Egyptair to Luxor
On our Spring trip to Egypt, Robin and I decided to plan flight and accommodation ourselves rather than book with a travel company and we began to our make arrangements at the end of 1997. It was just as well we wanted a DIY holiday, because there were very few travel companies offering Egypt as a destination since the terrible events last year at Deir el-Bahri which shocked the world.
From my far corner of the UK, the journey to Egypt is a very long haul. I left home early Sunday evening to travel by coach to London’s Heathrow airport, arriving there at 6.0am in a rather weary state but sustained by the excitement of the coming trip. I met my friend Robin later in the morning, we checked in and eventually boarded the Egyptair flight in the early afternoon, which was only half an hour late. This is Egypt’s national airline, distinctive by the red and gold falcon’s head on a blue tail. Compared with the charter flights I had done recently the cabin accommodation was sheer luxury. Plenty of legroom in the wide comfortable seats, attentive Egyptian staff and excellent food (although I had pre-booked a veggie meal). The in-flight magazine, ‘Horus’, is written in English and Arabic and offers many very good articles to while away the hours. We felt like we were already in the country as soon as we stepped aboard, welcomed with traditional Egyptian hospitality by the cabin crew. Each aircraft is given an ancient Egyptian name, which is painted on it fuselage – Cleopatra, Nefertiti etc. In later years the different aircraft felt like old friends!
The five and a half hour flight seemed to go very quickly. We were a little surprised, though perhaps we shouldn’t have been, that the aircraft was only about a quarter full. Robin and I had three seats each and could stretch out and try to catch up on some sleep. That was the idea anyway, but who can sleep on the way out to Egypt? Very soon we could see the dim line of waves breaking on the Mediterranean shore and then the random clusters of lights twinkling along the Nile valley. A pity, but it was dark when we landed in Luxor this time. We bought our visas and cleared customs in record time and were soon in a taxi on our journey to Luxor. We cheated a little as we had already arranged for a taxi to pick us up. We were staying in a hotel on the West Bank and didn’t fancy hauling our heavy suitcases across the passenger ferry, so our driver took us over the new bridge, which had recently opened. Unfortunately, as it was dark we couldn’t see much of the bridge at this time.
By the time we reached the Gezira Hotel near the West Bank ferry dock, it was really late. I had been travelling for 26 hours by the time I collapsed into bed after a royal welcome and a ‘welcome drink’ in the rooftop restaurant. Robin and I already knew the hotel owner, Gamal Mahmoud and most of the staff from meals we had had here in the past, but we were really just too tired to socialise. But it was so good to be in Egypt again at last.
The el-Gezira is a small Egyptian family run hotel in the village of Gezira, the place you pass through when you get off the public ferry. Robin and I chose this hotel because of its friendly atmosphere, its proximity to the ferry and the ease of getting to the monument area. Luxor consists of two halves divided by the River Nile. The East Bank or town, has it’s big tourist hotels and the temples of Luxor and Karnak, while the West Bank is mostly rural farmland separated by irrigation canals and dotted with small villages. It is the West Bank which contains the majority of the ancient monuments, the King’s Valley and the temples of many New Kingdom pharaohs that I love.
The el-Gezira Hotel was built only two years ago, in 1996. It is small, with only 11 rooms and with a wonderful rooftop terrace from where there is a fabulous view across the Nile to Luxor Temple. The staff will bend over backwards to ensure that guests have everything they need. I instantly felt at home here. The back of the hotel overlooks a little backwater of the Nile, a small house surrounded by palm trees where two camels were tethered in the yard and chickens ran around squawking. This became a familiar view during the weeks I stayed there as I spent a lot of time on the roof. In the evenings there was quite often a party going on, sometimes with tour groups from other hotels, or perhaps just for whoever turned up. There was always something going on. And most of all the food was excellent, especially when Samy the chef made his wonderful ‘Nubian Pizza’!
On our first day in Luxor Robin and I didn’t do very much – we just wanted a relaxing day after our long journey from England. We took an arabeya to the Colossi and walked along to Kom Lolla to say hello to some of our friends there and to sit in the Rameses Cafeteria and admire the wonderful view of Medinet Habu Temple. We didn’t even go into the temple, it was enough to be here, to watch the world go by. But few people went by – it was very quiet here on the West Bank. There were literally no tourists at this time, apart from maybe the occasional back-packer or independent traveller like us. We were told that many of the big hotels on the East Bank had closed down because there were no tour companies using them and the cruise ships were lined up abandoned on the banks of the Nile. The local people were finding it difficult to make ends meet after the ‘Incident’ at Deir el-Bahri and there was a great deal of hardship that we could see around us. Even our friendly taxi driver Ali had been forced to sell his gold teeth to provide food for his family. It was all very sad.
Back at the hotel later in the afternoon we had arranged to meet David, an English friend who lives in a village near Luxor. We all had dinner together and talked Egyptology on the roof terrace until late into the night. A satisfying day!
The Tomb of Tuthmose III
Ancient Egypt existed as a duality. To everything there were two aspects, positive and negative, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, the river and the desert, day and night. All things were in balance and one could not exist without the other. Robin and I found this out for ourselves in 1998 after being saddened by the plight of the people in a Luxor without tourism. For us the positive side was that we had the ancient sites to ourselves, an event which we were very grateful for even though we knew (or sincerely hoped) it would never happen again.
After a leisurely breakfast on the hotel roof we took a taxi to the Valley of the Kings. We had decided to use our time in the royal tombs that we had previously only seen haphazardly and amongst hordes of tourists. The Valley was empty by mid-day and being early March this scorched waterless place was not as hot as it often is. We were soon approached by an antiquities inspector named Hamdi who offered to accompany us, probably under the misapprehension that we would ‘do’ the three obligatory tombs and be gone quickly. We had decided that we wanted to look at all the available tombs in order of building to be able get a true impression of the sequence of decoration, from the earliest to the latest, so we were delighted when Hamdi told us that KV34, the tomb of Tuthmose III had recently re-opened after restoration. There was a new wooden staircase leading up the water-worn cleft in the rock, much easier to negotiate than the old iron ladder I had climbed before, but the tomb was just as deep as I remembered. As well as my camera equipment we had piles of heavy textbooks with us too.
KV 34 is the earliest tomb in the King’s Valley which is open, though on the way we did have a look at the entrance to KV38, the 2nd tomb of Tuthmose I, which was just a staircase leading into a rubble-filled corridor. Descending into the tomb of Tuthmose III, there were three corridors and a well, the first of these structures to be seen in the King’s Valley. Beyond this we came to an antechamber with two pillars which was decorated in yellow, red and black and included lists of stick-figures, divinities of the ‘Amduat’ and a lovely kheker-frieze went right around the walls below the ceiling. People tend to lump together Egyptian funerary books under the collective title ‘The Book of the Dead’. but Robin and I were learning that this was not accurate and there were in fact many funerary books decorating the walls of the royal tombs. The ‘Amduat’ was first seen in the tomb of Tuthmose I and from then on was the funerary text of choice in royal tombs. It was depicted in full in the tombs of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II and afterwards at least partially depicted in many other royal tombs as well as on coffins and papyri until the end of the Ptolemaic period.
The ‘Amduat’ or ‘Amydwat’, is also known as the ‘Book of that Which is in the Underworld’ or ‘The Book of the Secret Chamber’. This is the royal funerary text describing the dangerous journey the deceased king must make in order to be reborn. United with the sun god, he travels in the solar barque through the 12 hours of night, from dusk to dawn. Its text consists of 12 divisions of the underworld, describing the King’s journey in pictures and begins at Hour 1, in the centre of the left hand wall, when the sun slips below the horizon and the King is united with the Sun God, Re. The beetle-god, Khepri, represents the sun’s rebirth, the objective of this journey.
Robin and I, with Hamdi, who turned out to be very knowledgeable, continued around the walls studying and discussing the paintings, which were mostly cursive hieroglyphs and simple outline drawings in black on a pale yellow background. The burial chamber is rectangular with rounded corners, resembling a cartouche and the paintings scroll around them. The divisions of the hours are not sequential but are positioned in relationship to the movement of the sun, and run as follows:
Hours 2, 3 & 4 follow the curve around from Hour 1 towards the burial chamber entrance. Guided by Hathor, the Sun God accompanied by other deities, journeys by boat on the river flowing through the Underworld and through a fertile cultivated land of crops. Continuing the journey in Hour 3, other deities rejoice in the light the Sun God has brought them and we see the jackal-headed Anubis and the seated Osiris, preceded by a cluster of bird-headed protective demons. They are in ‘The Waters of Osiris’. In Hour 4 there are obstacles to the journey, and the boat must be towed across desert down into the Land of Sokar. To do this the barque magically becomes a slithering snake. Other deities are ready to protect the Sun God on this perilous journey.
Hour 7, on the other side of the entrance to the burial chamber, sees Re confronting his arch enemy, the serpent Apophis, who swallows the waters carrying the sun boat. The goddess Isis and others chant magical spells that bind Apophis, and destroy his power. The god Horus presides over twelve gods and twelve goddesses crowned with stars and symbolizing the twelve hours of the night.
Hour 5. The Barque of Re is towed around the cavern of Sokar, the falcon-headed god who clutches the wings of a serpent and they hold back the waters of chaos to allow Re’s passage. From the burial mound of Osiris, the beetle, Khepri, emerges to help pull the barque along. Hour 6 depicts the realm of Sobek the crocodile god. It is midnight and the soul of Re unites with his dead body, representing all those who have died, and brings light and eternal life. In front of this scene is a statue of a baboon, representing Thoth, the God of Wisdom.
Hour 8, on the opposite wall between two side-chambers, represents a turning point and the worst of the dangers have passed. Re provides the deceased King with white linen cloth to wear in the afterlifelife. Hour 9 sees the Sun God bringing provisions of grain, clothing and baskets of bread and beer to those in the afterlife. In Hour 10, the God Horus assures those drowned in the Nile that they will find refuge in the afterlife and the solar barque continues, protected by various deities.
Hour 11 can be seen behind the sarcophagus of Tuthmose III. It depicts the preparation for sunrise, with Re’s barque bearing a red sun disc on its bow, the colour red of the rising sun perhaps representing the slaying of the god’s enemies. The god Atum, with his winged serpent is about to devour the ten stars representing the hours of the night which have already passed. Hour 12 is the culmination of the journey, the hour of the sun’s rebirth. A figure of a snake is ready to encircle the world and Re is reborn in the form of the scarab beetle Khepri, god of the morning. Osiris, who has accompanied the solar barque, remains in the underworld, while other rows of deities raise their hands in thanks.
On seven sides of the pillars of the burial chamber is the ‘Litany of Re’ a two-part funerary text which describes the sun god under 75 different forms. It offers prayers for the King who has united with the sun god and other deities. On one of the pillars there is also a famous cameo scene, drawn as a rough sketch, in which Tuthmose III is being suckled by Isis (either the goddess or his mother Isis) in the form of a tree.
We had spent several hours in the tomb and the time had flown by, we were so engrossed in the texts. The guard had gone to sleep somewhere long ago and there had been no other visitors. During the recent restoration the painted walls had been protected by glass panels, so photography was more difficult. It really was time to leave, but we had to have a last quick look at the King’s beautiful cartouche-shaped yellow quartzite sarcophagus. We admired the remains of the plastered ceiling, once a deep blue sky covered in tiny yellow stars, before beginning our weary climb back out of the tomb and out into the glaring sun.
Back to The Valley
Staying on the West Bank is very convenient – except there is always the occasion when you want to pop over to Luxor, which Robin and I did this morning on the public ferry. We met up with our English friend David and Delia, a friend of his, who both have homes in Egypt. Lunch at the Amoun Cafe near the bazaar is always a delight and today we sat outside and chatted to several ex-pats who seem to congregate here once or twice a week. Other than David, none of them seemed to be particularly interested in the monuments, more in swapping recipes or complaining about the weather, which seemed perfect to me. However, this was a nice interlude and it was good to make some new friends. We didn’t stay on the East Bank very long, as we needed our daily dose of monuments.
We were soon in Tayib’s taxi on our way back to the King’s Valley, where Hamdi the antiquities inspector was waiting at the ticket office for us. This afternoon the Valley was again completely empty and I must say we felt rather honoured to have our own inspector to fend off the tomb guards. Today we wanted to see the next three open tombs in the sequence – Tuthmose IV, Tutankhamun and Rameses I.
