Abu Simbel, in Nubia: the spectacular rock temple built at the behest of Ramesses II at the end of 13th century BCE had almost disappeared from sight, swallowed up by the sand, when in August 1817 Padua-born Belzoni finally succeeded in unearthing it after days of back-breaking digging under a baking sun, in temperatures well in excess of 50 degrees. An near-impossible feat, like other successful exploits carried out in Egypt by the Paduan explorer, whose accomplishments are celebrated in a major exhibition staged in the Altinate San Gaetano Cultural Centre. The rediscovery of the magnificent rock temple of Ramesses II is therefore inextricably linked to the name of a native of Padua.
In the 1960s, the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened the very survival of many archaeological sites in Nubia, including the temple of Abu Simbel. Thus, the authorities resolved to undertake a new, near-impossible operation: the temple would be dismantled and reassembled, block by block, on higher ground, at a safe distance from the waters of Lake Nasser created by the dam. There was fierce debate at the time over how this operation should be carried out and the entire project was overseen, on behalf of Unesco, by Piero Gazzola, then head of the Superintendence of the western Veneto region. Ultimately, the project was entrusted to an international consortium including the Impregilo company – today Salini-Impregilo. For this mammoth project, the company’s management team drafted in Luigi Rossato, the Padua-born engineer who coordinated the salvage operation, employing a stone-cutting system that ensured practically no damage to the structure. Rossato was in charge of a large team of quarrymen, many from the Vicenza area (the Chiampo Valley).
The temple of Abu Simbel was thus given a new lease of life, once again thanks to a Paduan and an enterprise whose roots lay largely in the Veneto region. The temple has enjoyed Unesco World Heritage Site status since 1979.
The exhibition, curated by the Gabinetto di Lettura association in collaboration with the Civic Museum of Padua (Archaeological Museum), recounts the whole project with the support of original documents provided by various parties who were either involved in the operation or are custodians of historical evidence: the family of Luigi Rossato, the Salini-Impregilo company, Fondazione Gazzola, the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo.
Palazzo Zuckermann – Temporary exhibitions room, corso Garibaldi 33
23 November 2019 – 12 January 2020