Polish conservators have secured a unique monument in Sudan
Aerial photo of Raphelion in Banganarti, roof laid during conservation. (Photo by Bogdan T. Żurawski)
At the turn of 2011/2012, Polish scientists secured medieval paintings in the so-called Raphelion, or religious buildings dedicated to the Archangel Raphael in Banganarti, Sudan. This unique church building from mid-eleventh century was an important pilgrimage centre of in the Christian kingdom Makurii until mid-fourteenth century. Necessary conservation work was possible wilt financial support of PKN Orlen.
"In addition to conservation, we have also performed restoration and protection work. W stabilised substrate layers, exterminated insects feeding in the layer of plaster, and cleaned and preserved the colour scheme of the most important paintings" - said Dr. Bogdan T. Żurawski from the Department of African Cultures of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures PAS, head of research. Work in Banganarti is conducted under a concession of the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw.
Moreover, in the chapel of the holy healers Cosma and Damian, using the strip belt method (not destroying the inscriptions on the walls) Polish conservators unveiled earlier paintings. This allowed Nubian wall painting experts to look at the previously covered iconographic themes.
Polish scientists have also rebuilt some of the Raphelion walls. At their peaks a roof was laid to protect the whole building from weather. The second roof, whose construction began this year, will prevent the heating of paintings in the summer.
"The roof will also ensure that the Raphelion interior is completely dark, which is extremely important for protection of its priceless paintings. Instead of existing, permanent sunlight illumination, we will install LEDs suspended in oil lamp imitations. Connected to a solar cell on the roof they will illuminate the most important paintings, inscriptions and pieces of equipment inside Raphelion. Of course, they can be turned on and off as needed" - added Dr. Żurawski.
With a grant from PKN Orlen, Raphelion exterior could be covered with a layer of plaster, whose recipe was developed on the basis of several years of experience of conservators working in Banganarti. Plaster with a similar composition was also used to cover to the rest of bare walls inside the building.
Work in Banganarti is part of a larger project that the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw has been carrying out for 50 years on the right bank of the Nile between the third and fourth cataract. Anniversary celebration took place last year in Khartoum (we wrote about it in PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland). Raphelion was discovered during the surface survey (so-called Southern Dongola Reach Survey), conducted between Old Dongola and ez-Zuma in 2001. Excavations began immediately, because the site was threatened by the expansion of farmlands and palm groves. Makurii royal portraits, biblical scenes and images of saints intricately painted on the walls of Raphelion were rescued at the last minute.
PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski
3D visualization of Raphelion, byPaweł Malec