Let’s dig (english summary)
Salon Suisse 2016: Saturday, 22nd October
Two groups from the Coptic population dug churches and gathering places in the South of Cairo metropolis. Priest and scholar Maximous El Antony presents their history.
«This story teaches us how, in difficult conditions, men can in a simple way create a better life», he explains. The scholar and Coptic priest is seated in front of the podium in his traditional outfit. Protagonists in his story include two groups from the Egyptian Coptic population who, in the middle of the 20th century, moved to Cairo. Called Zabbalin, they began to pick and recycle garbage in the Cairo metropolis. They fed pigs and sold them. At the beginning, they lived from garbage and pigs in tin houses. Later they bought land and built houses.
Faith Moves Mountains
During the 1970s, the Coptic population began to dig a church in the sandstone of the Muqattam Mountain. «The significance of Muqattam Mountain dates back to the legend of the Coptic Saint Simon in the 10th century, who succeeded in the miracle of moving a mountain». As a result, the Caliph offered the mountain to the Coptic in order for them to exercise their religion. Undertaken by Coptic people in Muqattam in 1975, the first construction measures 250 meters long, 180 meters wide and 15 meters high. No architect nor engineer provided assistance to this project.
The faith and love for the mountain helped these men to dig and to create a place for 20,000 believers. Where the mountain was not stable, workers consolidated their work with an iron bar or coverage. «We could not calculate the digging in a mountain» says Maximous. Salonnière Leïla El-Wakil brought up the great tradition of Swiss civil engineering in tunnel construction, to which the Priest responded: «Engineers calculate how much concrete is needed to inject in the mountain. The mountain itself cannot be calculated.»
The love for the mountain shows itself in his shape and decoration. Coptic people plant flowers and trees. In 2000, a Polish artist joined their group. He sculpted Old Testament scenes in the mountain and populated it with religious sculptures. He wrote both in Arabic and in English, because with time, Muqattam has become a place for touristic excursions. All the while, the Coptic self-appointed «architects» continue to build.
Abhorrent Modern Architecture
Is there no problem of security? «In building the auditorium, flaws suddenly appeared in the stone», he says. «We asked a geologist who ensured the mountain will hold it». «God protects us», is the answer of workers to these worries. At the foot of this mountain, they built new houses where young people, in particular, live. «It’s an abhorrent modern architecture» says Maximous. But citizens enjoy modern life, which is why they decided to offer things to encourage them to stay in the village, including a tattoo shop.
Yet, youngsters also come to the mountain to take part in the spiritual traditions. To argue about the self-organisation of this society, the Priest makes a final point: «When Coptic (Zabbalin) collected garbage, they made Cairo clean. Now, the authorities have mandated a private company to collect rubbish, and Cairo stinks.»
Maximous El Antony, Egypt: priest, art historian. Born in Alexandria El Antony is a senior monk at St. Anthony Monastery, Red Sea (Egypt). He got a Diploma in Conservation and restoration of Icons and painting in Moscow and studied Christian art at Leiden University as well as Museums studies at UCLA (Los Angeles). As director of St. Anthony Museum (St. Anthony Monastery, Egypt), he belongs to the International Association of Coptic studies and is Member of the International Council of Museums and Vice-president of the Friends of the Coptic museum Association. He is Consultant of the Coptic Project (CULTNAT), consultant of Conservation and restoration of the Coptic mural painting (ARCE), and Leader of the excavation at St. Anthony Monastery (Egypt).
Redaktion: Urs Honegger (Hochparterre)
Produktion: Roderick Hönig (Hochparterre), Urs Honegger (Hochparterre)
Korrektorat: Beat Zaugg
Copyright: Pro Helvetia & Hochparterre 2016
Hochparterre dokumentiert den «Salon Suisse» 2016. Als offizieller Medienpartner begleiten wir die Veranstaltungsreihe mit Hintergrundinformationen, Zusammenfassungen, Audiostatements, Bildern und Livestreamings. Der «Salon Suisse» ist das Begleitprogramm des Schweizer Auftritts an der 15. Internationalen Architekturbiennale – La Biennale di Venezia. Der «Salon Suisse» ist eine Initiative der Schweizer Kulturstiftung Pro Helvetia.
Hochparterre documente en exclusivité le «Salon Suisse» 2016. Le partenaire média officiel du salon suit la série d’événements au travers d’articles de fond, de résumés, d’enregistrements audios, d’images et de retransmissions en direct. Le «Salon Suisse» est le programme parallèle de la présence suisse à la 15e Biennale internationale d’architecture – La Biennale di Venezia. Le «Salon Suisse» est une initiative de la Fondation suisse pour la culture Pro Helvetia.
Hochparterre exclusively documents the «Salon Suisse» 2016. As official media partner Hochparterre provides multimedia background information with written articles, audiostatements, visuals and free live streaming of part of the «Salon Suisse» talks. «Salon Suisse» is a talks and event programme complementing Switzerland’s national participation at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. It is initiated by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.