Tuthmose IV, whose throne name was Menkheperure, sited his tomb high in the southern cliff of the Kings Valley. Found in 1903 by Howard Carter, it is numbered KV43 in the sequence of discovery. We walked up the steep path which led right up to the base of the gebel and descended down into the depths of the tomb, down two flights of stairs and corridors until we came to the well-shaft, decorated with lovely painted scenes on the yellow walls, of Tuthmose before Osiris, Anubis and Hathor. These figures were much more rounded and lifelike than those in the tomb of Tuthmose III, though still quite crude, but the paint looked fresh and brightly coloured. Also this tomb was an entirely different shape. Looking up we saw again the deep blue ceiling painted with tiny yellow stars. A chamber set at right-angles to the well-chamber contained two square pillars but the walls were left unfinished, showing only the guidelines for the decoration, which I found interesting.
Down another staircase and a sloping corridor and we came to an antechamber with two of its walls painted in a similar style to the well chamber but there were also some interesting cursive hieroglyphs, ancient grafitti by Maya ‘Overseer of the Treasury’, and Djutmose, ‘Steward of Thebes’, that was a restoration text from the time of Horemheb. The burial chamber beyond was quite large with six pillars and several storage chambers leading off it. We were a little disappointed that it was undecorated, but the King’s lovely quartzite sarcophagus, in a sunken pit, made up for this, with the white-painted figures of Isis and Nephthys at either end. Hamdi pointed out to us that this burial chamber contained the first example of ‘magical niches’ in the Valley. We also saw a mummified body propped up against the wall of a side chamber, looking like it was waiting for someone to notice it. We were told that this is the deepest tomb in the King’s valley, (or was it the one with the most stairs?). As we began to climb back up the winding steps and corridors I could well believe it.
Next stop Tutankhamun, probably the most famous tomb in Egypt and also the most disappointing at first glance. I had seen the fabulous treasures in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and had been very impressed. I had grown up with a poster of Tut’s golden mask on my bedroom wall and poured over books about the Valley of the King’s since I was a young girl, but I had never yet been into his tomb. The place that had been so evocative for me all my life was tiny and in a terrible state of preservation. It didn’t even feel like it was underground. There was a short corridor, a small undecorated antechamber and the sunken burial chamber, which we could not go into. A Procession of Gods and important figures paraded around the walls in the funerary procession on a drab golden background. Even the ‘Amduat’ was represented by only the baboons from the First Hour. The artistic style is very similar to the Tomb of Ay in the Western Valley. The King’s mummy was still in situ, displayed in the centre of the burial chamber in a gilded wooden coffin inside his sandstone sarcophagus. I was even disappointed by this as I don’t like to see mummies displayed. I kept trying to think about Howard Carter’s sensational discovery, the gilded shrines and the room full of treasures, but all I saw was this sad little tomb. I’ve been into the tomb several times since then and can now appreciate it much more. There are very many interesting points to be considered in both the decoration, which was unusually drawn to Amarna-style proportions, and the significance of the figures with the procession. But at the time I was ready to move on.
The next tomb we visited was that of the founder of the 19th Dynasty, Rameses I, which we found in a small branch off the main part of the Valley. Because the king’s reign was less than two years, this tomb was quite small for the Ramesside period with only two staircases and a descending corridor leading directly to the burial chamber and no well-room or antechambers. Much of the burial chamber was taken up with the king’s huge red quartzite sarcophagus, still in situ, and was the only area of the tomb which was decorated. The King obviously died before his tomb was anywhere near completion. The quality of decoration in Rameses’ tomb, however, made up for its abbreviated size with brightly coloured figures painted on a blue-grey background. I loved what little decoration there was. The goddess Ma’at flanked each side of the staircase doorway and beyond this the king was depicted before Ptah and a djed-pillar. On the south wall Rameses is welcomed into the Underworld by Anubis and Harsiesi, and scenes from the third division of the ‘Book of Gates’, the only funerary book depicted here. The wall behind the sarcophagus shows the king led by a priest to Osiris where he consecrates four boxes of coloured cloth (representing the funerary wrappings of Osiris) before Atum-Re-Khepri (the beetle-headed god who represents the transformation of the reborn sun). There were more passages from the ‘Book of Gates’ on the north wall showing the solar-barque’s journey through the hours of the night and the god Atum fighting the evil serpent Apothis. We spent quite a lot of time looking at the paintings and discussing hieroglyphs with Hamdi – we were impressed by how much he knew and I think he was a little impressed by our interest too. It had been very enjoyable.
We all went back to the cafeteria for a cold drink. We tried to offer Hamdi some baksheesh for all his trouble but he would not hear of it, only insisting that we come again next day as we had fully intended to do. An opportunity to see the king’s tombs empty and at our leisure and with the help of a tame inspector would never come again. We intended to make the most of it. It was almost dusk and our taxi driver Tayib was waiting in the car park to take us back to our hotel. It had been another lovely day.
Tombs of Merenptah & Siptah
Today, just for a change, Robin and I went to the King’s Valley in the morning instead of the afternoon. There were a few people around, but you could easily miss them among the cliffs and little hidden wadis. Hamdi the inspector met us again at the gate and knew that we wanted to see the next chronological tombs – those of 19th Dynasty pharaohs, Merenptah and Siptah. The tombs of Horemheb, Seti I and Rameses II were not open.
We found the tomb of Merenptah (KV8), a son of Rameses II, at the head of a branch of the King’s Valley which opens out behind his father’s burial place. It is a large but simply constructed tomb with a staircase and three descending corridors leading down from the entrance as far as the well room. In the entrance on the outer lintel a sun disc flanked by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys contain a ram-headed god and the Khepri beetle, and on the architrave the god Heh is seen kneeling with Isis and Hathor. The walls of the corridors show scenes from the ‘Litany of Re’, the Amduat, the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of the Dead’ and the ceilings depict astronomical scenes. The painted reliefs in the first corridor are beautiful, but sadly they have been damaged by flooding. The well room contains pictures of the king before various deities. A pillared hall which surrounds the second staircase is decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ with a winged Ma’at on the lintel above and an annex leads off to one side with some lovely well-preserved paintings. The tomb has been open since antiquity and on a pillar here there are Greek and Roman graffito left by early visitors. After another two corridors and a vestibule we came to the burial chamber, with its huge red granite sarcophagus lid. This is the second of four sarcophagi and another huge sarcophagus lid lies in the vestibule. The lid of the sarcophagus in the burial chamber is beautiful, showing the king lying with his crook and flail, a similar pose to knights tombs in English churches. As we progressed down the corridors we listed the funerary books, first the ‘Litany of Re’ then the ‘Amduat’. As we went deeper the ‘Amduat’ was replaced by the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of the Dead’, while in the burial chamber itself were more scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. This title refers to the twelve gates which divide the hours of the night. It was interesting to note the progression of the texts, with the solar texts nearer to the tomb entrance, then the king’s transformation and journey on the solar barque and in the deeper recesses of the tomb, Osiris, god of the Underworld was more in evidence. The ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony was depicted in the lower corridors leading to the burial chamber. We also noticed that while the wall decoration near the tomb entrance was very well carved and painted, it seemed to get less sophisticated the deeper we went into the tomb. Perhaps this was because the King, who was quite elderly when he came to the throne, was in a hurry to complete his tomb before his death.
The tomb of Siptah (KV47) is in the south-west branch of the Valley. It is a long straight tomb with wide corridors like the later Ramesside tombs and like the previous tomb of Merenptah, it has a lovely relief of a youthful king with Re-Horakhty near the entrance, along with the sun-disc and scarab between Isis and Nephthys which was becoming a familiar motif. We saw again the ‘Litany of Re’ in the first corridor and a ceiling decorated with flying vultures and serpents. In another corridor there was a lovely scene of Isis and Nephthys with Anubis leaning over the bier of Osiris. The rest of the tomb was badly damaged by flooding both in antiquity and recently and most of the decoration is now gone, although fragments of paint still appear here and there, as well as masons guide-lines in red paint presumably for work which was never completed. At the end of the tomb is a transverse burial chamber, rough and undecorated, but still containing the red granite cartouche-shaped outer sarcophagus of the king. Vertical masons’ marks on the north wall reflect the row of four pillars along the south wall as though it was intended that more pillars were to be cut. It has been interesting to follow the chronological progression of decoration in the tombs, but we were a little disappointed that this one was undecorated in the lower parts.
After five hours spent in only two tombs, we were ready for a drink in the resthouse while we waited for Tayib, our taxi driver, to arrive. We went back to the el-Gezira Hotel for a late lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon writing up notes and discussing what we had learned. Robin and I agreed that this intensive study of the kings’ tombs in situ was much more fun than studying from books back home in England.
In the evening we met up with our English friend David and the three of us went for a meal at a new West Bank restaurant we had not tried before. On the way back the wind was very strong with dust blowing high into the air and into our eyes. After a very warm day it is surprising how cold the nights can be here in early spring and even in the relatively warm wind we were all bundled up in jackets and scarves as we walked down the deserted road. This was the season of the Khamseen, the ‘fifty day wind’ which always comes at this time of year. It is a wind that blows intermittently straight off the Sahara Desert in little puffs and gusts to begin with, then sometimes turns into full-blown sandstorms. The sand gets everywhere and dries and cracks everything it reaches. Tonight was not too bad, but we were glad to get back into the shelter of the hotel. There was no point in sitting up on the roof in this wind as the sky was veiled with grey dust, instead of the deep black star-studded heavens we were used to seeing.
A Tomb and a Disco
The morning dawned clear again, last night’s wind and sand had disappeared, leaving a thick dust on the balcony and piles of rubbish in corners of the street. In England I’m hopeless at getting up in the morning, but here in Egypt I feel like I don’t want to miss a minute of the day. This morning I was woken early by dogs barking nearby. It sounded like the whole village of dogs had urgent communications to make with each other. Then the gas-man came by, bringing his cart-load of bottled gas cylinders and beating them with a stick to advertise his presence. Robin and I had a quite lazy morning, crossing over to Luxor on the ferry to go and change some money and then to visit Gaddi’s bookshop. Hmm.. maybe I should have gone to the bookshop before I changed money, as I ended up buying several books. I would regret this later when I came to pack my suitcase to go home.
In the afternoon we were back in the King’s Valley with our faithful inspector, Hamdi and this time his brother Mohammed too. We went into the tomb of Rameses III (KV11), the 19th Dynasty king who had built his temple at Medinet Habu. The tomb is in the central part of the Valley, is very large, long and straight and was begun by his predecessor Setnakht, before he abandoned it to usurp another tomb. It is sometimes called ‘Bruce’s Tomb’, after the modern explorer, or the ‘Tomb of the Harpists’ because of it’s lovely relief of two blind harpists and has been open since antiquity. The design and decoration is fairly typical of the later Ramesside tombs but it has some interesting variations.
The entrance at the bottom of a steep staircase has the usual sun disc with scarab and ram-headed god on the lintel and inside the first corridor. Also in the entrance are two cow-headed pilasters on either side (which seem to be unique to this tomb). Texts from the ‘Litany of Re’ are depicted in the first corridor along with the usual scenes of the king before Re-Horakhty. Two niches or side-chambers open off the middle of the first corridor, uniquely decorated with pictures of bakers, cooks, butchers, brewers and a leather-worker in the east chamber, and pictures of sailing boats in the west chamber. The first three corridors were originally decorated for Sethnakht. The second corridor also depicts characters taken from the ‘Litany of Re’, with Anubis, Isis and Nephthys. There are eight side-rooms along the length of this corridor and each one is decorated with interesting and unusual pictures, including the famous blind harpists (for some reason harpists were often blind). The end of the second corridor turns a sharp right bend, where Sethnakht abandoned the tomb because he ran into the roof of the adjoining tomb of Amenmesse (KV10). Rameses relocated the axis to run parallel with the original and carried on further into the hillside.
