CAIRO, Egypt – A giant statue of Pharaoh Ramses II will be moved next month from a congested square in downtown Cairo to a more serene home near the Great Pyramids in a bid to save it from corrosive pollution, Egypt's antiquities chief said Monday.
Exhaust fumes from trains, cars and buses, as well as subway vibrations, are damaging the more than 3,200-year-old granite statue at Ramses Square, its home since the early 1950s, when it was taken from a temple at the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.
The 125-ton statue — a popular feature on postcards and guide books — will become part of a new museum about a mile from the pyramids.
"We have to move that statue," antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.
Contractors plan to transport a replica next week, as a test. If all goes well, the real thing will make its way through the sprawling city Aug. 25.
Officials have discussed moving the statue for more than a decade as experts bickered over where it should go. The location at the Grand Museum of Egypt was recently agreed upon, and engineers began researching how to move the statue.
"Statues are not made to be in squares; they are made to be in temples or in museums," Hawass said.
A steel cage will be constructed around the statue and connected to steel beams. Two flatbed trucks will carry it through the city overnight to avoid traffic, an eight-mile trip that will take several hours, said Ibrahim Mahlab, chairman of Arab Contractors, the company moving the statue.
Once moved, it will be renovated as its new home is built. The museum, which also will house King Tutankhamun's mummy and other treasures, is not expected to open for at least five years.
Ramses II was a warrior king who is credited with bringing Egypt unprecedented power and splendor during his 67-year reign. He died in 1225 B.C.
With crews already preparing the statue for its move, some Egyptians said Ramses would be better off away from the nonstop traffic and pollution.
"I don't think people will miss it here," said Muhammad Said, 26, a computer engineer. "I don't see tourists coming down here to see it. But if they move it to a better place, perhaps more people will value it."
Medical student Marco Gobran, 23, also said he didn't mind if they moved Ramses, especially if it helped with what he saw as one of Cairo's biggest challenges.
"Egypt has problems with traffic jams, and moving this will help," Gobran said.