- Obstinate peddlers have become a serious turn off to tourists visiting Egypt's famed Giza pyramids sites, with their relentless offers of camel rides and Pharaonic trinkets.
However, the hustlers are now gone, as Egypt yesterday unveiled first stage of an elaborate US$ 26 million project, to modernise site and make it more tourist-friendly.
The site is now complete with security cameras and a 12-mile fence with infrared sensors surrounding the location.
"It was a zoo. Now we are protecting both tourists and the ancient monuments," said Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, of usual free-for-all at pyramids.
The three Giza Pyramids have long been unusually open for a 5,000-year-old Wonder of the World, especially compared to other world-renowned sites like Greece's Acropolis, Jerusalem's Western Wall or Rome's Colosseum, where security is tight and visitors' movement is controlled.
The pyramids stand on a desert plateau that was once isolated, but in capital Cairo's expansion in past decades slums have been built right to its edge, separated only by a low stone wall in parts. Rest of the area was wide open to desert.
Hawkers, mostly from nearby impoverished neighborhoods looking to benefit from tourist dollar, have had free rein, and become notorious.
Tourists are besieged by peddlers selling statues, T-shirts and other trinkets while men on camels selling rides or photos sometimes refuse to take no for an answer.
Young men even try to force their way into taxi cabs carrying foreigners toward pyramids, looking to steer them to nearby horse stables for a ride around site.
Tourists have had taken their own liberties as well. Since 19th Century, climbing Pyramid of Khufu, biggest of three, was a favourite past time for visitors, continuing into the 1970s, with occasional fatal fall of an intoxicated tourist.
Since then, authorities have cracked down on climbing giant 2.5-ton blocks, though visitors can still freely ramble around pyramid grounds, where many tombs and other archaeological sites remain only partially excavated and vulnerable to damage.
The long metal fence encircling the site is peppered with infrared and motion detectors. Tourists enter through a new brick entrance building, with half a dozen gates equipped with metal detectors and X-ray machines.
Once inside, 199 closed-circuit cameras covering every corner of sprawling plateau closely watch their every step.
"It looks clean and beautiful, they did a good job," said Michael Schmidt, 43, a real estate agent from New York City, as he visited site yesterday.
Head of Egyptology department at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Shaban Abdel-Gawad, said plateau now only has one entrance point, front gates.
"We are making it much nicer for tourists," Mr Abdel-Gawad said, pointing at new bathrooms at entrance, which he said were of "much better standard."
In 1997, amid a wave of Islamic militant violence, gunmen attacked tourists at a desert temple in the southern city of Luxor, killing more than 60. Militant campaign and most attacks ended in the late 1990s, but bombings in Sinai beach resorts in the past four years have kept officials wary.
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