Journal: Tuesday 17 March 1998
When I woke up next morning the sky was a little clearer but the weather was still windy and cool and a thick layer of dust covered everything, even in our hotel room. I was still feeling guilty and a little shocked at being stuck here in Egypt when I should be back home in England, but I soon began to look upon it as a great opportunity to do some more study of the West Bank monuments. My first priority was to sort out money problems – basically I didn’t have any! My friend Robin had told me not to worry as she would help out, though I knew her own funds were running low too. When I went to see Gamal, the hotel owner, he was great and he insisted that I should send money for the hotel room and meals once I got back home. I was very fortunate because he knew me quite well over several visits here and he obviously trusted that I would pay my debts as soon as I could. I hated to do this because the hotel was now empty apart from Robin and I but there was little else I could do. I had also run out of clean clothes by now, so I spent the morning washing what I could and hanging things out on the balcony to dry, being careful to tie everything down so that they didn’t blow away in the windy conditions.
In the afternoon Robin and I took an arabeya to the ticket office and then walked along the road to Qurna to visit the tombs of Rekhmire and Sennefer. Fortunately we had student cards so the ticket cost only LE6 instead of the usual LE12 and I could just about stretch to that. The problem was baksheesh; I had been quite generous with baksheesh over the past couple of weeks, which is probably where most of my money had been spent. We walked up the slope to the tomb of Rekhmire (TT96) in the upper enclosure at Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna, a little below the tomb of Sennefer. Qurna is reputedly the worst place on the West Bank for hassle and we were instantly besieged by small children grabbing at us and shouting for sweets, pens and baksheesh. Unfortunately I had none to give them.
Rekhmire was a governor and Vizier during the 18th Dynasty and his tomb chapel is T-shaped with a very high sloping ceiling and the decoration is spectacular and very important, giving a huge amount of detail of daily life in New Kingdom Thebes. The first hall shows details of produce brought from foreign lands, including exotic animals and precious goods. This chamber also shows scenes of agricultural practices, including wine-making and preparing fish and fowl for cooking as well as the traditional ‘hunting in the desert’ scenes. The paintings in the long passage are better-preserved and superb in their detail, though some of those at the far end are very high up on the wall, dark and difficult to photograph. They are mostly composed of industries and show the artisans at work on their crafts, with leather-workers, rope-makers, carpenters, metal-workers, brick-makers and builders. Sculptors haul stone to be used in the manufacture of two royal colossal statues. These are important scenes showing the methods of production of the crafts of ancient Egypt. The funeral procession is also shown here with the traditional ‘Pilgrimage to Abydos’. One especially interesting cameo shows a small servant girl standing behind Rekhmire’s mother. She is shown in a back-view – the only known instance of this aspect in ancient Egyptian art. The guards were very helpful with their manipulation of mirrors, focusing the light which to allowed us to see sections of the paintings quite well.
Further up the slope was the Tomb of Sennefer (TT100), an important person as Mayor of the city of Thebes during the 18th Dynasty. His tomb was called by nineteenth century travellers the ‘Tomb of the Vineyards’, from the beautiful decoration on some of the ceilings which give the impression of standing under an arbour hung with big bunches of grapes. The modern entrance leads down a steep stone staircase directly into an antechamber to the four-pillared burial chamber. Both of these rooms are decorated, unlike most of the other private tombs of the 18th Dynasty which had an undecorated burial chamber and the walls were painted in bright colours which are extremely well-preserved and covered by glass panels. In the antechamber Sennefer sits under his grape-arbour ceiling, while his daughter Mut-tuy, a ‘Chantress of Amun’ leads a procession of priests bringing offerings of bread, beef, torches and linen. Mut-tuy herself offers two necklaces and a heart amulet to her father. On the right-hand wall another procession of offering bearers carry the burial goods to the tomb. By the door to the burial chamber a lady named Senet-nefert ‘beloved sister (wife) and ‘Chantress of Amun’, appears with the deceased and holds a sistrum and a menat necklace. The decoration in the short passage to the burial chamber is badly damaged but above the doorway inside the chamber is a double-scene of Anubis jackals sitting on top of pylon-shaped shrines on either side of an altar.
The ceiling of the burial chamber is spectacular in its decoration. The grape design gives way to a multicoloured carpet of geometric designs on the uneven surface, giving me the impression that I was standing under an undulating canvas tent. There are many of the familiar funerary scenes showing Sennefer and his wife, Meryt, in various situations. The ‘Abydos Pilgrimage’ is depicted beautifully with the deceased couple seated in a cabin in their boat during the voyage. This is a traditional funerary scene in New Kingdom private tombs, as every Egyptian’s wish (either actually or symbolically) was to make the holy journey to the cult centre of Osiris at Abydos. There they would participate in the ceremonies of the Resurrection of Osiris which took place there since ancient times. The four pillars are also decorated on each side with representations of Sennefer and his wife mostly in offering scenes which are also part of the funerary rites. On three sides of each pillar, Meryt is seen offering flowers, ointments, food, or protective amulets to her husband. On the fourth side of each pillar the scenes differ, with portrayals of the Goddess of the Sycamore and representations of parts of the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual.
I keep repeating that ‘this is my favourite tomb’. Each noble’s tomb I visit has its own unique aspect of design or decoration and really I love them all for different reasons. These two tombs were both definitely on my Top 5 list! Afterwards we battled our way back along the road towards Medinet Habu, dust still swirling high in the air and getting into our eyes. Several taxi drivers we knew stopped to offer us a lift and eventually when our friend Tayib came by we accepted, grateful to get out of the wind for a while. Robin and I had dinner at the Rameses Cafeteria at Habu, a budget meal of lentil soup and garlic bread, which was delicious.