Saturday, July 9, 2011

Christiane Desroches Noblecourt

Barely five feet tall in her desert boots, Christiane Desroches Noblecourt almost single-handedly organised the dismantling, removal and piecing back together of the spectacular ancient temples of Nubia on the banks of the Nile. It was a breathtaking feat.

Recognising that the temples in modern-day Egypt and Sudan, would be totally submerged by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Aswan High Dam project, she won the support and funding of 50 nations, and Unesco, to move the ancient wonders, chunk by painstaking chunk, to higher ground. It took two decades – the 1960s and 1970s – and was the catalyst for Unesco’s decision to give protective “world heritage site” status to such treasures around the globe.

As France’s first female Egyptologist, Noblecourt, who has died aged 97, was a pioneer. A tiny human dynamo, despite her size she was described by current French president Nicolas Sarkozy as “the grande dame of the Nile”.

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