Empress of the Nile: The Daredevil Archeologist Who Saved Egypt's Ancient Temples from Destruction
by Lynne Olson
The remarkable story of the intrepid French archaeologist who led the international effort to save ancient Egyptian temples from the floodwaters of the Aswan Dam, by the New York Times bestselling author of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War
In the 1960s, the world’s attention was focused on a nail-biting race against time: Fifty countries contributed nearly a billion dollars to save a dozen ancient Egyptian temples, built during the height of the pharaohs’ rule, from drowning in the floodwaters of the massive new Aswan High Dam. But the extensive press coverage at the time overlooked the gutsy French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples would now be at the bottom of a vast reservoir. It was an unimaginably large and complex project that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt on higher ground.
A willful real-life version of Indiana Jones, Desroches-Noblecourt refused to be cowed by anyone or anything. During World War II she joined the French Resistance and was held by the Nazis; in her fight to save the temples she challenged two of the postwar world’s most daunting leaders, Egypt’s President Nasser and France’s President de Gaulle. As she told a reporter, “You don’t get anywhere without a fight, you know.”
Yet Desroches-Noblecourt was not the only woman who played an essential role in the historic endeavor. The other was Jacqueline Kennedy, who persuaded her husband to call on Congress to help fund the rescue effort. After years of Western plunder of Egypt’s ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt did the opposite. She helped preserve a crucial part of Egypt’s cultural heritage, and made sure it remained in its homeland.