October 1998

Egypt Through New Eyes

It was just a little more than six months since I had returned home from Luxor and here I was again on my way to Heathrow, this time with my son Kit. It was his 21st birthday in November and I had suggested a holiday in Egypt for his birthday present. Kit was very excited. He had spent much of his life messing about in boats and recently living in Spain (on a boat), but he’d never flown before, so it would be a first for him. I was excited too, not only to be going back to my beloved Egypt but to be able to see it all anew through his eyes.

We met up with my friend Sam at Heathrow. She was also travelling to Luxor and though staying at a different hotel, we planned to do many things together. The Egyptair flight left only an hour and a half late (which was fairly normal) and we all enjoyed the journey over Europe and down the coast of Italy. The erupting Stromboli volcano was sending out dense clouds of steam as we flew over it, providing entertainment as we all crowded around the little window to take pictures. Over the Mediterranean, the in-flight video was typically unmemorable, but soon we were flying over the Egyptian coast and the familiar pang of coming ‘home’ tugged at my heart.

Street entrance to the el-Gezira HotelSam had arranged with her taxi driver friend Abdul to pick us up at the airport. The aircraft had had more passengers this time and it took us a while to get our visas and out through customs. I had been a little apprehensive as Kit had very long hair which I had heard was somewhat frowned upon in Arab countries, but we had no problems. Abdul was outside waiting with a big grin of welcome and after a short ride though the brightly lit crowded streets, he dropped Sam off in Luxor and took Kit and I over the bridge to the West Bank. We were once more staying at the el-Gezira Hotel.

After a ‘welcome drink’ and hugs and greetings from all the hotel staff, Kit and I fell into our beds at Midnight – we had left Cornwall the previous night and we were both very tired but very happy to be in Luxor.

Introduction to Luxor Life

Despite having had little sleep for 48 hours, Kit and I were up at 7.00am. Outside in the street the dogs were barking and the morning bustle had begun with the gas-man banging out tunes with a stick on the sides of cylinders on his heavily laden donkey-cart. We were on the first floor and I couldn’t wait to fling open the balcony doors and get my first view of the River Nile, a shining silver mirror dotted with little fishing boats and glittering in the early morning sun. After unpacking we went up to the roof restaurant for a breakfast of rolls, with cheese, tomato slices and hard boiled eggs, little packs of jam and honey and endless cups of coffee.

Boarding the Luxor ferry

We had planned a lazy day to introduce Kit to Egyptian life, so as soon as we were ready we took the local ferry over to Luxor. This took quite a while as I met several old friends on the short walk down to the ferry dock and introduced my son to them. They all wanted to know all about him and harried him with the usual questions ‘Where you live?’ and ‘Which football player you like?’ Unfortunately that was a non-starter for conversation as Kit is as disinterested in football as I am. We had to decline many offers to take us over the river on a felucca or motor boat before we actually boarded the ferry. Kit was fascinated and couldn’t take his eyes off the various types of boats milling about on the water, studying the build and sails of each one. I could see that probably more than one felucca trip would be taken before our visit was over. He was so captivated by it all that he didn’t even notice the little group of teenage schoolgirls stealing shy glances at him and giggling to each other behind their hijabs. There were also a few joking comments from some of the men on the ferry about Kit being my ‘toyboy’, which rather flattered me!

We walked a little way along the Corniche, past Luxor Temple and bought some mugs in which to make our tea and coffee back at the hotel (I never travel anywhere without my little kettle). Next stop was the Amoun Restaurant for lunch and to meet up with my friend David, who lives in Luxor. Afterwards we went with David to the Foriegners’ Cemetery, near the bridge on Sharia Karnak. David had a part-time job as a sort of keeper at the cemetery and called in once or twice a week to tidy up and generally keep an eye on it. The cemetery is a peaceful secluded place, an oasis on a hot day, built I believe, in the 19th century at the time of the ‘Grand Tour’ when foreigners came to luxor for months at a time. The graves are mostly for French and English ex-pats and there were a few old and leaning headstones, but many of the graves were just concreted over plots covered in weeds and shrubs. It is a shady place with tall trees and surrounded by high walls and we sat on an old bench and had a glass of tea made by an Egyptian friend of David’s who lives in a little room there. David explained that there had been a lot of damage by storms and flooding in 1989 when many of the old trees had been blown down and that they had also a lot of trouble with packs of dogs there recently. It was rather a sad neglected place, but David was doing his best to restore it to how it had been in more glamorous times.