The third corridor, decorated by Rameses III shows scenes from the ‘Amduat‘ and the ‘Book of Gates’ and leads into a ritual well-room before entering a hall with four pillars and a sloping floor. On the east side of the pillared hall are scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and representations of the four human races. The western side of this hall opens into an annex with scenes of Rameses being led by Thoth and Horus and being offered the feather of Ma’at by Osiris. Neith and Selket can be seen in the doorway. A barrier closes off the entrance to the fourth corridor which descends further into the tomb towards a vestibule and the burial chamber, but we could see scenes from the ‘Opening of the Mouth Ritual’ and the king before various deities. The decoration of the eight-pillared burial chamber has suffered from severe flood damage but was evidently decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of the Earth’. There is no astronomical ceiling. Side-chambers contain extracts from the ‘Book of the Divine Cow’ the ‘Book of Aker’ and the ‘Fields of Iaru’. At the end of the burial chamber is an extension of several further annexes. The red granite sarcophagus of Rameses III was sold to the King of France and is now in the Louvre. It’s lid, which was found by Belzoni was sold to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the mummy of the king is now in Cairo Museum. I loved the brightly coloured paintings in this tomb – there was so much to look at and so many funerary books to work out that we stayed most of the afternoon and felt that I could have spent even longer. I would have to come back!
Although it was late afternoon, Robin and I decided in a wild fit of energy that we would walk back over the mountain to Deir el-Bahri as we hadn’t arranged a taxi back today. We climbed the steep narrow path from the end of the King’s Valley up to the top of the mountain, hoping we wouldn’t get lost. The view from the top was truly spectacular, with the sun setting behind us and the cultivated area turning a bright gold. It was well worth the climb, even though someone tried to sell us ‘genuine antiquities’ while we were there admiring the view. The young man had materialised from behind a rock and we had to laugh as we didn’t imagine he’d find much trade up there, but maybe he was just on his way home. We were too late to visit Hatshepsut’s temple but walked down the mountain path and across Deir el-Bahri causeway to Asasif where we met a guard who showed us down into the massive tomb of Mentuemhet. This tomb was not open as it was being consolidated, but the courtyard was very large and fitting for this important character, a mayor of Thebes during the 25-26th Dynasties. By now it was almost dark so we walked down to the road and hopped on a passing arabeya back to Gezira.
In the evening we were invited to a party at the Novatel in Luxor by some of the staff at el-Gezira and we enjoyed an evening of Egyptian music and watched brilliant dancing by some young guys down from Cairo, which made a big contrast to spending so much time recently in tombs. Evening entertainment in Egypt never begins until about 10.30pm, so it was not until 4.00am that we finally got to bed, exhausted but happy.
Rameses IV and Afternoon Tea
Robin and I spent a lazy morning reading on the hotel roof. We had had a late night and couldn’t stir ourselves to do very much this morning so we put the time to good use writing up our notes and discussing the kings tombs we had seen so far. But of course before long this inspired us to get back to the Valley. Inspector Hamdi wasn’t around when we first got there so we went into KV2, the tomb of Rameses IV and the next on our list.
The tomb of Rameses IV is close to the entrance to the King’s Valley and has been open since antiquity. It has a large courtyard in front of it and is very long and straight, though thought not to have reached its intended length, as there is an architect’s original plan of this tomb drawn on Papyrus in Turin Museum, indicating that it should have been longer. Close to the entrance there are Coptic crosses drawn on the walls, suggesting that this tomb was once used as an early Christian church or perhaps a hermit’s dwelling. Otherwise it is fairly typical of later Ramesside tombs with a staircase and several long corridors. I saw again the familiar disc containing a scarab and ram-headed god Amun, flanked by Isis and Nephthys on the lintel as well as on the wall of the first corridor. Funerary texts in the tomb consist of the ‘Litany of Re’, the ‘Amduat’ and the ‘Book of Gates’ that we had seen in other tombs but also, for the first time was part of the ‘Book of Caverns’ which represents the perils of the sun god in the underworld and emphasises afterlife rewards and punishments. There were also sections from another set of funerary texts, the ‘Books of the Heavens’ which depict the Sun’s journey through the sky and replace some of the older astronomical texts. The tomb of Rameses IV has a warm feel, its colours of orange and gold formed the basis of elaborately carved and painted scenes.
The sarcophagus chamber was probably originally intended to be a pillared hall which would have preceded the actual burial chamber. Because the plan was abbreviated, no pillars were cut and a sarcophagus ‘pit’ was sunk into the floor. The massive red granite outer sarcophagus which was found in the tomb, was broken in antiquity, but has been restored and can be seen in the burial chamber. A further corridor beyond the burial chamber has the initial texts from the ‘Book of Caverns’ on its walls, but this is more crudely painted. This chamber opens into three annexes. The walls in the rooms to the south and north have mummiform depictions of the king, perhaps illustrating his ushabtis, while the room at the end of the corridor show other funerary objects (couch, chests and canopic jars). The body of Rameses IV was found among those royal mummies in KV35.
Back outside in the sunshine we met up with Hamdi and he invited us to his house for tea. It wasn’t far to go, so we all piled into the front of a service car for the short drive. Hamdi introduced us to his young wife, who was soon due to have their first child and we met his mother and also his brother Mohammed again. We were seated in the guest parlour which had been beautifully painted by Hamdi with hearts and flowers around the centre of the walls. A tray of sweet strong tea was brought in and placed before us. Mohammed is a stone carver and he showed us some of his lovely work and he gave us a demonstration of carving intricate hieroglyphs onto a scarab. We could see that these were the real thing and not the meaningless cursive strokes you sometimes see on souvenirs. They are a lovely family and I really enjoyed my time spent with them.
Shopping in Luxor
I had been in Egypt for a week but as usual it felt like I had been here forever. The el-Gezira Hotel had become home and our forays each day to the Valley of the Kings and to spend time with old and new friends on the West Bank had become our daily routine.
Today we decided to have a break from The Valley and had arranged to meet up for lunch with some English ex-pat friends at the Amoun restaurant in Luxor. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch sitting outside in the mild March sunshine and the conversation inevitably got around to buying food in Luxor. David is passionate about bacon, which apparently is a rarity here as Egyptian Muslims don’t eat pork. Whenever anyone is coming from England the only thing he asks them to bring is bacon. It is available in Cairo, but here in Luxor there is only one Christian shop where it can be bought and then only occasionally in the winter months. Being vegetarian I had never thought about the difficulties of buying and eating meat here. I had always averted my eyes when passing the butchers shops displaying decapitated heads of unidentified animals and bloody carcasses hanging outside covered with flies which well outnumber customers. David excitedly told us he had found a supermarket where he could buy frozen chicken – most Egyptians would be happier to buy a live one to kill and eat fresh. He suggested we accompany him on his afternoon shopping trip.
We first walked to the top of Market Street to the local bazaar, skirting open drains surrounded by muddy pools of fetid water, past the heaps of produce arranged on the ground. There were many strange fruits and vegetables I didn’t recognise and I had to ask the names of several of these. We walked through the street past coffee shops where men sat placidly drinking glasses of tea and smoking aromatic shisha. Black-clad women strolled about with baskets balanced on their heads, selecting their goods carefully while gossiping with friends and children scampered about everywhere. When they saw us they begged for pens, sweets or baksheesh, shouting and clutching at our clothes. The noise was deafening and the aromas of fruit, spices, coffee and incense pervaded everything.
David introduced us to his favourite supermarkets – a relatively new concept in Luxor at the time – which he called the ‘Pink Shop’ and the ‘Green Shop’ (identified by the colour of their facades). The Pink Shop, on Sharia Mabad el-Karnak was the cheapest but the Green Shop just off Television Street was better stocked, he told us. He bought his frozen chicken and some frozen prawns and filled his basket with all sorts of western-type foods, including Pepsi, potato crisps, and even English Cadbury’s chocolate bars, eventually dragging his basket to the checkout delighted with his purchases. I hate shopping for food at home, but I had to admit that I do take a well-stocked supermarket for granted. Robin and I bought some hard salty cheese and some crisps to snack on later. Luxor has a unique variety of foods, not too spicy but well-flavoured with herbs and a large number of restaurants where authentic Egyptian food can be sampled. There are also many tourist restaurants, some set up by ex-pats and offering entirely Western food, while other well-known chains are beginning to appear. The first of these in Luxor was McDonald’s whose pyramid-shaped glass facade and huge neon sign just behind Luxor Temple, I considered to be an outrage.
Egypt, as a predominately Muslin country, forbids alcohol to the adherants of Islam, but having said that, the rules are fairly relaxed compared to other Muslim countries and the consumption of alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners is tolerated. It is also quietly consumed by a great many Egyptian men whose favourite tipple seems to be whisky and we had been asked several times if we could buy whisky or beer from the duty-free shop for them. Alcoholic drinks are freely available in tourist hotels and a few restaurants, especially a local Stella beer and some reasonable Egyptian wines such as Cru du Ptolemy or Cleopatra. David told us of a Christian-owned off-licence on Station Street where we could buy bottles of wine (but it is expensive).
Walking down through the bazaar, gradually more and more tourist stalls and shops became apparent, then a few tourists themselves, trying ineffectually to ward off unwanted items thrust at them by persistent salesmen. This is the suq and I love it! However, at this time because there were so few tourists here many of the stalls were closed and a dismissive wave of the hand and a curt ‘La Shukran’ no longer deterred these aggressively proficient (and desperate) shopkeepers. It all felt very sad. Usually the suq is a wonderful collection of cheap, tawdry, rare and valuable all brought together in a shopper’s paradise – especially if you’re interested in Egyptian souvenirs. A number of high quality goods are to be had if you choose carefully, often at bargain prices, including carpets and rugs, cotton clothing, inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards, jewellery and leather goods, music tapes and papyrus. Perfumes and spices are among the most popular things bought by tourists. Herbs and spices can be bought at many colourful stalls in the suq and are generally of a higher quality and much cheaper than those available in Western supermarkets.
Finally we arrived at David’s favourite store, the Government Shop on Cleopatra Street, where prices are fixed and cheap. A large dingy establishment boasting three floors, this is the closest Luxor comes to a department store with a stock of basic household items from teaspoons to washing machines. On the ground floor was mostly carpeting (some beautiful rugs) and children’s clothing, with gas ovens and fridges thrown in, seemingly as an afterthought. Up a crumbling concrete staircase was a mezzanine, where underclothing, shoes, suitcases and bags, pots and pans, crockery and small electrical appliances could be found and where sleepy salesmen dozed behind their dusty counters. The top floor was dominated by furniture, dusty old armchairs and sofas, all unfailingly upholstered in drab colours. There was also a fabric department, mostly cheap cotton prints, glossy bolts of velour and a few furnishing fabrics in either geometric designs or full-blown cabbage roses. The plain, peach coloured fabric David was looking for was not available, and he was told that new stock arrives about every six weeks. His DIY project would have to wait.
We all had a cold drink at a juice stall. Delicious fresh juices are sold widely in street stalls in Egypt – sugar cane (kasab), mango (manga), strawberry (farawla), pomegranate (rummaan), orange (burtukaan), lemon (limun), or whatever is in season, is freshly pressed while you wait. Here we parted company, David to catch an arabeya back to his house in a village just outside Luxor and Robin and I to get the ferry back over the river to our West Bank ‘home’ at Gezira. Shopping today in Luxor had been an interesting new experience!
Abydos at Last
For many years, long before I first came to Egypt, I had wanted to visit the Temple of Seti I at Abydos. I had a friend who used to tell me stories about Omm Sety, an English lady who had had a particular relationship with Abydos and the pharaoh Seti I. Jo had known her and visited her whenever he was in Egypt. I had also read Jonathan Cott’s book, ‘The Search for Omm Sety’ and this had fired up my imagination and created a mystery about the temple.
Abydos is about 160km to the north of Luxor and is one of the most interesting monumental sites in the Nile Valley, dating back to the very beginnings of Egyptian history when the earliest rulers chose to be buried in a desert necropolis in the sacred cult centre of Osiris. The area flourished from the Early Dynastic Period right down to Christian times. Abydos was considered an important place of pilgrimage mentioned in tomb inscriptions and it seems that it was the wish of all men to be buried there, either actually or symbolically. The site is now dominated by the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and Rameses II.
So this was an exciting day for me, to see Abydos at last, an ambition which up until now had been thwarted because of the tight security in the area and because the temple had previously been closed to tourists. Robin and I had arranged to make the journey by taxi with our good friend and taxi driver Tayib, but this meant inevitably joining the convoy. We left Luxor at 8.00am with the long lines of coaches and taxis heading north towards Qena, some turning off to the Red Sea coast and others continuing on to Dendera. What we hadn’t realised was that we would have to spend an hour and a half at Dendera before being allowed to carry on. Although I had been there a couple of times before, we made good use of our time at Dendera, taking a closer look at the birth houses, the Coptic Church, which was being restored and the block fields with some interesting reliefs.
