CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities said Saturday they relocated four ancient sphinxes to Tahrir Square, the congested traffic circle in the heart of Cairo.
Archaeologists and others have criticized the move, expressing fear that the city’s notoriously high air pollution could damage the artifacts. A lawsuit to stop the move is making its way through the courts.
Mostafa Waziri, the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the sphinxes would remain inside wooden boxes until the official unveiling of the renovations, without saying when that would take place.
Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Protests have been banned and the square has been under heavy police surveillance since 2013, when the military overthrew an elected Islamist president amid mass protests against his rule.
The ram-headed sphinxes were transported to Cairo from the southern city of Luxor for renovations. An obelisk unearthed in the Nile Delta north of Cairo was moved to the square last year.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who rose to power in 2013, has defended the move, pointing to the fact that obelisks and other artifacts adorn central squares in Western cities.
Egypt is building a new museum near the pyramids in Giza to exhibit its Pharaonic heritage. A centerpiece of the collection is a towering statue of Ramses II, which once stood in another central Cairo square next to the city’s main railway station.
The statue was relocated to the outskirts of the city in 2006 over preservation concerns.