Afterwards we all decided to go to the Novotel for coffee and we sat in the lovely terraced gardens overlooking the river and spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing the Amarna Period – a slice of Egyptian history that I had been studying and which was one of David’s favourite periods. Poor Kit was probably feeling a little left out of the discussion but I noticed that he was taking it all in and seemed keen to learn as much as he could.

Back on the West Bank later in the evening Kit and I had a wonderful dinner at the Tutankhamun Restaurant where the owner, Hag Mahmoud did his best to introduce Kit to just about every Egyptian dish he could produce. And all for LE25 (£2.50) each! Strolling slowly and contentedly up the road back to the hotel we passed a new coffee shop and I heard my name being called. There were some English friends, Bob and Jennifer, who had recently built a house here, sitting with some Egyptian friends, Hassan and Mandour. We stopped to say hello and ended up spending an hour or two drinking coffee and playing dominoes, which bears little resemblance to the English game of that name! If this seems like a day spent eating and drinking – well, that’s often how a lazy day in Egypt is and it was a good introduction for Kit to the pace of life here in Luxor.

Seti and Rameses Temples

This morning Kit and I had arranged to meet Sam and go to visit some of the West Bank temples – Kit’s first taste of Egyptian archaeology. After stopping at the ticket office to buy our tickets we went first to the Qurna Temple of Seti I, which is near the end of the road that branches off towards the King’s Valley. The morning was already very hot and we were all grateful to hurry Qurna Temple of Seti Iup to the facade and straight into the cool dark shade of the hypostyle Hall. This was not a temple I knew very well, so I had almost the same expectation of discovery that Kit was feeling as we walked around looking at the reliefs. The temple was as usual, empty, as few tourists ever had the time to visit this lovely monument. The building was begun by Seti I who named it ‘Glorious Seti in the West of Thebes’ and dedicated it to the god Amun-Re as well as to the cult of his father, the deified Rameses I. After Seti’s death, the building and decoration was completed by his son Rameses II and like many of the West Bank temples, it saw a great deal of re-use after the New Kingdom. Since 1972 the German Archaeological Institute had undertaken investigative and restoration work but there was a lot of damage here during the floods of 1989, which set the work back many years.

Beyond the columned portico Seti’s hypostyle hall has six elegant papyrus columns and very good quality reliefs, characteristic of the reign of Seti I, although decorated during the later period of co-regency of Seti and his son. I could see some resemblance in the reliefs to Seti’s Abydos temple, but these were not quite so finely worked. The main hall is surrounded by six smaller chambers dedicated to various deities, but some of these were very blackened and worn. Behind the hypostyle is the sanctuary area, a triple shrine dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khons, with a pedestal for resting the barque of the god still in situ. On the walls the king celebrates the temple rituals before finely carved altars bearing food offerings. To the south of the hypostyle hall was a series of chapels associated with the royal mortuary cult. The central chapel was dedicated to Seti’s father Rameses I and has a beautifully-preserved false door at the rear showing Rameses I in a kiosk with a falcon above it. There was a lot of preserved colour in these rooms, especially on the ceilings.

The area to the north of the hypostyle hall was a court dedicated to the solar cult which was unmistakably decorated by Rameses II, with less subtle reliefs than those of his father. This now roofless court originally had ten pillars, which have gone, and a large solar altar in the centre, unfortunately now broken. Around the walls, depicting scenes of Rameses II offering to various deities, were niches which would once have contained statues of the king. The arrangement of the royal and solar cult chapels in Seti’s Temple is similar in many ways to the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir el-Bahri. Behind this court is the remains of a staircase which went up to a roof sanctuary. We thought the Solar Court was well named as the sun was scorching hot in here.

By 1.00pm we were all wilting. Only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ etc…. so we decided to walk along to the Ramesseum Cafeteria for a break. This was much further than we thought and we were even hotter by the time we collapsed around a table in the shade of the garden at the back of the cafe. After an hour or two of discussing the Seti Temple and several cold drinks later we went into the Ramesseum, probably the most famous of the many temples of Rameses II scattered throughout Egypt. I was surprised that I had never been inside this temple before until I remembered that it had been closed on my previous visits. It was Champollion who first gave it the commonly used name of ‘The Ramesseum’ and the English poet Shelley who immortalised it in his poem ‘Ozymandias’ in 1817, the name presumably taken from Rameses’ throne name, Usermaatre.

