Journal: Sunday 24 January 2010
After a day of pottering about in Luxor it was back to ‘work’, as today I was going to visit a site I hadn’t seen before. Sam had already been to Kanais and she hoped I wouldn’t be too disappointed by the tiny ruined temple of Seti I located on the road from Edfu to Mersa Alam. Places like this are so much easier to visit now that the police convoy is no more, though permission still had to be obtained by Abdul to take us in his minibus. We left Luxor at 6.30am for the long drive south.
In an hour we had reached the ‘Black Horse’, the Shaorawla checkpoint and we continued on the road to Edfu until we reached the bridge over the Nile into the town. Here we turned off into the Eastern Desert and the Wadi Abbad. We drove about 50km on a fairly good tarmac road through quite flat and boring landscape, but on either side of the road there were small lakes, evidence of the rain storm from a week ago. These looked strange in the otherwise parched desert landscape. Eventually the land rose on either side into small hills, some having cairns and Roman lookout posts on their peaks. Openings in the hills showed several side-wadis and just before the most well-known of these, the Wadi Miah, we came to Kanais, also known as el-Ridisiya.
The temple was first mentioned by Cailliaud, an explorer who visited the area in 1816. It is also the site of an old watering station and a small well-preserved Roman fort. Parking first on the road, Abdul tested the wet muddy sand and decided to risk driving over it part of the way to the temple, where we got out and walked the rest of the way. A police truck delivered the gafir about ten minutes later. The gafir went into his hut after saying hello to us, the police left and soon we could see tea being put on to brew on a little stove.
The Temple of Amun-re built by Seti I is a rock-cut speos, carved into the rocky gebel which reminded me of Horemheb’s rock-temple at Gebel-el-Silsila, or Hatshepsut’s temple at Speos Artimedos. Only the sandstone vestibule of Seti’s temple is open, the inner portions of the temple have been bricked up at some point. Four columns with papyrus capitals hold up the roof lintels, which are also decorated and the walls are covered in quite good, though sometimes damaged reliefs depicting the King before Amun-re and especially showing his victories over Kushite and Asiatic warriors. There is an alcove with a statue of the king. The guard left Sam and I alone to take our pictures.
Outside the temple there is a lot of grafitti and ancient inscriptions. At first they are difficult to see and most of them were in the shadow of the high cliff with the sun behind, but once we found one or two they seemed to spring out everywhere before our eyes. Most of them were high up on the cliff and though I scrambled up the scree as high as I dared, my long telephoto came in very useful here. I wondered how the original artists got up there to carve them.
One inscription is by the official responsible for digging the well, another carved by a Viceroy of Kush named Eni. There is Greek script, hieroglyphs and hieratic script and more modern 19th century grafitti from all the travellers who have visited the site over the centuries. Being a source of precious water, Kanais probably represented quite an important stopping place for travellers through the Eastern Desert, and each have left their mark. Apart from obvious hieroglyphic inscriptions there is also what looks like older rock-art depicting boats, giraffes, gazelles, an elephant, ostrich and other animals that have been bruised into the soft sandstone. Far from being disappointed I thought it was a wonderful place.
We walked around the Roman fort and though roofless with low walls, it still contains parts of small rooms and windows and the floor was scattered with pottery sherds. We looked at a round feature we assumed to be the remains of the well, as well as a rectangular pit that looked like it may have been a bathing pool. Eventually we wandered back to the gafir’s hut where he and Abdul were now drinking tea. After a few minutes we gingerly picked our way back to the minibus over the sodden sand, trying to find dry places to walk. The mud had half-dried in places leaving fantastic cracked patterns in large patches on the ground that I couldn’t stop photographing.
Back on the road we carried on east for another 10km where the more beautiful mountainous scenery begins towards the entrance to the Wadi Barramiya. At Bir el-Kanais, a desert track turns off to the right into the Wadi Miah. In this part of the Eastern desert, emerald mines and gold mines have been exploited since Roman times, but here we turned around and headed back towards Edfu. On either side of the road there were a lot of fenced-off military posts, as well as a few unusual Nubian-style domed buildings and several herds of camels. Back in Edfu we crossed the bridge into town and Abdul stopped to buy us some tamiya sandwiches, which we took to a park and ate under the shade of tall trees.
It had been a long morning and I felt like we had already seen a lot today, but the day wasn’t over yet. By the time we left Edfu after our leisurely lunch it was still only 2.00pm and Abdul suggested we stop at el-Kab to visit the New Kingdom tombs, as we would be passing right by the site. Sam and I never pass up the chance to visit tombs. When we arrived at el-Kab there were no other tourists, which didn’t surprise us because although visited much more than it used to be, the site is still off the main tourist itinerary. The guards seemed pleased to see us, so we bought our tickets for 30 EL and headed up the long flight of stone steps to the tomb terrace.
Though we have visited el-Kab several times before, Sam and I spent quite a long time in each of the four open tombs while the two young guards sat outside and chatted as though they hadn’t seen each other for months. And they say women can talk! We began at the Dynasty XVIII tomb of Paheri which has lots of interesting reliefs, including some beautiful agricultural scenes. Next we went into the less well-preserved tomb of Setau, a priest during the reign of Rameses III, where there is a lovely depiction of the barque of the goddess Nekhbet.
The third tomb on the terrace is that of Ahmose, son of Abana, grandfather of Paheri. I have a soft spot for this tomb which contains Ahmose’s long autobiographical text that I had to translate years ago for a hieroglyph course. Of course I have long forgotten the exact wording of the text which describes him as ‘Captain of Sailors’, but I remember seeing the beautiful hieroglyphs carved on the wall of this tomb for the first time and it left a deep impression on me, really bringing the text to life.
Renni is the owner of the fourth tomb, and this is probably my favourite because of the fabulous colourful reliefs and unusual subjects. Renni was a mayor of the town of Nekheb during the reign of Amenhotep I. I particularly love the detail of the funerary scenes in this tomb, which include depictions of Muu-dancers wearing tall basket-weave headdresses. The tiny reliefs are so beautifully drawn and painted. All of these tombs at el-Kab are well worth the effort of a visit.
By the time we arrived back in Luxor the sun had already set. It has been a very long but very productive day with so many new things to think about and discuss, which Sam and I did over a late dinner at Maxim’s.