Eventually we were able to carry on and the agricultural countryside was very pretty in places. I noticed many houses with rows and rows of pottery water jars stacked up in piles and even used in the construction of walls. Qena province is a centre for traditional pottery which is laid out in the sun to dry before being fired in open pit kilns. The houses themselves are built from neat rows of brick, often in terraces like working class suburbs in an English town and they looked very different to the painted and plastered houses in the Luxor area. Strips of fields were being cultivated by men in galabeyas and brightly clad children who were tending animals, sometimes waved to us as we sped by. We went through the town of Nag Hamadi, renowned in Egypt for it’s sugar production. Here we crossed the long bridge over the Nile to the West Bank and noticed a couple of cruise boats moored by the barrage. This was interesting because it meant that the boats were once more allowed on this stretch of the river. The area of Middle Egypt around Nag Hamadi is largely Coptic by tradition, the early Christian sects lived in desert isolation or in walled fortresses around here and the radical theologies of the Gnostics who were suppressed by the later church only recently came to light with the discovery of the Nag Hamadi scrolls.
By the time we arrived at Abydos there were only three cars left in the convoy, although there seemed to be a lot of Egyptian tourists here, which was unexpected. The village of el-Araba was much larger than I had imagined and as we left our taxi we walked through a garden area with a cafe, we had a spectacular view of the front of the temple. To my dismay, we were told that we would only be allowed one hour here to see everything, so we quickly went into the temple.
The cult temple of Seti I is the largest of the extant Abydos temples, built to an unusual L-shaped plan, it has seven sanctuaries instead of the usual one (or three). This temple was built in Dynasty XIX by Seti I, but the decoration of the courtyards and first hypostyle hall was completed by his son Rameses II.
The temple is entered through the now ruined first pylon which would have fronted a quay linking the temple with the River Nile to the east and there are two courtyards, which we had no time to look at. The entrance to the outer hypostyle hall is through a central doorway from a portico with square columns decorated with scenes of Rameses II offering to various deities. The outer hypostyle was decorated by Rameses after the death of his father and while the reliefs are not as delicate as those of Seti I, they are finer than those in some of his later temples. This hall boasts 24 papyrus columns each showing Rameses in the presence of the god of the shrine at the end of the aisle.
Seven doorways lead into the second hypostyle hall which serves as a vestibule for the seven cult chapels in the west wall. This hall, decorated in the reign of Seti I, has 36 pillars and on its walls there are beautiful reliefs of the king worshipping and performing rituals before various deities. On a raised platform to the west the chapels from left to right are dedicated to the deified Seti I, Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis and Horus. The sacred barques of each god would have been housed in these chapels and the scenes they contain depict fascinating accounts of the rituals associated with the festivals of each deity. The chapel of Seti I differs in its reliefs which show the king’s sovereignty being endorsed by the gods. The ceilings are vaulted and six of the chapels have a false door carved on the western wall. The Osiris chapel however, has instead a doorway which leads to a suite of rooms behind.
The chambers at the back of the temple are dedicated to the cult of Osiris. The first Osiris hall with its 10 columns, has exquisite colourful reliefs depicting the king offering to Osiris and enacting various rituals to the god. The three chambers to the right are sanctuaries dedicated to Horus, Seti I and Isis. Behind these chambers is a secret room which appears to have no entrance but is thought to have been a crypt where the most sacred temple treasures were stored. On the other side of the main Osiris hall is a second hall containing 4 pillars with niches around its walls and three chapels to the south. The decoration is very poor in this hall but it is thought to have contained reliefs of mysteries of the resurrection of Osiris and perhaps an astronomical ceiling. Back in the second hypostyle hall there are two doorways in the south wall. The doorway on the right leads to the hall of Ptah-Sokar and Nefertem, gods of the Memphite triad and the northern counterpart to Osiris. The other doorway in the second hypostyle hall (on the left) leads into a corridor called the ‘Gallery of Lists’ in which Seti I and his young son Rameses offer to a list of cartouches of 76 kings. Seti holds a censor while Rameses reads from a papyrus scroll. Halfway along this gallery a doorway leads to a passage by which visitors can leave the temple via a staircase to reach the Osirion. Reliefs on the walls of the corridor date to the reign of Rameses II who is shown with his young son Prince Amenhirkhopshef roping a bull, catching wildfowl in a clapnet and dragging the barque of Sokar.
The Seti reliefs in the temple were absolutely superb and I was captivated by the beauty of the artwork, but time was very limited and I was barely able to have more than a cursory glance at each wall before making my way out to the Osirion. This is a curious structure which lies on the main axis of Seti’s temple but at a subterranean level and was discovered as recently as 1903. This monument was originally roofed, its only entrance was through a long vaulted passage outside the northern wall of the Seti temple though visitors today enter the Osirion by a wooden staircase on the south side of the huge central hall. The central hall has 10 huge red granite pillars which supported the massive roofing blocks. The appearance reminded me of Khafre’s Valley Temple at Giza and for this reason many scholars speculate on its precise age. The central part of the hall is an island which may have been cut off from the rest of the building by its surrounding trenches of water, which were drained and cleared of debris in 1993 but the bottoms have never been excavated. The increased height of the water-table means that most of the year the central part of the hall is flooded. At the eastern end of the central hall is another large chamber which spans its width and reflects the transverse chamber at the western side. This chamber is still roofed and decorated with astronomical scenes on the east side and a finely carved relief of the sky-goddess Nut supported by Shu god of the air, with the Decans on the western side. This room is invariably flooded even in the dry season and is very dark. The Osirion has been interpreted as a kind of cenotaph of the god Osiris. The style, though often thought to reflect the Old Kingdom because of the scale of its masonry, is now presumed to be the attempts by New Kingdom builders to archaize the plan and decoration of elements of a royal tomb of the period. If this is the case then the cult temple of Osiris would have the role of a mortuary temple in relation to the ‘royal tomb’, the Osirion. Because the structure was buried under a mound it is possible that the central hall was designed to symbolise the great myth of Osiris buried on an island surrounded by the primeval waters. Its real purpose however, is still obscure.
The Seti Temple itself was very dark and I knew that my photographs here would not be good, so on this occasion I didn’t take many inside. But the Osirion fascinated me and I spent a lot of time photographing it. Luckily the water was low and I could walk right around the low island structure. Our hour was very quickly gone and it was so frustrating to come all this way for so little time, but I was grateful for being able to get here at all. The area was still very heavily guarded with police on camels patrolling the walls and there was no time to see the Rameses Temple or any of the desert sites which I would have loved to have visited, but it just meant that I would have to find another way to spend more time here. At least I now knew Abydos was not impossible.
The journey back was not so good. We stopped for what seemed like a long time at the Qena checkpoint to wait for the convoy from Dendera and speeded back to Luxor as though the tourist police couldn’t wait to get home. The 100 kph journey along bumpy roads in an unsprung taxi was uncomfortable and the heat and diesel fumes made Robin and I both feel quite ill. Although we had had a wonderful day and one of my ambitions had been fulfilled, we were both glad when we reached the outskirts of Luxor and could leave the convoy.
After visiting Abydos yesterday I had been thinking about Omm Sety, a remarkable lady who lived for almost quarter of a century at her house near Abydos Temple.
Dorothy Louise Eady was born in London in 1904 and from an early age discovered an affinity for everything ancient Egyptian. Much of her story is described in Jonathan Cott’s book, ‘In Search of Omm Sety’, where he gives her personal reasons for feeling such a kinship with ancient Egypt. According to her own story she fell downstairs at the age of three and was pronounced dead. She revived however and from a vision while she was concussed, came to believe that she had lived in Egypt during the 19th Dynasty. By the time she was in her early teens Dorothy had found a friend and teacher in Sir Wallis Budge, who was then the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, a controversial Egyptologist who wrote a great many books on the history, language and ritual of ancient Egypt, still widely read today, though often considered flawed. Wallis Budge taught Dorothy about Egypt and she very quickly mastered hieroglyphs, explaining that she had known the language before and only had to re-remember it. During her teens she had vivid dreams about ancient Egypt and felt that she was visited by Seti I. After WW1 ended and during her adolescent and early adult years Dorothy Eady lived with her parents in Plymouth, becoming a student at Plymouth Art School where she learned to draw, something that would be useful in her later career. At the age of twenty seven Dorothy was again living in London working for an Egyptian public relations magazine when she met her husband-to-be, an Egyptian student named Imam Abdel-Maguid who was a bit of a political activist. This was during the 1930s when Egypt was still under British occupation and the Egyptian nationalist party was working towards independence under the auspices of British rule and the Egyptian constitutional monarchy of King Faud. Imam returned to Egypt and they corresponded for a year before he asked Dorothy to marry him, to which she agreed. In 1933 she booked a boat passage and in great excitement set off for her beloved Egypt, where on her arrival she had a great sense of coming home.
Dorothy, who had been given the name ‘Bulbul’ (nightingale) by her father-in-law, was not suited to wifely domestic routine, which quickly became evident to her husband. They had a son, Sety, but soon Imam and Dorothy began to grow apart and Dorothy continued to have strange dreams and visions in which she was visited by the pharaoh Seti I. She began to write during the night and claimed she was being dictated to by an unknown presence called Hor-Ra who, when she eventually translated and collated her nightly scribblings, had told her the story of her previous life at Abydos during the reign of Seti I and her subsequent relationship with the king. Dorothy and Imam parted and later divorced in 1936. With her young son she went to live at Giza, near the pyramids and soon became the first woman ever to be employed by the Egyptian Antiquities Department, working as a draftsman for Dr Selim Hassan, who she also helped by editing and proofreading parts of his 10-volume work, ‘Excavations at Giza’. Dorothy Eady quickly gained a reputation as a very competent copyist and student of hieroglyphs while researching and honing her skills in archaeology. During this time she also met many of the famous Egyptologists working at Giza. When her son Sety was five years old he went to live with his father and Dorothy was able to give her full attention to her developing career in Egyptology. As well as carrying out editorial work for Dr Selim Hassan and Ahmed Fakhry, she became a prolific writer producing articles and essays in her own name. Perhaps one of her best known works is the book she later wrote in collaboration with her friend Hanny el-Zeini, ‘Abydos: Holy City of Ancient Egypt’ which was published in 1981.
Egypt’s self-rule came in 1948 with the raising of the Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square, which Dorothy Eady celebrated with much emotion. She was well-respected by then as an Egyptologist and an inspiring, fun-loving, if eccentric, friend to many Egyptians. In spite of her claims to have lived a previous life in Abydos as the servant/lover of King Seti, Dorothy never went there until 1952. During her visits there she was even more convinced about her spiritual feelings of a previous existance and in 1956 asked the Egyptian Antiquities Service to transfer her to Abydos. She became known as Omm Sety (Mother of Sety) and remained there for the rest of her life.
All her life she believed that she had known the temple of Seti I with its beautiful reliefs, even before she first saw it, and many visitors say that her knowledge of the fine scenes was unsurpassable. People began to go to Abydos, not just to see the monuments, but to visit this remarkable legend, Omm Sety, who lived there and she would guide travellers bare-footed around the temple passing on her great knowledge. The temple at Abydos as a sacred shrine became her life and she adhered strictly to the ancient Egyptian calendar, observing the feasts and performing prayers to Osiris on the holy days. She set up a simple mud-brick home in el-Araba el-Madfuna, in the shadow of the temple, with various pets including a succession of cats, a donkey, a goose and an occasional snake. For fifteen years Omm Sety lived happily at Abydos but in the last decade of her life she became ill, suffering first heart attacks and then was crippled with a broken hip. She built a tomb for herself, refusing to be buried either in the Christian or Muslim cemetery, but wanting to be close to those ancient friends where she felt she belonged.
Omm Sety died on 21 April 1981, not long after the completion of a documentary film, ‘Omm Sety and her Egypt’ which was shown on BBC television in May 1981. Sadly, I never met this incredible lady but had known of her long before I first visited Abydos. She is still a myth there and on later visits I have been into her house, now fairly derelict, and visited her grave, even looked through her personal notebooks. It was not permitted for her to be buried in her self-constructed tomb and she now lies in a sad little grave outside the edge of the Muslim cemetery out in the desert. Her grave is marked only by a small pile of stones which are frequently scattered by the wind and desert animals. It is to be hoped that Dorothy Eady / Bulbul Abdel-Meguid / Omm Sety is now among her ‘own people’ as she called them, in the land of Amenti.