The foot of Rameses IIThe temple is in a fairly ruined condition, with its first pylon almost collapsed, and although the guard was keen for us to climb up the pylon, which looked very unsafe, we politely declined. On the remains of the second, better preserved pylon, are scenes from Rameses’ most famous Battle, Kadesh, which was fought against the Hittites in Year 5 of the king’s reign. On the western side of the first court a gigantic seated granite colossal statue of Rameses II, once around 20m high, but now toppled to the ground and lying face down in fragments. I was particularly captivated by the gigantic detached stone foot of Rameses, complete with toenails. It was this fallen statue that had inspired the romantic poets.

The hypostyle hall still has a roof supported by 48 elegant papyrus columns. There are more reliefs showing Rameses’ military exploits such as his victory in the Battle of Tunip and the capture of the city of Dapur in year 8 of his reign. The king’s mother Tuya, his wife Nefertari and some of his children are also depicted here. The wall on the western side of the hypostyle hall shows Rameses taking part in various ritual functions before the gods and many of his numerous children are again depicted in the registers below.

Behind the hypostyle hall is a small chamber known as the ‘Astronomical Hall’, probably once a barque shrine as there are many scenes depicting barques of the Theban Triad, Rameses and Ahmose Nefertari carried by priests. This chamber is famous for its astronomical ceiling which represents the constellations and 36 decans of the night sky. The king offers to the gods of the months in a lunar calendar around the edges. Presumably this celestial calendar would have been used to calculate the timings for the annual festivals and it was this ceiling that Rameses III copied in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.

The Ramesseum

We left the Ramesseum in the late afternoon, as a deep golden sun was casting long shadows across the sandy ground. This is probably the best time of day to visit this temple as the light is particularly beautiful and the stately statues of ‘Rameses the Great’ looked stunning.


By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said–“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert….Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Since I first heard Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’ at school, it has captured my imagination and probably led in part to my fascination for ancient Egypt. The poem was written in 1817 for a contest or game with his friend Horace Smith who also wrote a poem on the same theme. It is generally thought that ‘Ozymandias’ was inspired by the colossal fallen statue of Rameses II which I saw yesterday in the Ramesseum – though I am not so sure that this is the one. Rameses’ throne name, Usermaatre setepenre is transposed into the poetical name of Shelly’s king, a name which had been translated from a statue inscription by Diodorus Siculus. The sonnet is written in the style of a story that Shelley heard from another traveller who, having seen the lonely fragments of a statue, was struck by the desolation and ruin of this once great king, perhaps a metaphor for the crumbling of society or the destructive nature of history. The great king ‘Ozymandias’ who once wielded so much power and might, was now little more than decayed fragments of stone bearing a few arrogant words, his civilization now gone and crumbled to dust.

Fallen statue of Rameses II at the Ramesseum

Perhaps that was the feeling in the early 19th century, but Rameses II is probably greater and more famous now than he has ever been in the whole period of Egyptian history!

International Student Identity Cards

Being an Egyptology student meant that I was eligible for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which I had held for the past couple of years and which gave a 50% discount on site tickets and travel. I had recently heard that young people, even though not students, could also get one of these cards from an office in Luxor, so Kit and I went across the river to investigate. We first went to a photographers and Kit had some passport photos done, which I knew he would need for an identity card. As this cost only LE9 for eight photographs, I decided to have some taken as well and they were much better than the passport photos I had done at home. While waiting for them to be ready we went to the Amoun Restaurant for lunch, where we knew our friend David would be and probably Sam too and we spent a pleasant hour chatting and making plans for future site visits together.

The Luxor Student Office at the time was in the Venus Hotel, along the road from the New Emilio on Yussef Hassan Street, a typical low-budget Egyptian hotel which looked dark and gloomy and I would not have wanted to stay there. The office was on the top floor and luckily we managed to get there just before it closed for the afternoon, though the clerk didn’t seem too pleased about us showing up at closing time. He tried to get us to come back later, but we were polite though persistent and he eventually agreed to make out an International Youth Travel Card for Kit. This cost LE40, the same as a student card and was worth every piastre! We were delighted to have achieved our aim so quickly and were just leaving when we bumped into Mustapha, someone I knew from the West Bank and couldn’t get away without agreeing to sit and drink tea with him. By the time we walked down to the Corniche and got the ferry back across the river it was mid-afternoon.

