Thursday 18 November 2004
After an early breakfast at 6.00am in the hotel, Sam and I left at 7.00am with Abdul to drive down into the Delta. I’ve wanted to go to Bubastis for years but never managed it before now. We arrived at the modern town of Tell Basta, 83km from Cairo at around 9.30pm.
There is much more to see at the site than I had expected. Many guide books will say that there were once temples at Bubastis but with little now remaining except a field of jumbled stone. For us it was a real feast of inscribed blocks, all with reliefs from the temple of Bastet, mostly re-used Ramesside from Qantir, or Libyan (Third Intermediate Period) and all very interesting. The plan of the site is a bit confusing but we were able to vaguely work out the different areas of the Temple of the cat-headed goddess Bastet. I could have spent all day there as I’ve been starved of decent reliefs for the last couple of trips. There is also a recently erected and greatly restored colossal statue of a lady, probably Rameses II’s daughter Meryt-Amun, that is stylistically very similar to the one at Akhmim. Behind the temple site is a large mudbrick town site which is undergoing excavation. It’s thought that there may be a palace here dating to Amenemhet II. Bubastis is a strange place with modern apartment blocks crowding in around the edge of the large site, looking like they can’t wait to get in across the fence. The site is bisected by the main road but Sam said there really is very little to see on the other side as it’s now all covered up. After a couple of hours it was time to leave because it’s quite a long drive down to Tanis, our next stop.
The Delta roads are awful, but at least we didn’t have to have the police with us on the drive today. Something I haven’t seen anywhere else were the hundreds of little 3-wheel Mitsubishi cars which were like motorised rickshaws, the driver sits in the middle above the front wheel and there is a bench seat behind and a soft hood over it. A sort of horseless caleche and these seem to be used as taxis in the Delta towns. At one point we hit a burst water main and had to drive through two feet of water flooding the road – with fingers crossed that there were no deep potholes in this stretch. Our car, a Lancer, is quite low to the ground and it was a worrying moment.
Tanis again had much more to see than I had expected and is a huge and quite confusing site with several ruined temples from different periods. We had the gafir and a security man (riding shotgun) with us but they let us go wherever we wanted and were very patient. The French IFAO are currently excavating here in the rear of the Amun Temple section, but we couldn’t really see what they were doing. At last I got to see the Third Intermediate Period royal tombs of Osorkons, Takelots Shoshenqs, Psusennes et al. and was even allowed to take a photograph in one of them. I have wanted to see these for years. The gafir unlocked three of the tombs for me. Osorkon II’s tomb is open but entails a climb up a very rusty set of metal steps, some with the rungs missing or replaced by dubious bits of wood and you then have to perch on the wall at the top and look down into the roofless tomb where the huge granite sarcophagus of the king is still in situ, with lots of reliefs on the walls surrounding it. It was here that the archaeologist Montet found the wonderful Tanis treasures in 1939, including the silver coffins of Shoshenq II and Psusennes I, now in the Cairo museum.
It was all very new and exciting. Much of the site is now an open-air museum with many carved blocks and large Ramesside statues. These probably came from Per-Rameses at Qantir to be reused in the later temple structures at Tanis. Sam has been here three times before, but again we really couldn’t spend as much time as we would have liked to as Abdul wanted to get out of the Delta before it got dark because of the bad roads in this area. Because we were late we ended up driving over to Ismailia on the Suez Canal and back to Cairo along the big new highway.
It was a long drive to Cairo and we arrived back at 7.00pm. Went out to eat and sat outside in a coffee shop near Opera Square until around midnight as it has been quite a mild night again.