Rameses V & VI Tombs
After Abydos, we had a slow and lazy start to the day, but by lunchtime Robin and I were once more in the Valley of the Kings ready to get back to our self-imposed study of the tombs. We were now into the Rameside tombs of Dynasty 20 and today it was to be the joint tomb of the kings Rameses V and VI. KV9, situated just behind the tomb of Tutankhamun, was open from antiquity and known to the Romans as the Tomb of Memnon – Memnonia being the name the Graeco-Romans gave to the whole West Bank monument area and a large amount of early graffiti was left in the tomb by those early tourists. The mound of rubble from the clearance of this tomb was what prevented Tutankhamun’s tomb being discovered earlier, because the debris actually covered the entrance.
The decoration from the entrance as far as the well-room was done for Rameses V but we don’t know for certain whether the pharaoh, who ruled for only four years, was ever buried in the tomb. It was completed by his successor Rameses VI whose sarcophagus fragments were found in the burial chamber. Here again at the entrance we saw the traditional scene of Isis and Nephthys kneeling at either side of the sun disc. The decoration throughout the tomb is in sunk relief with lovely well-preserved painted scenes on a creamy background. The corridors are wide and gently sloping, without the staircases and ramps of earlier tombs. The left-hand side of the first corridor shows the figure of Rameses V (usurped by his brother Rameses VI) before Re-Horakhty and Osiris, and the now-familiar scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. On the right-hand side is a similar portrait of the king and scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’. An astronomical ceiling contains scenes from the ‘Book of Night’ and the ‘Book of Day’. The second and third corridors are similarly painted with the ‘Book of Gates’ and ‘Book of Caverns’, with the addition of the ‘Book of the Divine Cow’ (part of the ‘Books of the Heavens’) on the left wall in the third corridor.
A well-room leads to a pillared hall, perhaps intended as a ‘false burial chamber’, cut and decorated by Rameses VI. The four pillars show scenes of the king offering to various deities. Here are scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of Caverns’, with Rameses VI before Osiris (identified with the sun-god Re) in a double scene on the lintel over the descending passage. The astronomical ceiling continues from the well-room with constellations, decans list and the ‘Book of the Heavens’. A steeper descent leads to the fourth corridor which has depictions of Nekhbet and Meretseger as serpent goddesses and scenes from the ‘Amduat’ on the walls. The ‘Amduat’ is also featured in the next corridor. Here the tomb builders had to drop the level of the floor to avoid cutting in to KV12 above it, which resulted in the unique feature of having a sloping floor combined with a horizontal ceiling. An antechamber, with walls illustrating scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’ and a ceiling describing the resurrection of Osiris, leads to the burial chamber of Rameses VI.
The walls of the burial chamber show various scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of Aker’ (a new one for us) which deals with creation and the journey of the solar disc. This was the first appearance of ‘Book of the Earth’ in a royal burial chamber. The king offers to the gods on each of the sides of the two pillars. A superb vaulted astronomical ceiling is illustrated by a double image of Nut with the ‘Book of Night’ and the ‘Book of Day’ (‘Books of the Heavens’), showing the mystery of the daily regeneration of the solar disc. In the burial chamber is also the broken remains of a large granite outer sarcophagus of Rameses VI. Both of the mummies of Rameses V and VI were found with other royal mummies in the KV35 cache in 1898.
We had been in the tomb for a couple of hours and our friend Inspector Hamdi had caught up with us, so we had a lively discussion of the wide variety of funerary books here. He then suggested we went to look at the tomb of Mentuherkhopshef. A son of Rameses IX, this was the only prince’s tomb in the King’s Valley, in the eastern branch of the wadi near KV43. This was very different to the long Ramesside king’s tombs and seemed little more than a wide corridor, but is well worth visiting for it’s delicate paintings and beautiful soft colours on a white plastered background behind the glass-covered walls. I thought it was one of the most beautiful I had seen, depicting the young prince with his forelock of youth and wearing various very detailed costumes. The quarrying of the tomb was apparently abandoned and its original dedication texts show that it was first intended for a Prince Setherkhepshef and was later taken over for Mentuherkhopshef.
So, another really nice afternoon and Robin and I both felt that we had learned much more today about the funerary books because of the excellent illustrations in the Ramesside tomb. We had dinner at the Tutankhamun Restaurant down by the ferry. This is one of my favourite eating places in Luxor with superb food. Hag Mahmoud, the charming owner, prides himself on his delicious food and the dishes of soup, rice, and many and varied vegetables just kept appearing in front of us. There was actually much more than we could eat. Afterwards we had fruit and lovely ‘Ahwa Nobi‘ (Nubian’ coffee), while sitting on the restaurant roof looking across the colourful river to a brightly lit Luxor Temple.
Qurna Nobles’ Tombs
After a morning in Luxor doing a little shopping, Robin and I crossed back to the West Bank and decided to visit Qurna where the Theban elite had their tombs. These tomb chapels of the noblemen are very different to the royal tombs in the King’s Valley and made a nice contrast. To begin with they are very much smaller than the kings’ tombs, but they are also more lively, often with bright paintings which represent the daily life of the deceased and their families as well as the funerary rites. We got a service taxi to Qurna, first stopping at the ticket office to buy a ticket for the tombs of Benia, Khonsu and Userhet, which are grouped together in the same location.
The T-shaped tomb of Benia (TT343), who is also called Pahekmen, is situated in a courtyard in the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. He had several titles, including ‘Overseer of Works’ and his tomb contains depictions of Benia supervising the weighing of gold and precious items from the treasury, which are then recorded by scribes. It is likely that Benia was brought to Egypt as a child from an Asiatic land (because of his name and the names of his parents), to be brought up in the royal court. This was often the custom during the New Kingdom. There are some lovely banqueting scenes showing Benia and his relatives being entertained by male musicians, including a harpist, which is especially beautiful. The long inner chamber has scenes of the funeral procession on the left-hand side, in which Benia’s sarcophagus with the accompanying burial goods is dragged to his tomb. The procession moves towards the Western Goddess and scenes below show boats in the ‘Abydos Pilgrimage’. On the opposite side the funeral rites are shown, with the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual before the mummy and offerings for the deceased. At the rear of the inner chamber is a statue niche which contains well-preserved painted limestone seated statues of Benia with his parents (his father Irtonena and his mother Tirukak) on either side.
Next, to the nearby tomb of Khonsu (TT32). Also called To, Khonsu was a priest of the funerary cult of Tuthmose III during the reign of Rameses II and had the title ”First Prophet of Menkheperre’. His tomb has many lovely paintings depicting the cult of the god Montu as well as that of Tuthmose III. One of the most interesting scenes in this tomb details the Festival of Montu, with some of Khonsu’s relatives making offerings to Montu’s barque in a procession of boats heading to the Montu Temple at Armant. There are also some beautiful painted ceilings depicting birds and ducks flying, a grape arbour and some lovely bright geometric textile-type designs.
There are two nobles tombs at Qurna with the name of Userhet and the one we next went into was TT51. This Userhet bore the title ‘First Prophet of the Royal Ka of Tuthmose I’ during the reign of Seti I. His tomb is close to that of Khonsu and shows fine detailed paintings of the rituals concerning the mortuary cult of Tuthmose I. On the left side of the entrance to the transverse hall there are funerary scenes which show Userhet being led by Anubis to the underworld and a judgement scene in which his heart is weighed against a feather. The deceased is shown kneeling before Osiris and Hathor (as the ‘Goddess of the West’) and kneeling before the ‘Souls of Pe and Nekhen’. The funeral procession depicts the rites performed before mummies and a pyramid tomb. There are also scenes from a procession during the Festival of Tuthmose I, including men bringing gifts or supplies and Userhet adoring the royal barque. Another wall shows Userhet with his wife Hatshepsut (also called Shepset) and his mother Tawosret in a beautiful scene depicting the goddess of the sycamore tree (Hathor or Mut). The Abydos Pilgrimage is portrayed below. There are also scenes of Userhet kneeling before the gods – Thoth presents him to Osiris and Anubis and then he appears before an offering table. Priests are being purified before worshipping Montu and Meretseger, ‘Goddess of the Theban Necropolis’. Another larger undecorated chamber contains four square pillars with the burial shaft in the far corner, but this was closed to visitors.
They were all lovely tombs, but all the walls were covered with protective glass, which made it much more difficult to photograph. By the time we had finished it was late afternoon, so we caught an arabeya back to the ticket office and from there walked along the track to Medinet Habu. Robin and I decided to carry on walking in the cool of the evening and headed a little way out into the desert towards Malqata to watch the sun going down behind the mountain. Nobody took any notice or tried to stop us so we walked quite a way out over the dusty sand. The thing that always strikes me about the desert, even just a little way out, is the silence, the feeling of vast spaces and the knowledge that if we carried on (several hundreds of kilometres) we would reach the Lybian border! But we didn’t go too far. As it began to get quite dark we turned back to have dinner at the Rameses Cafeteria at Habu.
The Village of el-Arabet
There was a partial lunar eclipse this morning and I had fully intended to get up to see it, but at 5.00am I sleepily decided that it was so partial it was not worth dragging myself out of bed so early. Robin and I had arranged with our English friend David to meet him in Luxor this morning and he would take us to his home village where he had lived for the past couple of years.
We met David and took an arabeya to his village which is near the road to Luxor airport. During the late 1940s, the Antiquities Department excavated an area to the north-east of Karnak Temple. Over the years a substantial settlement had grown up covering this site and it was necessary to move the entire village before work could begin on the excavations, where a temple built by Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and dedicated to the Aten, was eventually discovered. The new village, el-Arabet, was built four kilometres away along the side of a small irrigation canal. Since then the small parcels of land given to the relocated families have been carved up by inheritances and today each family owns a piece of land measuring around 100 sq metres. As the families grew the houses began to extend upwards, though the government has banned houses more than five storeys high – the height of a large palm tree. Eventually mains water and electricity came to el-Arabet and the living standard of the village people was much improved.
We left the arabeya on the main road and began to walk down the dusty track through the main part of el-Arabet, a line of mostly two or three-storey houses built on either side of the canal, surrounded by fields laid out in a neat patchwork of vegetation. In the distance, vast stretches of sugar cane stood tall and spiky, while closer, there were orderly rows of sweetcorn, onions, cabbages and large patches of clover used for animal fodder. Just after the bridge by the main road was one of the village shops with a window, roughly a metre square, that opened onto the road. Standing by the door was the shopkeeper, a sharp-featured man in his mid forties, wearing a very ornately wound white turban, who nodded a greeting, ’Marhaban’ (welcome) and offered us shai (tea) which we politely declined. The interior of the tiny shop appeared to contain a bare minimum of basic provisions and looked dim and dusty, but I could see small packets of various washing powders, tea and sugar, shisha tobacco and cigarettes and a few stacked crates of Coca Cola. Next door another small shop contained fertilisers, seeds and corn and I could see lines of sacks stacked against the far wall, and huge outdated scales, gleaming with polish, that obviously had pride of place.
Somewhere nearby, a water pump with a loud petrol engine struggled to lift water from the canal into the small irrigation ditches that feed the crops. A little further along the track we came to the source of the noise, where three little naked children were playing in the water gushing out of a pump, while a buffalo stood nearby at the edge of the canal. An older girl, knee deep in the water was hanging on to the harness while her brother busily threw buckets of water over the great brown beast. David was well-known as the only foreigner living in the village and as a ‘celebrity’ had been given an Egyptian name, Abd el-Radi, by the family he lived with, so our progress down the track was hampered by many shouts of his name along with handshakes and hugs as though none of the villagers had seen him for months. He told us that he had endured the same effusive greetings only this morning on the way into Luxor! We climbed up an embankment onto a narrow train track, apparently used only when the sugar cane was harvested. On the other side of the narrow canal two young boys were casting a fishing net out of a rowing boat and grinning, they held up small fish they had caught for our inspection. Robin and I were the focus of much curiosity and many introductions had to be made as we made our way through the village, especially to the small gathering of children who walked with us demanding ‘What’s your name?’ every few seconds.
All along the road of el-Arabet, donkeys stood tethered outside most of the houses and flocks of wiry-haired goats or chickens, came charging unexpectedly from behind the buildings. Carts loaded with animal fodder trundled along, their drivers raising a hand in welcome or offering us a ride. Small children with tin lids attached to lengths of wire, pushed their vehicles through the dust and shouted ‘Abd el-Radi, Abd el-Radi’ or begged for baksheesh. Women dressed in black, emptied buckets and bowls into the street, the liquid soaking away instantly into the parched earth. Toothless old men perched on hard wooden benches drinking tea and smoking shisha, smiled and called ‘Salaam’. It must have been baking day as all along the road there were trays of dough shaped into round loaves rising in the sun, while young girls sat fanning away the flies with palm fronds.
