tomb. The basic premise was that a tomb is exactly that, a place where the remains of the deceased rest for eternity, alone less the trappings of their life that went with them. It’s not supposed to be a place where tens of millions of people traipse through, running their hands across ancient sand stone in wonderment and exhaling damp air.
Since its rediscovery by Howard Carter in 1922, it has become one of the worlds major tourist attractions, with such heavy footfall that the tomb has degraded noticeably. A plan was launched by the Egyptian Ministry of Archaeology to build a false tomb, identical to the original, but better equipped to cope with an avalanche of tourists, their fingers and their breath. The faux tomb is now open and serves two purposes, preservation and cash raising. The way it now works is that a tourist has two options on arrival. 1: He pays a small amount and sees the replica or 2: He pays a lot and sees the original.
Although I understood totally the need to preserve the original tomb, I was at first outraged. Why would I go and see something false, a replica. Why would I waste my time and money to go and see something knowing it wasn’t real.
And then I remembered that I’d paid money and spent time going to see this:
Not a copy as such, but a restored section of The Great Wall as it would have been back in the days when it was first built. After more than two thousand years in the elements, plus a government edict in recent times saying basically “use the past to live in the present” (translated to mean if you want building materials for your house, feel free to go up to the Great Wall and take what you want) vast swathes of the Wall were simply too dangerous to allow people to walk it. Realising it remains a huge tourist attraction, the Chinese government released many millions of Yuan, knowing that it would take many millions more in the years ahead, tourist footfall is currently estimated at four million per year.
To quote Richard Nixon, “its a great wall.” It sounds faintly ridiculous when taken out of context, but once seen, I defy anyone to disagree. The upper wilds of the wall show the enormity of the project, and the distance from anywhere makes one realise just what a monumental task it would have been, way back in the days before transport and modern machines made things easy.
The 10km restored section is easy to walk, steep in places but with handrails and other accoutrements to make traversing it easier, much as the modern tomb has air conditioning and dehumidifiers to protect its interior. History, by its very definition, isn’t recent and isn’t apt for todays modern armies of tourists, very often not over culturally aware, children (and adults) who want to take a tiny piece of the past home with them. Anything that can be done to protect our world heritage has to be a good thing, even to the point (imho) of making the orginals difficult or even impossible to access.
After having seen the documentary and understood the reasons for the false pyramid and other world famous false icons, whilst I accept totally why they exist, I’m very glad I saw the real pyramid many years ago when it only cost me a few schekles to get in.