Egyptian Sunset at Giza (c) Copyright 1996 Andrew Bayuk

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Egypt Opens Giza Pyramids to Public

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Egypt opened 10 Pharaonic tombs and three small pyramids to the public for the first time ever Tuesday, completing a key stage in a major overhaul of its ancient sites.

Officials reopened the pyramid of King Menkaure, the smallest of the three great pyramids of Giza, after extensive repairs.

The decade-long restoration effort involves shoring up the Sphinx and repairing several other tombs and the burial chambers of the great pyramids, including the largest built by Pharaoh Cheops. Officials would not say how much money has been spent.

Menkaure's pyramid, the smallest of the great pyramids, was closed last year to allow workmen to reinforce walls, erase graffiti and install a new ventilation system.

The pyramids of three more queens -- adjacent to the Menkaure's -- are to be renovated in the next phase of work at Giza.

Of the three pyramids opened Tuesday, the largest is the one for Cheops' mother, Queen Hetepheres. It once rose to a height of about 100 feet but its smooth, limestone casing has been scavenged, exposing the jagged and crumbled underlying stones.

"It is a complete clean-up," said the head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, Gaballah Ali Gaballah. In addition to the restoration, workmen cleared old cars, kiosks and houses from the area, he said.

Though discovered in 1924, the 10 tombs weren't opened to the public until Tuesday. They were for judges, ministers and aides to the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt 4,573 years to 4,321 years ago.

Gaballah said the closeness of the tombs to the great pyramids reflected the relationships between their occupants and the Pharaohs.

"The king was the guarantor of the after-life," he said.

Some of them are built with columns, which gives them an appearance of small temples -- a feature rarely found in tombs built later. The walls of the tombs are decorated with scenes of offerings of geese, legs of beef and fruit such as figs to the gods. In at least one tomb, there are drawings of ships. Almost none of the original paint remains on the drawings.

Gaballah and Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, who led reporters and archeologists through some of the 10 tombs, said Tuesday's ceremony was not a part of a campaign to revive Egyptian tourism, which has been in the doldrums since Muslim extremists killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians outside the southern city of Luxor in November.

"This is part of our routine work. But if something good comes out of it for tourism, we're not going to say no," said Gaballah.

The government is now preparing an international gala event for the reopening of the restored Sphinx at the end of this month.

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.