Journal: Thursday 24 November 2005
Taking the minibus over the bridge to the West Bank, we dropped the group off at the Valley of the Kings for the day. This was to be their first visit there on this trip and they wanted to go into several of the royal tombs, the Western Valley and then walk back over the mountain to the Ramesseum. Sam and I opted out for an easier day, preferring to explore the wide-open spaces of the desert rather than the hot crowded tombs.
We had read a report about a site called Kom el-‘Abt, an enigmatic mound in the desert beyond Malqata where Amenhotep III had built his royal palace. We eventually found the isolated mudbrick platform on the edge of the cultivation just beyond the modern Suzanne Mubarak Village. It wasn’t much to look at, a roughly rectangular platform built from mudbrick and filled with sand and gravel, but as we walked closer we could see just how huge it was, 45m by 40m and about 3.75m high. Apparently the fill has revealed predynastic flints and pottery sherds and this was paved over by a surface of mudbrick, but the purpose of the structure remains a mystery. It has been likened to the desert altars at Akhetaten.
There are foundations and remains of several mudbrick houses to the south-east of the structure that are similar to those built at Malqata from the time of Amenhotep III and some are also said to bear a resemblance in plan to Amarna-style villas at Akhetaten. Excavated by OH Myers for the EES in 1937, he found bricks stamped with the cartouche of Amenhotep III, giving a secure date to the buildings, as well as pottery typical of the period. The complex was later extended to include an unexcavated settlement from the Third Intermediate or Late Period. Sam and I looked all around the platform, noticing a well-preserved mudbrick ramp on the south-west side. We had also read that to the west of the structure, a 5km long cleared strip of desert headed in a straight line towards the western foothills and it is suggested that this may have been the initial stages of a road or causeway leading to a monument that was never started, or interrupted by the death of the king. Archaeologists know that the road was left unfinished as there were small piles of surface stones which were not cleared away. Standing on a rise, Sam and I could just about make out the route of the clearing. Taking the suggestion of Myers, it was nice to imagine the road used for chariot races or games, with the elite using the platform as a viewing point. It may seem silly to get so excited by a mysterious pile of sand and stones, but Sam and I both find that getting away from the usual hieroglyph-laden temples and out into the desert, bordered by the magnificent Theban hills and using our imagination is often very rewarding.
Because we were in the area, we next went to visit a secluded and very exclusive hotel called al-Moudira, built as a dream of its owner, Zeina Aboukhir and opened in 2002. We had seen photographs on their website of this beautiful Arabian Palace and had wanted to see the hotel for ages. Arriving at the wrought iron gates, we asked if we could have coffee and take a look around the gardens. We were first kindly shown a few of the 50 suites, all like something from the Arabian Nights, each uniquely decorated with hammam-style bathrooms. The ochre domes, patios ornate with arabesques, fabulous antique furniture and amazing attention to detail took my breath away. No words can describe the hotel accurately, you just have to see it. Afterwards we wandered around the beautiful eight hectare gardens, full of palm trees, vibrant bougainvillea and other exotic plants. We had a leisurely coffee on a shaded patio and I felt like I never wanted to leave. One day, if I can ever save enough money, I will be back to stay there.
But back to reality, we had to collect the others from the Ramesseum where we had arranged to meet them in the cafeteria. They were red-faced but happy after their walk over the mountain and eager to talk about the tombs they had visited. I however, was still back in the cool gardens of al-Moudira with its tinkling fountains and shady corners and felt very remote from the Egyptological discussions.
Later in the evening, refreshed and ready to go again, we all went to el-Hussein Restaurant in Karnak village for dinner. Always a good Egyptian meal there.