The Giza pyramids, the last of the seven ancient wonders of the world, have weathered 4,600 years of wars, earthquakes, and floods. Now a new threat looms.
A beltway being built around Cairo to ease its teeming traffic will pass 2-1/2 miles south of the three monuments. United Nations officials warn that vibrations and car exhaust will further erode the pyramids and their neighbor, the Sphinx.
Said Zulficar, an official at the heritage division of UNESCO, the UN cultural organization, says the road is ``a clear and dangerous violation'' of international agreements protecting ancient sites.
Egyptian cultural officials also are worried about the road's effect. But the project was given necessary approvals years ago and, to many Egyptians, the road seems little different from other development creeping up on the pyramids.
Once surrounded only by desert, the ancient structures now sit at the edge of overcrowded Cairo, with roads, bazaars, apartment buildings, and horse and camel stables at their doorstep.
Some of the colossal limestone blocks of the three pyramids - Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus - already are crumbling from erosion and the choking pollution from the city of 14 million people. Parts of the 59-mile beltway have been completed.
Zahi Hawass, the Antiquities Authority archaeologist in charge of the Giza plateau, says the ring road should be diverted but is not sure why UNESCO is making a fuss now, years after the project was proposed.
``It is not really a new ring road,'' Mr. Hawass says. ``It was approved by the Egyptian Antiquities Authority in 1984.''
He says that the road's route, to be completed by 1996, was excavated by Egyptologists, who at the time found nothing of archaeological interest, and approved by a team of international archaeologists.
Hawass noted approval was probably granted because the pyramids then still seemed relatively isolated, the road seemed far away, and authorities did not calculate how rapidly city streets and development would approach Giza.
But now, Hawass says, the development could destroy the spirit of the pyramids. He says new studies were under way on the road's effect.