Egypt is building two highways across the pyramids plateau outside Cairo, reviving and expanding a project that was suspended in the 1990s after an international outcry.
The Great Pyramids, Egypt’s top tourist destination, are the sole survivor of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the plateau is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The highways are part of an infrastructure push spearheaded by Egypt’s powerful military and championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is building a new capital city to ease the population pressure on Cairo, home to 20 million people.
The northern highway will cross the desert 2.5 km south of the Great Pyramids. The southern one will pass between the Step Pyramid of Saqqara – the oldest one – and the Dahshur area, home to the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid.
Each highway appears to be about eight lanes wide.
Critics say they could cause irrevocable damage to one of the world’s most important heritage sites. Authorities say they will be built with care and improve transport links, connecting new urban developments and bypassing central Cairo’s congestion.
Egyptologists and conservationists say the highways will disrupt the integrity of the pyramids plateau, pave over unexplored archaeological sites, generate pollution that could corrode monuments, produce litter and expose closed areas packed with hidden archaeological treasures to looting.
The construction of the highway began a year ago in desert areas largely out of public sight and became more visible around March, Egyptologists and Google Earth images indicate.
UNESCO said it had requested detailed information on the new plan and asked if it could send a monitoring mission.