Journal entry for Thursday 12 March 1998
After a morning in Luxor doing a little shopping, Robin and I crossed back to the West Bank and decided to visit Qurna where the Theban elite had their tombs. These tomb chapels of the noblemen are very different to the royal tombs in the King’s Valley and made a nice contrast. To begin with they are very much smaller than the kings’ tombs, but they are also more lively, often with bright paintings which represent the daily life of the deceased and their families as well as the funerary rites. We got a service taxi to Qurna, first stopping at the ticket office to buy a ticket for the tombs of Benia, Khonsu and Userhet, which are grouped together in the same location.
The T-shaped tomb of Benia (TT343), who is also called Pahekmen, is situated in a courtyard in the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. He had several titles, including ‘Overseer of Works’ and his tomb contains depictions of Benia supervising the weighing of gold and precious items from the treasury, which are then recorded by scribes. It is likely that Benia was brought to Egypt as a child from an Asiatic land (because of his name and the names of his parents), to be brought up in the royal court. This was often the custom during the New Kingdom. There are some lovely banqueting scenes showing Benia and his relatives being entertained by male musicians, including a harpist, which is especially beautiful. The long inner chamber has scenes of the funeral procession on the left-hand side, in which Benia’s sarcophagus with the accompanying burial goods is dragged to his tomb. The procession moves towards the Western Goddess and scenes below show boats in the ‘Abydos Pilgrimage’. On the opposite side the funeral rites are shown, with the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual before the mummy and offerings for the deceased. At the rear of the inner chamber is a statue niche which contains well-preserved painted limestone seated statues of Benia with his parents (his father Irtonena and his mother Tirukak) on either side.
Next, to the nearby tomb of Khonsu (TT32). Also called To, Khonsu was a priest of the funerary cult of Tuthmose III during the reign of Rameses II and had the title ”First Prophet of Menkheperre’. His tomb has many lovely paintings depicting the cult of the god Montu as well as that of Tuthmose III. One of the most interesting scenes in this tomb details the Festival of Montu, with some of Khonsu’s relatives making offerings to Montu’s barque in a procession of boats heading to the Montu Temple at Armant. There are also some beautiful painted ceilings depicting birds and ducks flying, a grape arbour and some lovely bright geometric textile-type designs.
There are two nobles tombs at Qurna with the name of Userhet and the one we next went into was TT51. This Userhet bore the title ‘First Prophet of the Royal Ka of Tuthmose I’ during the reign of Seti I. His tomb is close to that of Khonsu and shows fine detailed paintings of the rituals concerning the mortuary cult of Tuthmose I. On the left side of the entrance to the transverse hall there are funerary scenes which show Userhet being led by Anubis to the underworld and a judgement scene in which his heart is weighed against a feather. The deceased is shown kneeling before Osiris and Hathor (as the ‘Goddess of the West’) and kneeling before the ‘Souls of Pe and Nekhen’. The funeral procession depicts the rites performed before mummies and a pyramid tomb. There are also scenes from a procession during the Festival of Tuthmose I, including men bringing gifts or supplies and Userhet adoring the royal barque. Another wall shows Userhet with his wife Hatshepsut (also called Shepset) and his mother Tawosret in a beautiful scene depicting the goddess of the sycamore tree (Hathor or Mut). The Abydos Pilgrimage is portrayed below. There are also scenes of Userhet kneeling before the gods – Thoth presents him to Osiris and Anubis and then he appears before an offering table. Priests are being purified before worshipping Montu and Meretseger, ‘Goddess of the Theban Necropolis’. Another larger undecorated chamber contains four square pillars with the burial shaft in the far corner, but this was closed to visitors.
They were all lovely tombs, but all the walls were covered with protective glass, which made it much more difficult to photograph. By the time we had finished it was late afternoon, so we caught an arabeya back to the ticket office and from there walked along the track to Medinet Habu. Robin and I decided to carry on walking in the cool of the evening and headed a little way out into the desert towards Malqata to watch the sun going down behind the mountain. Nobody took any notice or tried to stop us so we walked quite a way out over the dusty sand. The thing that always strikes me about the desert, even just a little way out, is the silence, the feeling of vast spaces and the knowledge that if we carried on (several hundreds of kilometres) we would reach the Lybian border! But we didn’t go too far. As it began to get quite dark we turned back to have dinner at the Rameses Cafeteria at Habu.