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Newport engineers save world's oldest pyramid from ruin

Credit: Wales News Service

The world's oldest pyramid has been saved from ruin by Newport engineers.

The 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Djoser, was at imminent risk of collapse after an earthquake hit Egypt.

The structural experts were hired in 2010 to shore up the pyramid believed to be the first large stone building on earth.

But the £7million project to repair the partially-collapsed burial chamber and its crumbling walls faced a series of setbacks.

Credit: Wales News Service

Engineering firm Cintec, from Newport, were forced to battle extreme heat, vandalism and political unrest in Egypt.

But nine years later the firm has now completed its massive task to save the pyramid from crumbling.

Managing director Peter James said: "We are extremely pleased to have successfully finished this project and are always looking for new methods to support and maintain historical landmarks across the globe.

"We recognise the importance of both historical and religious structures to their culture’s and hope to continue to develop advanced reinforcement systems that will preserve archeological structures for future generations.

"The Step Pyramid project is of particular importance to us as the entire structure could have been destroyed at any point due to the damage on the ceiling and roof caused by the earthquake.

"We worked as efficiently as possible on the project without comprising the design or strength of the structure."

Credit: Wales News Service

Much of the damage was done when an earthquake hit the pyramid in 1992 and the repair project was agreed by World Heritage and Egyptian antiquities chiefs.

Engineers removed giant stones which had fallen from the ceiling but had to carry them by hand through tunnels.

Project manager Dennis Lee, 59, told how he had to crawl on his stomach as he repaired walls which were crumbling in front of his eyes.

Mr Lee said: "It was nerve-wracking. It’s not a crumbling wall in front of you, it’s right over your head.

"It’s also very historic so you have to take everything very slowly.

Mr Lee said their work exposed the pyramid's sarcophagus for the first time in hundreds of years.

Credit: Wales News Service

And there is now a walkway around the sarcophagus which at one point held the mummy of the Pharoah Djoser - but during the repair there was no mummy found.

He said: "The sarcophagus had been completely buried when the ceiling collapsed.

"A previous survey had seen it there before but we were able to expose it for the first time since.

"Once the chamber had been cleared we were able to start to repoint the ceiling."

To repair the crumbling stone ceiling the firm used giant air bags to hold it in place before knitting it back together with more than 100 steel rods.

Mr Lee said their work would have been completed sooner but it was initially delayed by the Arab Spring in 2011.

He said: "During the revolution many of the pyramids and museums were plundered - we were lucky because even though are equipment was in Egypt it hadn't yet cleared customs.

"For the past six years I would travel to Egypt and work over there for spells between four-to-six weeks and then return.

"At one point I had about 13 visas in my passport - maybe more."

Cintec has worked on some of the world’s most famous buildings such as Buckingham Palace, as well as mosques, pyramids and bridges worldwide.

Since the repair work on the Step Pyramid Cintec has been hired to complete similar repairs to the Abusir Pyramid.