Discovered fresco in Sahara
After years of research a fresco is discovered by Mimmo Coletti

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She has found a way to protect frescoes from the light, from the warm breath of the desert, to maintain the colours that would otherwise fade away in the quick course of a few seasons and remain as the pale ghosts of age-old splendour. This is why a woman from Perugia, Barbara Mencarelli, restorer, is living an exciting adventure on Egyptian soil for the second year in a row.
Her accurate, foolproof method developed over years of tests and experiments drew the attention of an archaeological mission from Vienna which is wrenching from the bowels of the earth the remains of a very old Christian Coptic settlement dating back to the III-IV century.

The place is called Abu Fano, halfway between Cairo and Luxor, in the very heart of the Sahara.
Torrid heat, exceptional discoveries and associated conservation problems. The massive structure of a monastery surfaced half a century ago; last year, rational excavations were started all around, on Professor Helmuth Buchhausen’s suggestion, and are now giving surprising results.

First a church, now (…) a magnificent adjoining hall, right on the side of the temple, that seven Austrian archaeologists, an Egyptian one, restorer Mencarelli and about fifty workers are making to flourish again. Twenty-two by eighteen metres, a large stone slab floor, a massive amount of materials: ordinary pottery, embedded vases with their tops in the sand, bowls decorated with leaves and animal figures, copper coins, incense burners, small oil lantern holders that look like Aladdin’s lamp. Perhaps the priest’s room or a place of purification. Because on the bottom there is a well, crowned by something like a seat and a large bowl, that looks like a font set into a niche.
All the area was surrounded by a series of frescoes, now visible in the first frieze, one metre and a half high. Barbara Mencarelli had to work really hard to fix the compositions permanently and prevent them rapidly fading away. There are six squares per wall, seemingly similar but different: large circles enclosing other closely connected figures, colours ranging from green to yellow, from pale blue to a sort of sienna. Probably a coherent tale, symbols running after each other, waiting to be decoded, signs inspired by the perfect science, i.e. geometry, to highlight the mystery of the place.

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A mummy was found in the nearby temple, along a course made of stones engraved with the Coptic cross. A female, perhaps the mother of Abu Fano, the founder of this grand sacred area that defied time in the midst of the African desert.

The work of the Perugia-born restorer took place amidst predictable climatic problems. But it was a full, rewarding success since the murals now shine again in their original arrangement.

Barbara Mencarelli: the teller of the country fairy tales has been identified. The artist was attracted, perhaps she has always been attracted by the wish to express her hidden feelings, her secret vibes in the harmonious and studied mix of shades and colours. All this is clear when one looks at the paintings made by Barbara who in her lovely hermit of Mandoleto skilfully portrays the whispers and rustlings of a nature that she decoded with the grace of those who know how to listen. In her landscapes, things take on a neat brightness that translates them into original certainties, in feelings and in figure plays, full of colours, rhythms and horizons.

Umberto Puggelli

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