After twenty minutes or so we crossed another bridge over the canal and arrived at David’s house where several thin yellow dogs lay panting in the dusty shade under the trees, too warm to be interested in us. We stopped to scratch the ears of a tethered donkey and her new foal and as David told us ‘to exchange gossip with her’. A wonderful smell of new-baked bread came from a little courtyard behind the building and Fatma, David’s neighbour, came hurrying out to bring him a warm loaf and some fresh eggs. Like most of the other houses in the village his home was a series of simple reinforced concrete boxes placed one upon the other with an internal concrete staircase linking the apartments. David had bought an apartment on the second floor of the structure, which in theory provided the money needed for the family to complete the rest of the building work, though this had not yet been done. The ground floor apartment was to be the main family home, almost completed though still empty, with another apartment on the third floor intended to be the home of the eldest son. David is very artistic and he had decorated his little apartment with simple furniture, upholstery and curtains made by himself on a very tight budget. One wall of the living area was shelved and completely covered by his book collection while the other walls displayed simple ‘treasures’ he had found in the local markets. The floor of the whole apartment was laid with cool ceramic tiles in the style of Egyptian homes, covered with a scattering of small rag rugs. The walls and woodwork were painted in shades of cool greens and blues and to the horror of the Egyptian builders he had insisted on a large window overlooking the fields. Egyptian houses have small shuttered windows to keep out the summer heat, making them dark and gloomy at all times of the year, but David’s apartment was light, airy and spacious, giving a wonderful impression of the countryside coming right into his living room. As I looked out of his window I could see the pylons of Karnak rising in the hazy distance. I loved what he had done and would have been happy to live here myself.
David prepared a lovely meal for us and Robin and I sat and chatted with him for several hours before it was time to walk back through the village to the main road to catch an arabeya back to Luxor. David walked back with us, which took just as long as it had when we arrived, but this time he also had to fend off the teasing shouts of ‘You lucky man, two English wives!’ But David was smiling as he imagined his reputation with the local men had increased.
Tombs of Rameses VII & IX
Robin was staying here another week but I was due to return home next day, so we needed to go to the King’s Valley to visit the last two open tombs we had not yet seen and to complete our study. These were the tombs of Rameses VII and Rameses IX. When we arrived at the ticket office our friend Inspector Hamdi was nowhere to be seen, as he wasn’t expecting us, but he turned up after a few minutes – someone must have told him we were there.
The tomb of Rameses VII (KV1) is right at the entrance to the King’s Valley a little way back from the road and like some of the other Ramesside tombs it has been open since antiquity. Although it is Ramesside in plan, and similar in decoration to that of Rameses VI, it is a much smaller tomb than those of the king’s recent ancestors, consisting of only one corridor and a burial chamber. The outer lintel, similar to the other tombs, was decorated with the traditional sundisc and scarab, flanked by Isis and Nephthys below the king’s names. In the wide corridor, the fine quality relief decoration is unusual – in place of the Litany of Re there are two scenes. On the left-hand side, the king is seen before an altar offering to the falcon-headed solar god Re-Horakhty-Atum-Khepri, and on the right before Ptah-Sokar-Osiris with a hymn to the gods of the Underworld. Further along, the initial scene and first division from the ‘Book of Gates’ (the barque of Re being pulled through the Underworld) can be seen on the left, with the first scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’ (the divinities paying homage to the dying sun-god) on the right. On either side the king is depicted as an Osiris, being purified by the Iun-Mutef priest. The ceiling of the corridor is decorated with vultures and the king’s cartouches.
There is no well-room or antechamber and the corridor leads straight into a sarcophagus hall. The entrance wall illustrates two goddesses; on the right a composite goddess Sekhmet-Bubastis-Wert-Hekau and on the left, Wert-Hekau (‘Great of Magic’) each facing the doorway. Scenes from the ‘Book of Aker’ (the double-headed lion which symbolises the horizon) and the ‘Book of the Earth’ appear on the walls and the north wall also depicts Osiris as ‘Chief of the Westerners’. An astronomical ceiling features the goddess Nut stretching across the heavens with the decans and constellations. Beyond the burial chamber is another small chamber with a niche. It’s outer walls show the king facing the doorway on each side and offering to aspects of Osiris on the inner walls. The wall above the niche illustrates the barque of the sun containing baboons from the ‘Book of Gates’ supported by djed-pillars on the sides of the niche. The sarcophagus itself was cut directly into the floor of the tomb and over this hollow was placed a massive stone covering, decorated with the usual incised figures of Isis, Nephthys, Selkis and the Four Sons of Horus. This is still in place, with an opening at its foot where the body of the king was removed. The mummy of Rameses VII has not yet been found.
The larger tomb of Rameses IX (KV6) was found opposite the tomb of Rameses II near the entrance to the main part of the Valley. This has also been open since antiquity. It continues the Ramesside style although some of the decoration is not completely traditional. Even though the king reigned for 18 years, only the first corridor was completely decorated by the time of the pharaoh’s death and the corridor beyond the pillared hall was hastily enlarged to house the king’s sarcophagus. The first corridor is very similar to the previous tomb with the usual decoration that has become familiar in tombs of this period, but on the south wall the king is in a kiosk, in an unconventional scene offering to a form of Amun-Re-Horakhty with four rams heads and to Meretseger, the goddess of the Western Mountain. The first division of the ‘Book of Caverns’ is illustrated on this wall. There are four niches off the first corridor which show the king’s names on the jambs and the first one of these on the right may have been cut short because it ran into KV55 next to it. The ceiling is decorated with vultures and the king’s names. The second corridor depicts scenes from the ‘Litanies of Re’, the ‘Book of the Dead’ and the ‘Book of Caverns’. An astronomical ceiling shows constellations and decans lists. In the third corridor the south wall has scenes from the ‘Amduat’ with representations of Underworld deities and some hieratic graffiti. On the opposite wall are scenes of the king offering to Ma’at, Ptah and the king as Osiris, with more hieratic graffiti. The astronomical ceiling shows pictures of divine barques and processions of gods in yellow on a dark blue background. This tomb, unlike that of Rameses VII, contains a well room which illustrates priests officiating in the ritual of the ‘Opening of the Mouth’. There is a winged disc and the king’s names on the outer lintel of the four-pillared hall, but it was otherwise left undecorated.
The tomb of Rameses IX extends beyond the pillared hall with a corridor which was turned into the burial chamber at the king’s death and which depicts, on the south and north walls, scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’, ‘Book of the Earth’ and the ‘Amduat’. The ceiling is similar to that in the burial chamber of Rameses VI, showing Nut swallowing the sun in a double scene of the ‘Book of the Night’. The divine barque is pulled by jackals. The floor of the burial chamber was cut to contain the king’s coffin though no traces of a lid has been found. The mummy of Rameses IX was found in the Deir el-Bahri cache (DB320) in 1881, still with its floral garlands in a re-used coffin.
There were still very few other tourists coming to the Valley and during the three hours or so we spent in these two tombs I hadn’t seen another soul. It was so quiet and peaceful due to the tragic events of November 1997 and I knew I would never see the King’s Valley so empty again. After we had finished in the tombs we took Hamdi to the resthouse for a drink and to thank him properly for all his invaluable help and interest. It had been a wonderful opportunity to have him all to ourselves and to share our discussions actually in situ. I sat there with a Coke and wondered how I would ever afford to develop the 35 films I had taken over the past couple of weeks, mostly pictures from the Kings’ tombs. It was a sad moment when we finally said goodbye but we all promised to keep in touch and meet again next time.
I spent the afternoon visiting the good friends I had made in several Egyptian families, saying goodbye and wishing everyone a better year than the past one. It had been a very sad few months for my friends on the West Bank with so few tourists here and times were hard for everyone. My gloomy mood was not improved by the dense cloud which was covering the sun today, it looked like we could be in for another sandstorm. In the evening, Robin and I celebrated my last night here with a meal at the Tutankhamun restaurant, which is always so enjoyable and I went off early to bed after promising to come back soon.
Marooned in a Desert Land
I had arranged for a taxi to come to collect me from the Gezira Hotel at 6.00am to catch my flight back to England which was scheduled to leave Luxor airport at 8.30am. It was still quite dark when I left for the long journey over the bridge to the East Bank, so I really didn’t notice the ominous clouds that covered the sky. By the time I reached the airport however, the weather was even worse and a dense blanket of yellow-grey dusty fog obscured everything. Checking in is always the worst part of the journey for me as I know my bags (usually full of books) are likely to be overweight, but a pleasant smile, a smattering of Arabic and playing the helpless female often works on the desk staff. I was relieved that I had got my bags through with no trouble and went off to the departure lounge to wait for my flight. And I waited. And waited.
By lunchtime we managed to find out what was going on. The airport was being renovated at the time and there was no view from the windows so we passengers didn’t realise that the weather had worsened and nobody would tell us for several hours what the hold-up was about. At about 12.00pm a large basket of rolls was brought in and I wiled away an hour helping the overwrought staff to butter them and make sandwiches for the starving hoards (well, there weren’t really very many but they were not happy!). It wasn’t the fault of the airport staff but they were taking the brunt of passengers’ angry shouting about the delay and I felt sorry for them. Communications could have been improved, but there was nothing the staff could do about the Khamsin dust storm centred over Luxor. At 2.00pm an airport official came at last to the departure lounge and announced that the airport was closing and we would all have to return to our hotels as there would be no flight today. As I had been staying on the West Bank this was not as easy for me as it was for other passengers from hotels in Luxor. We were told that we would have to collect our luggage and take it with us and we would be contacted about flight times for next day. I got a lift to the Corniche on one of the coaches provided and with two heavy bags, struggled onto the passenger ferry back across the river to Geziret. Now I could understand why the aircraft couldn’t take off. The air was so full of dust that I couldn’t see even half way across the Nile – there was just a blank greyness from the river to the sky as far as I could see.
I had said to hotel staff that I hoped to be back soon, but they hadn’t expected it to be this soon! All I could do was to sit on the hotel roof terrace and wait to hear about my flight but the fog was not moving. At 5.00pm I went down to reception intending to telephone the Egyptair office in Luxor and I was greeted by a tour guide I vaguely knew. He asked what I was doing there as he knew I should have left today and when I explained, he told me that my flight had left at 4.30pm – a small window in the weather just over Luxor airport had allowed the flight to take off. So much for being contacted. Hmm… here I was, stuck in Luxor with no money left and a husband at home expecting me back later today. The fog was just as thick as ever here and so I decided to go back to Luxor to the Egyptair office to see what could be done. Nothing could be done – Egyptair only flies out of Luxor once a week on a Monday, but they agreed to transfer my ticket to the following week, which I suppose was better than nothing. Secretly I was quite happy to stay another week, but I had spent virtually all of my money and didn’t have a credit card either. It was with mixed feelings that I phoned my husband at home and explained what had happened and in a cowardly moment asked him to telephone work next day, when I should have been back. It was the busiest time of the year at work and they were not happy. Oh well, I could think of worse places to be marooned.
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.
To the new Supermarket
Wednesday morning was a little clearer and the horrible wind that swept everything before it had weakened overnight, so Robin & I crossed the river on the ferry to the East Bank to meet up with David at the Amoun restaurant for a coffee. Some of his English ex-pat friends were also there and we sat for a while and listened to the lively conversations. Like many true Egyptians they were all wannabe agony aunts – they like nothing better than a good problem to get their teeth into, especially if the problem belongs to someone else! After some time the conversation came around to food, as it usually does and someone announced that a new supermarket had opened near the Emelio Hotel. David needed to go food shopping and suggested that Robin and I went with him to inspect the new shop, so we trudged up the road to Sharia Yussef Hassan. By Luxor standards the supermarket was very good, clean and bright and carried a lot of stock. But they all reminded me of English small-town supermarkets of the 1960s. I bought some of the hard salty cheese that I liked and would pick up some rolls and yummy date slices from the bakery for lunch. On the way back through the bazaar I also bought some tomatoes and tiny bananas, and was pleased to be able to use my Arabic now for shopping. I had learned many new words on this visit so far.
