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June 29, 2011

FRANCE: Egyptologist who saved Nubian temples dies aged 97

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, with French Egyptologist 
Christiane Desroches Noblecourt at UNESCO Headquarters in 2009. 
© UNESCO/Michel Ravassard

PARIS, France / UNESCO / Secretariat / June 28, 2011
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has paid tribute to the memory of Mrs Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, great French Egyptologist, whose "disappearance she learned with deep sorrow". A press statement issued today says:

Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt put her passion and knowledge of Egypt at the service of a universal saga. Her contribution to the cause of world culture was enormous and the importance of her action with UNESCO invaluable.

She was the face of the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, one of the most brilliant successes of international cooperation remaining to date. Her speeches made at UNESCO were a milestone in the emergence of the principle of commonly protected world heritage, one of the most solid and fertile gains of universal conscience.

UNESCO paid her fulsome tribute two years ago for the 50th anniversary of the Nubia Campaign. The great woman of the Nile leaves us as her legacy the duty of following her work and of conveying her message.

Her career also reminds as that international institutions’ actions can only be as good as the will of men and women able to convince and to mobilize, beyond divisions, for the stake of a cause uniting us.

The whole UNESCO family is grieving and would like to send a message of support and deep sympathy to her family and friends".

© UNESCO 1995-2011

Related News from Associated Press
By Jamey Keaten - Associated Press

Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, a pioneering French Egyptologist who prodded Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser to help salvage Nubia's vaunted antiquities, has died. She was 97. (Photo by courtesy:

Desroches Noblecourt died Thursday at a hospital in Epernay, east of Paris, where she had been taken after a recent stroke, said Anne Francoise, treasurer of a retirement home in the nearby town of Sezanne where Desroches Noblecourt lived the last few years.

Born Nov. 17, 1913 in Paris, Desroches Noblecourt developed an early passion for Egypt after reading about the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the early 1920s. She later studied at the Louvre and the Sorbonne.
After an initial trip to Egypt in the late 1930s, she became the first woman to be put on a stipend with the Cairo-based French Institute of Oriental Archaeology - cracking a male-dominated world of Egyptology.

In a statement, President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Desroches Noblecourt as the "grande dame of the Nile," who blended scientific rigor with the qualities of "the most passionate of educators."

After Egyptian officials began planning the Aswan High Dam project on the Nile in 1954, Desroches Noblecourt met Nasser to air concerns that 32 ancient temples and chapels in southern Nubia were facing submersion.

In an interview with Le Monde newspaper in 2007, she recalled how she told him "let me handle it, I'll go talk to UNESCO on your behalf," she was quoted as saying. "He trusted me and let me do it. He was brilliant."

Paris-based UNESCO then helped mobilize nearly 50 countries for a vast project in the 1960s to dismantle, move and reconstruct the antiquities - including massive statues of Pharaoh Ramses II at Abu Simbel, which were broken down into 1,000 pieces and rebuilt over four years.

Desroches Noblecourt helped organize a Louvre exhibit in 1967 about King Tut's treasure that drew more than 1 million visitors.

During World War II, Desroches frequented some members of the French Resistance and was arrested in December 1940. "I thought I was done for," she told Le Monde. "I told them what I thought of them, and I don't know why, they let me go after two days."

Christiane Ziegler, a former curator at the Louvre's Egyptology department, called Desroches Noblecourt "very dynamic, but also very tiring: she wanted everything done in a minute! She had a lot of charisma and spoke well, and really cared for the greater public."

Desroches Noblecourt wrote dozens of books, including "The Fabulous Heritage of Egypt" that was a best-seller in France in 2004 and 2005.

A funeral was planned Monday in the nearby town of Mondemont-Montgivroux, according to Francoise, of the retirement home. She is survived by a son.

© The Associated Press
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