Journal: Wednesday 24 November 2004
Sam and I left the hotel after breakfast this morning, with Abdul driving the car. We have decided to see a couple more sites in the Minya area then press on to Asyut today, so we left our bags in the hotel to collect later.
Our first stop was Tihna el-Gebel to the North of Minya, a place we visited only briefly last time we were here. It’s a large, mostly Graeco-Roman town site, known as Akoris, with a rock-temple of Hathor, built on a hill in a very dramatic situation. This time we wanted to try to visit the Old Kingdom tombs known as the ‘Fraser Tombs’, which are nearby. There is always a great fuss with the police who will insist that it is TUNA el-Gebel we want to go to, which is the better known site of Ashmunein on the other side of the river. Nobody pronounces TIHNA el-Gebel the same way twice so it’s difficult to get across where we want to go as they’ve never heard of it. In the end the police were sensible and let Abdul lead the way. We met the gafir and he led us up the hill through the very extensive mudbrick town site and we had another look at the rock-cut temples. One of them is supposed to date to Rameses II & Merenptah, but the only poorly-preserved reliefs in the temple court are from much later. The temples are in a very sorry state and the whole site is a confused jumble, with deep pits everywhere. The site dates from the Old Kingdom but has been used and reused right through to Christian times.
We wandered around the back of the temples, scrambling over the rocks with the gafir shaking his head and saying ‘no, no’. In the end he just let us go – must have realised by now that we are quite mad. On the other side of the hill past dozens of sanded up late period tombs in the necropolis, we found an area where a Japanese team have been excavating for the past three seasons. They have uncovered Late Period granaries, a textile workshop, leatherworking shop and a copper/bronze refinery and a great deal of pottery and other artefacts. There is so much here at this site and there are wonderful views from the top of the hill over yellow and green agricultural fields to the Nile.
We asked about the Old Kingdom ‘Fraser’ tombs but the gafir said they were a few kilometres further up the wadi and he didn’t have a key. Standing on top of the hill we could see hundreds of tombs cut into the slopes all around, but I think these are mostly Late Period or Roman. There are some very odd bits and pieces, such as a lovely heart-shaped column base on the temple platform – I’ve never seen one like it before. There is quite a lot of inscribed stone but nothing really complete enough to read properly, and I didn’t recognise the cartouches, which probably means they’re Late or Graeco-Roman. After a while we decided we had tried the patience of the gafir enough for one day, so it was time to leave.
Next stop the tiny pyramid of Zawiyet el-Maiyitin, Zawiyet el-Amwat, or Zawiyet el-Sultan as it is called locally. This is just across the river from Minya. The pyramid only has its lower courses remaining and is one of the seven Old Kingdom mini-pyramids in the Nile Valley, known as the Sinki Pyramids and sometimes ascribed to King Huni. However, we wanted to walk up to the Dynasty XVIII tomb of Nefersekheru, up on the gebel. There are many New Kingdom tombs but this is the only one open, so we puffed and panted our way up and went inside. I left with little recollection of what the tomb looked like – which just proves I need photographs (not allowed) to jog my memory and should have taken notes. We also saw what we think is the Old Kingdom tomb complex of Khunes, which has recently been re-excavated and still has reliefs in the outer parts.
We find more and more, and especially in Middle Egypt that wherever there is a modern cemetery there is almost certain to be an ancient site nearby. This theory has been very helpful when we are searching for places. The Muslim cemetery at Zawyet is one of the biggest in Egypt and dates back a long time. Its little mud domes stretch for miles along the banks of the Nile. We walked back down towards the pyramid and looked at the site of a New Kingdom Temple. There are few remains except in the quay area, but you can just make out the ground-plan of the temple to the north and we saw a nice block of stone with a Seti I cartouche.
We left Zawyet and drove back to the hotel to collect our bags and then on to Asyut, arriving around 3.30pm. The only hotel which took tourists and had rooms free was the Hotel Badr Touristic, quite expensive for an Egyptian-run hotel at $29 per night and not really tourist standard but not too bad. A strange place, it looked more like a nightclub than a hotel, with lots of mirrors everywhere on the red plush walls and large glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. We were allowed out to play on our own here and went out to eat later in a local restaurant serving the usual meat, rice and vegetables, followed by a coffee shop. I can’t decide if I like Asyut or not, it’s not as pretty as Minya and much bigger, being one of the main university towns.