When we got back to the West Bank we made ourselves a quick lunch at the hotel from our fresh provisions and then took an arabeya up to the Ramesseum. We had no plan today and decided first to wander up the dusty track that curves around a small hill, to Deir el-Medina, past a level patch of ground where some boys were playing barefoot football, with their galabeyas tucked up high. When we arrived at the Temple of Hathor, we realised that we should have bought a ticket first if we wanted to go in. However, after chatting with the guard for a while and hovering by the ostraca pit where so many interesting fragments had been found giving a huge amount of important details about the lives of the workmen, the guard beckoned us over to the temple gate. At first he seemed uneasy about letting us in, but then agreed to show us inside without a ticket. Once inside we were his captive audience and he took great delight in showing us around his temple, pointing out reliefs of gods and kings. The three Ptolemaic sanctuaries were especially nice and although blackened with age were well-preserved. I loved the soft pink and blue paintings on the Hathor pillars in the vestibule, it seemed such a feminine temple. After we had said goodbye to the guard we walked back to the main road the way we had come and caught another arabeya to Gezira. This is certainly a good way to travel around on the West Bank, each journey costing only 25 piasters (about 2.5 English pence).
In the evening Robin and I splashed out on a meal of tomato soup, bread and babaganoug (a tahina and aubergine dip) at the Tutankhamun Restaurant. With coffee afterwards it cost us all of LE7.50 each, the equivalent of 75p in English! Later still we were entertained on the roof terrace of the Gezira Hotel by the staff, with Egyptian music and dancing. A lovely day.
Books of the Dead
I was sitting on the hotel roof terrace looking through my notes and trying to make sense of the scenes I had spent my time looking at in the tombs. It was useful to have visited the royal tombs in chronological order as I could now list the progression of the funerary art. When I first came to Egypt, like many tourists, I had assumed that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed by death, often spending much of their life building a last resting place for themselves and their families and preserving their bodies in a state of everlasting eternity. I gradually came to realise that it was not death itself that they were so engrossed in, but a complex belief system which provided a place for them in the afterlife – what we in the west would perhaps think of as Heaven. Having spent most of the past two weeks in tombs, I had begun to build up a clearer picture of this belief system, which differed quite a lot between the royal tombs, the nobles tombs and those of lesser mortals.
The earliest of the texts relating to the afterlife appear in the Old Kingdom and can be see in some of the earliest pyramids (Unas, Teti etc.) which I had not yet visited. These are known to us as the ‘Pyramid Texts’. After this period, parts of the funerary writings began to appear on private coffins, on papyri and on the walls of private tombs and these became known as ‘Coffin Texts’ and were a distillation of the ‘Pyramid Texts’. They were basically a guide book for the deceased and could have been entitled, ‘What to do When you Die’…. Sometime during the Second Intermediate Period (around 1650-1550 BC), the ‘Book of the Dead’ appeared, consisting of about 200 spells (or chapters) which were gleaned mostly from the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts along with other funerary instructions and the whole collection became known as the ‘Amduat’. By the New Kingdom, most of the funerary books were virtually confined to the walls of royal tombs, just as they had decorated the pyramid walls for the pharaohs centuries before and it was these texts we had been studying in the Valley of the Kings. Following is a potted description of New Kingdom royal tomb decoration. Unfortunately there are several gaps in the chronological order as these were only the tombs that were open.
The Tomb of Tuthmose III
Here the complete stick-man version of the ‘Amduat’ was laid out in all its glory. It depicted the King’s journey from the point of death, through the twelve hours of darkness in the barque of Re, up to his rebirth in the realm of the gods. We also saw here the ‘Litany of Re’ on the pillars, which shows the King’s eventual union with the sun god and other deities.
The Tomb of Amenhotep II
This tomb was similar to that of his predecessor with the same deep blue starry ceiling and the same stick figures of the ‘Amduat’. But there was progress too, in that for the first time some of the figures were fully drawn, depicting the King performing rituals before the gods.
The Tomb of Tuthmose IV
Only parts of the well-room and antechamber here were decorated with fully-drawn figures of the King before deities. The goddesses all looked identical except for different and often beautiful and intricate designs on their dresses, so it was difficult to tell them apart without reading the hieroglyphs. Due to the hasty completion of the tomb however, the burial chamber was left undecorated and there were no funerary books we could follow.
The Tomb of Tutankhamun
I found this tomb very different to all the other royal tombs, in that the pictures in the sunken burial chamber were almost life-sized and drawn to a different proportion. (The Canon of Proportion relates to the size of the grid square used in sketching figures during different periods). The walls of the burial chamber show the King before the gods and the only passing nod to the funerary books is on the west wall which shows the baboons from the first hour of the ‘Amduat’.
The Tomb of Ay
The successor to Tutankhamun, Ay, was buried in the Western Valley. While the structure is larger than Tutankhamun’s tomb, the decoration is similar with several identical scenes, possibly done by the same artists. Again, only the burial chamber was decorated, with the same solid golden background and the baboons representing the ‘Amduat’. The main difference in this tomb is a large scene on the east wall depicting hunting and fishing in the marshes – a scene unique in royal tombs and more often encountered in private tombs.
The Tomb of Rameses I
This king had a very short reign and his tomb reflects this in its size, much smaller and simpler compared to other Ramesside tombs. Once more, only the burial chamber was decorated but had lovely saturated colours on a grey background. The predecessor of Rameses I was Horemheb (whose tomb was closed for restoration) and it was there that the ‘Book of Gates’ first appeared. The complete ‘Amduat’ had been dispensed with and the burial chamber of Rameses I displayed instead the twelve hours of the night, now referred to as the twelve ‘Gates’. The ‘Book of Gates’ was actually part of the collective ‘Amduat’. On a large scene on the west wall, the king stands before Osiris and a scarab-headed aspect of the sun god, Khepri. The placing of this scene in the burial chamber is significant, as in later tombs it usually appears at the entrance to the tomb.
The Tomb of Merenptah
We had to skip a couple of generations as the tombs of Seti I and Rameses II were not open and we were now looking at the tomb of Merenptah, son and successor to Rameses II. Extensive flooding over the centuries has destroyed much of the painting here but we could see that the tomb had been completely decorated. The first three corridors contained passages from the ‘Litany of Re’, a hymn to the sun god, as was first portrayed on the pillars in the tomb of Tuthmose III. This was followed by selected texts and images from the ‘Amduat’. In the four-pillared hall, the familiar ‘Amduat’ was replaced by scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’, which we also saw in the burial chamber. The ‘Book of Gates’ lists the magical formulae needed to enter each of the twelve gates of the underworld. A vestibule before the burial chamber was a new addition to Ramesside tomb plans and here we saw scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’ for the first time. These texts, more accurately called the ‘Spell for Coming Forth by Day’, were a collection of spells which were first used by commoners and taken mostly from the earlier Pyramid and Coffin Texts. The best known scene from these texts is the judgement scene in which the deceased appears before Osiris and 42 assessors representing aspects of ma’at (divine order). The heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather (again representing ma’at). Questions are asked of the deceased and the answers are known as the ‘negative confession’. If the deceased is found lacking, he is gobbled up by the demon, Ammut the Devourer. Needless to say the pictures in the judgement scene always show a favourable outcome. The purpose of including the ‘Book of the Dead’ in tombs and coffins was so that the deceased would not need to memorise the correct formula for the answers to the 42 questions. Traditional ‘Amduat’ scenes in the burial chamber were replaced by solar imagery from the ‘Book of Caverns’.
The Tomb of Seti II
The first corridor in the tomb of Seti II showed the ‘Litany of Re’ in both raised and sunk relief of a superb quality, a departure in Ramesside tomb decoration so far. Going deeper into the tomb the paintings were less skilfully done but here we saw passages from the ‘Amduat’ and in the well-room, in another departure from traditional decoration there were pictures of funerary objects. The pillared hall contained the usual scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ but on the pillars there were scenes as well as figures of the King, a style which was used in successive tomb decoration. The burial chamber contained more scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and had the goddess Nut with outstretched arms on the ceiling.
The Tomb of Siptah
The upper passages in the tomb of Siptah contained scenes from the ‘Litany of Re’ and the ‘Amduat’ and the ceilings were painted with flying vultures. It followed a similar plan to previous Ramesside tombs, but was a little more elaborate in architecture, even though all of the lower corridors, the well-room, antechamber and burial chamber remained undecorated.
The Tomb of Tawosret and Sethnakht
Queen Tawosret, wife of Seti II, reigned briefly as pharaoh after the death of her son Siptah. Tawosret’s tomb, next to that of her husband, was usurped and completed by the first king of he 20th Dynasty, Sethnakht. It is one of the largest tombs in the Kings Valley and its various stages of completion were reflected in its decoration, although of all the funerary texts, only the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of Coming Forth by Day’ were represented here.
The Tomb of Rameses III
The tomb of Rameses III is another very large tomb and has some unusual and beautiful decoration. Side chambers off the upper corridors contain paintings of secular scenes including objects from the treasury, boats, various pots and vessels and the famous blind harpists. All four of the funerary books we had seen so far (‘Amduat’, ‘Litany of Re’, ‘Book of Gates’ and ‘Book of the Dead’) are represented here as well as, in the burial chamber, sections from the ‘Book of the Divine Cow’ and the ‘Book of the Earth’. The ‘Book of the Divine Cow’ is part of a collection of late New Kingdom texts known as the ‘Books of the Heavens’ which describe the sun’s passage through the daytime sky. The ‘Book of the Earth’ is a 20th Dynasty funerary text describing the sun’s nocturnal journey through the underworld.
The Tomb of Rameses IV
A less elaborately constructed tomb, but with some new elements. The wide upper corridors depict traditional scenes from the ‘Litany of Re’. The third corridor has a new text however, depicting scenes from the first and second divisions of the ‘Book of Caverns’, which is about the punishments metered out to the demons of the underworld, conquered by the sun god. An antechamber shows sections from the ‘Book of the Dead’, including the Negative Confession and in the burial chamber there are the traditional scenes from the ‘Amduat’ and ‘Book of Gates’ as well as parts of another newer text, the ‘Books of the Heavens’ on the ceiling. A short passage behind the burial chamber again contains initial scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’ as well as images of the king (or his ushabtis) and funerary objects – a couch, a chest and canopic jars.
The Tomb of Rameses V & VI
This tomb was begun by Rameses V and completed by Rameses VI and the decoration throughout is in sunk relief with well-preserved painted scenes on a creamy background. In the upper corridors we see sections from both the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of Caverns’ while an astronomical ceiling in the long sloping passage contains scenes from the ‘Book of Night’ and the ‘Book of Day’, which are parts of the ‘Books of the Heavens’. The lower corridors contain scenes from the ‘Amduat’ and again the ‘Books of the Heavens’ on the ceiling. In the burial chamber the ‘Book of the Earth’ occurs in a more complete form. This text (also called the ‘Book of Aker’), deals with the mystery of the creation of the solar disc and the god’s (and hence the king’s) journey out into the light. A double image of the goddess Nut on the ceiling represents her nocturnal and diurnal aspects and the part she plays in the ‘Book of the Day’ and ‘Book of the Night’.
The Tomb of Rameses VII
The decoration in the small tomb of Rameses VII follows that of Rameses VI but has only a single wide sloping corridor containing scenes from the first division of the ‘Book of Gates’ on the left. The initial scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’ on the right, depicts divinities paying homage to the dying sun god Re. On either side the king is depicted as an Osiris, a strong theme in this tomb. The burial chamber again contains scenes from the ‘Book of the Earth’ (‘Book of Aker’) and a double-Nut ceiling.
The Tomb of Rameses IX
The final open royal tomb in the King’s Valley was that of Rameses IX and the decoration here contained scenes from many of the funerary books we had previously seen in other Ramesside tombs. The decoration in first corridor goes back to the traditional ‘Litany of Re’ (representing the resurrection of the pharaoh) for the first time since the tomb of Rameses IV, but also with parts of the ‘Book of Caverns’ too. Other corridors contain scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’, the ‘Book of Caverns’ and the ‘Amduat’ and lovely astronomical ceilings. In the third corridor there are depictions of the King as an Osiris as well as some cryptographic details from a previously unknown funerary book. On the vaulted ceiling of the burial chamber we saw again the beautiful double representation of Nut from the ‘Books of the Heavens’ and on the walls, scenes from the ‘Book of Caverns’, ‘Book of the Earth’ and the ‘Amduat‘.
Phew… The King had quite a way to travel once he was dead and on a long arduous journey which got more complicated and convoluted as time went on. The later Ramesside tombs were very beautiful and in some, the quality of workmanship was superb. The structures themselves generally got larger and more complex too. But most of all I loved the earlier tombs for their simplicity. I felt the difference was like comparing a small country church to a huge gothic cathedral. I was overawed in the later tombs. Even more, I loved the nobles tombs scattered everywhere about the West Bank. But that’s another story!
Osiris at Medinet Habu
Robin and I decided to spend another day at the Temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu. The sky was clearer today and there would be a good light for photographing the beautiful colourful reliefs in the temple. We took an arabeya up to the ticket office and bought our tickets for the temple. The ticket clerk this morning was a friendly man who we had got to know over the past couple of weeks and he always had time for a chat, so we stopped for a while to pass the time of day with him before taking the back road to Medinet Habu, past the sites of several long-gone temples, alongside the massive mudbrick walls and through the impressive towers of the temple gateway.
The West Bank temples are usually referred to as mortuary temples, dedicated to the funerary cult of the deceased pharaoh and usually carried on their rites after the death of the king, at least until the next big mortuary temple was established. But Medinet Habu was more than a mortuary temple or a cult temple, it was a town and administrative centre in use throughout most of the new Kingdom and into the Graeco-Roman Period. At times when Egypt was rocked by the threat of marauding Libyans or torn by civil war, the town became a fortress and much of the local population lived within its protective walls. Later the Coptic Christians took it over and built their church and dwellings within the courts of Rameses. Its ancient Egyptian title, the ‘Mansion of Millions of Years of Rameses III’, evokes the spirit of this important temple complex. Of all the temples in Egypt, it is at Medinet Habu that I can most easily peel away the dusty layers of the centuries and imagine the rites and festivals that once took place here, the gods who lived here and the people who worked in and cared for the place.
Having concentrated on tombs so far on this visit, I wanted to have a look at the Osiris suite in the south wing, to see how the images of the god here related to Osiris as god of the dead in the tombs. I had seen in the royal tombs how the king passed with the sun god on his long hazardous journey to be reborn in the Afterlife, to dwell forever with the gods. Here in the temple we see Osiris in a slightly different aspect, as ‘Ruler of Eternity’. There are a whole series of rooms which are loosely called the Osiris Complex, though several other deities are portrayed here too. In an outer chamber Rameses III is shown sitting inside the sacred ished tree, receiving his jubilees from Amun-Re, while Thoth writes his name on the leaves of the tree. I love this image, which can also be seen on the front of the first pylon. I was particularly interested in two small rooms towards the rear of the suite which seemed to depict the king’s reception into the Netherworld and to portray his expectations of eternal life there. One scene, a cameo from the ‘Book of the Dead’ shows the King arriving in the ‘Fields of Iaru’, which is his final destination in the Afterlife, once he has passed through the trials of death depicted in his tomb. In ‘Iaru’ the deceased must work the land, which is always plentiful, just like an idealised picture of Egypt itself. I would imagine that the King would have many servants to do the actual labouring (his ushabtis), but the symbolism on the walls is self-explanatory. He can be seen ploughing the fields with oxen, cutting and harvesting grain and appealing to the Nile god Hapy for a good inundation. On the opposite wall the King brings offerings and recites prayers to Osiris asking to be rewarded for his trials in arriving in this celestial land of plenty. In the inner room there are several small but complicated scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’ which represent the King’s eventual success in his transformation into ‘an Osiris’. Many of the chambers are very dark, the walls blackened with age.
What we know about Osiris as god of the dead, comes from the funerary texts. I had seen many portrayals of Osiris in the king’s tombs, as well as the nobles tombs. He is always shown in tombs as a mummified figure, sometimes seated on a throne. To begin with, from the Old Kingdom, Osiris was probably known as a fertility god, but in later times his renown was as a god of the Afterlife who has denied death to live an everlasting life in eternity. As a resurrected deity he is ruler of the Afterlife and it is with Osiris that the deceased king becomes merged in Egyptian theology. Osiris was also considered an aspect of the sun god, or the sun god’s counterpart in the Afterlife, at least in the New Kingdom, and he represented for the king, a salvation and a resurrection for his everlasting life. Here in the Osiris Complex at Medinet Habu I could see the continuation of the Osiris mythology beyond the tomb.
I spent a long time here making notes to follow up later and taking what photographs I could of the beautiful scenes, though it was quite dark and the small rooms were unlit. Of course I didn’t really know very much about what I was looking at before going away and doing a lot of reading. But this Osiris suite has become one of my favourite parts of Habu Temple and I always make a point of visiting these chambers since then.
Friday in Qurna
On Friday morning I woke with a guilty feeling because I should have been at work this weekend. I work as a florist and Sunday is Mother’s day – the busiest time of the year when the rest of the staff would be working 16 hours a day and they would be short-staffed because of me. However, I couldn’t honestly say I’d rather be there. The guilty feeling didn’t last long, but I didn’t know if I still had a job to go back to….
After breakfast Robin and I went to Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna to visit the tomb of Ramose (TT55), one of my favourites. Ramose was a ‘Governor of Thebes’ and ‘Vizier’ during the reign of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten and his tomb chapel contains rare Theban reliefs of the ‘heretic king’. On the west wall Ramose is shown prostrated before Amenhotep IV (before he changed his name to Akhenaten) and his Queen Nefertiti, who are seated in their ‘window of appearances’ in the royal palace at Karnak. I could just about make out the cartouches. The rays of the Aten, are showering down the royal couple and Ramose is shown receiving the coveted award, the ‘Gold of Honour’, a heavy golden collar which was presented for service to the king. This relief is carved in the new Amarna style although has been badly damaged, possibly at the end of the reign. The artwork is interesting in that it is the only tomb in Thebes that I know of, showing the exaggerated style of Amarna art and Ramose has the elongated head typical of this period. The style is more typical of artwork in the tombs at Amarna and reflects the great changes which were taking place in Egypt at this time. This particular scene is filled with movement and all the dignitaries present are depicted bowing low before the king. Ramose is depicted being received enthusiastically by his own people as well as the foreign emissaries who are bringing gifts to the king. These foreigners are shown only as a preliminary sketch and have not been carved and I could see four Nubians, three Asiatics and a Libyan paying homage. During this reign, the King was saw himself as an intermediary between the gods (specifically the Aten) and the common people and it was the King alone who had knowledge of the god. This was a vast departure from the previous belief system where the king himself would be subservient to the gods, bowing down before them. Ramose himself was appointed Vizier towards the end of the reign of Amenhotep III and began to prepare his Theban tomb in the style of that king’s reign but it was left unfinished. There is a mystery because, although he doesn’t seem to have been buried here, we don’t know whether Ramose followed Akhenaten to Amarna as a tomb for him has never been found there. Although his Theban tomb was left unfinished the reliefs are exquisite and have been well-preserved because the roof collapsed, burying the tomb-chapel under rubble and so protecting the walls.
When we came out of the tomb into the bright sunlight and were heading towards a little cafeteria for a cold drink, we bumped into Taya, a friend of Robin’s who is a stone-carver and he insisted we went to his house for lunch or at least a cup of tea. Taya’s family home was quite close by so we both readily agreed. Following Taya through a narrow alleyway we had never even noticed before, past dogs and cats, chickens and tiny children running in and out of the houses, we came to his home. After a time, sitting out in the little terrace courtyard in the shade, Taya’s mother, a lovely lady, invited us to come back again for dinner that evening.
When we arrived at 6.00pm everything was already laid out waiting for us. There were more members of the family present now and we were introduced to each of them. We also met Taya’s brother Abdul-Hamid, who does restoration work in the monuments. Seated in the main family room at a vinyl-covered dining table, we were presented with many wonderful savoury dishes and had a great time chatting to the family, especially several children whose relationships I could not work out, but the evening went by quickly and it was soon time to leave. Taya walked back with us to our hotel at Geziret, a short-cut through the dark sugar cane fields. The cane was taller than we were and on the narrow path through the fields the strengthening wind was a deafening rattle through the leaves above us. It felt very cold too after the heat of the day. Back at the hotel there was a party going on up on the roof for the tour group Explore, so we went to join them for a while as we knew many of the people there. There was much music and dancing and we ended up staying there until 4.00am! I belatedly realised that today was Spring Equinox – a good excuse for a party if one was needed.
Old Friends and New Friends
In the morning I went to visit Shahata, the married daughter of my Egyptian ‘adopted’ family, who had just come home to Geziret with her new baby. It had been a difficult time for the family with Shahata in the Luxor hospital for a few days. At least one family member would stay with her at all times, while others would visit regularly, taking food for her meals, which were not provided by the hospital. It was also an expensive time for them because Shahata had to have a caesarean operation for the birth, which the family must pay for at a cost of several hundred Egyptian pounds. But now she was back in her mother’s home with her beautiful baby and I was taken into the family room where Shahata was lying on a bed, the tiny bundle snuggled up in her arms. It seemed to be traditional for a new mother to go home to Mum and Dad for the period of the confinement, while her husband stayed in his own home. I would have liked to take a proper gift, but as I had no money, I gave Shahata some fruit I had bought for her at the local market and would send something else later from England. Shahata was still tired so I spent some time helping her sister Mona with her English homework and playing with her little brother Ahmed, who was a terrible cheat at marbles and several cups of tea later, I left to go back to the hotel.
In the afternoon Robin and I went over to Luxor on the ferry. First stop was the Egyptair office to confirm our flight home – the second time for me and hopefully this time I would make it further than Luxor airport. After Robin had done some last-minute shopping, we had dinner at the Amoun Restaurant with David and his friend Dawn, another English ex-pat, while watching the world go by on Karnak Temple Street. Early evening is usually the busiest time in the streets of Luxor with street vendors shouting their wares to flocks of passing tourists. Today it was relatively quiet because there were few tourists here, but all of the Luxor population seemed to be out and about, on bicycles, packed precariously into minibuses, perched on laden donkey carts, or families just out for an evening stroll. It was very entertaining. After dinner David took us to meet Mostyn and his wife Samia, good friends of his, who lived in an apartment in Luxor. They were a lovely family of Coptic Christians, with two little boys who were being coached in English by David. Mostyn owned a papyrus shop, which we promised to visit as soon as we could. Several of his beautiful hand-painted papyri hung on the walls of the apartment along with many framed Coptic icons. Mostyn, who also painted religious frescos and was currently working in the Coptic church in Luxor, proudly showed us photographs of his recent work there. He was a very talented artist.
As we crossed the Nile on a late ferry back to the West Bank, I sat on the top deck and gazed back over to a floodlit Luxor Temple. It was quiet on the river at this time of night and the dark, still water reflected all the lights from the Corniche in broad strips of colour like a woven tapestry. This would probably be my last river-crossing before I went home.
Time to go Home
My last day of this 1998 trip was spent saying goodbye to the many friends we had made on the West Bank. A cloudy day with a strong wind – I hoped my flight would not be delayed again as I really did need to get back home this time. Robin and I had spent the morning walking on the Theban Mountain taking a last long look at the strips of colourful fields stretched out below us all the way to the river. We came down into the Valley of Colours, through Deir el-Medina to the main road and along the track to Medinet Habu for a much needed cold drink.
The Rameses Cafe was quiet and empty of tourists so we said our goodbyes to the staff we had got to know well and went back to the hotel. It was about this time that Robin began to feel quite ill. By late evening she was very ill and with an early morning flight looming we decided to go and see the local pharmacist. He immediately suggested she go to the doctor. I went with her and for the sum of LE13 he gave her an injection to stop her being sick. Thankfully the injection took immediate effect and she quickly began to feel much better. Robin went off to bed and I stayed on the hotel roof terrace for a while, watching the lights twinkling across the river and saying my private farewells to Luxor. Later I lay in bed listening to a tape of the Koran being played softly somewhere in the distance and soothing me off to sleep.
By 6.00am we were in a taxi on our way to the airport. Luckily the sky was clear and bright and there were no delays this time. The flight down the Nile Valley was beautiful in the early morning light, the mountains and valleys sharply defined along side the glowing strip of water which was the river. We crossed the Delta with its patchwork of brightly coloured fields separated by strips of water like veins across the landscape and before long we were flying over the Alps and coming down towards Heathrow airport and a grey and murky England.
I was already looking forward to my next visit to Egypt!
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