We had planned to visit several monuments this afternoon, but as it was so late we went straight to Medinet Habu for a quick look around the temple. Inside, the temple was full of workmen putting up lights and laying red carpets in the First Court. Dozens of plush red chairs were stacked up ready to be arranged and everyone was bustling about. When I asked one of the guards what was going on he said that the temple was closing early today because the King of Spain’s daughter was having a party here tonight. While I’m not against parties in general, I didn’t think an ancient place of worship was an appropriate party venue and besides, we hadn’t been invited. After being almost thrown out of Medinet Habu, Kit and I went over to the Rameses Cafe for a drink and ended up staying to eat there in the evening and spent a couple of hours talking with friends Nubi and Salah. Nubi said he would see if he could get permission for us to see the Dra ‘Abu’l Naga tombs of Roy and Shuroy, which have recently been restored but are not yet open. As we left Habu, loud amplified western pop music was just beginning to play inside the floodlit temple.

Musicians at the el-GeziraBack at the Gezira Hotel there was a party going on too, for someone’s birthday and we went up to the roof restaurant to watch the floor show for a while. There were a lot of people on the roof tonight, because ‘Explore’ tour leader Tayib had brough his current group for dinner. Parties here are always great fun with lots of Egyptian music and dancing and tonight the chef, Samy, was outrageously dressed in a gold lame catsuit for his Nubian dance routine. Kit is a musican and soon he was up with the band trying out their instruments and playing along.

Karnak Temple of Montu

The strange thing about staying on the West Bank of Luxor is that we seemed to be spending much of our time travelling back and forwards over the river. When I’ve stayed on the East Bank it was always the other way round, crossing to the West. Today, having arranged to meet Sam at her hotel Kit and I again found ourselves on the early morning local ferry, crowded with schoolchildren, men on their way to work and women obviously bound for the market, with baskets of vegetables, crates of live chickens and trays of eggs around their feet.

Karnak Temple of Montu

We met up with Sam and took a taxi to Karnak, buying tickets at the kiosk where Kit was delighted to be able to use his newly acquired Youth Travel card and get in for half the price. Sam and I have tried to see the Temple of Montu before and failed as it is not open to the public, so today we decided to be sneaky and walked around the edge of Karnak village to the North where we hoped we could see over the wall. Montu was an early falcon-headed god of Thebes, from a time before the god Amun gained prominence here and it was to him that this now derelict precinct on the northern edge of Karnak was dedicated. The temple itself was originally built by Amenhotep III and added to over time by many different kings, though it now looks like little more than an enclosed block field. As we were standing on a low wall at the edge of the precinct, trying to make out shapes from the jumbled heaps of stone, a guard came over and said we could have a quick look inside, taking us to a part with some of the oldest blocks where we could see the cartouche of Amenhotep. Once there had been many small chapels and shrines dedicated to various deities but we could just about work out that the temple had been oriented north to south and see the huge Ptolemaic propylon gate on the northern edge that dominated the complex. After about ten minutes scrabbling around trying to read anything recognisable on the stones, we were asked to leave as the guard said he would get into trouble if we were seen here. After thanking him and handing over baksheesh we went out the way we had come and walked around the outside wall to look at the massive elaborate gateway. This area had once been a quay and there were a few remains of ram-headed sphinxes. It looked very similar to the pylon gateway on the southern side of Karnak.

The day was hot and the walk around the edge of Karnak had been quite long, so when we got back to the main gate we all headed over to the cafeteria on the edge of Karnak’s sacred lake for a drink. I love sitting here overlooking the calm mirror of water where I could imagine the priests who may once have purified themselves before taking part in daily rituals, but this morning the cafe was crowded so we soon moved away to show Kit some of our favourite parts of the temple. By mid-day the crowds were thinning, the groups of tourists having gone for lunch or on to other sites in their franticly busy day and it was lovely to have the temple almost to ourselves for a few hours and spend time discussing the reliefs at our leisure. After only a few days in Egypt Kit was already beginning to pick up hieroglyphs and was asking questions we had not before considered. It was gone 4.00pm by the time we left and the evening crowds were making their way back.

Meeting Dr Mohammed

Deciding to spend the whole day of the West Bank, Kit and I were up early and caught an arabeya to the Colossi of Memnon, where we stopped for a while to look at the gigantic statues of Amenhotep III which once graced the entrance to his mortuary temple. It was a beautiful morning and we strolled along by the canal road that leads to Medinet Habu, meeting my friend Nubi there at his house. He told us that he had been to see Dr Sabri el-Aziz to ask for permission for us to see the newly-restored tombs of Roy and Shuroy, but unfortunately they were still sealed and we could not visit them on this occasion. Kit and I decided to walk to Deir el-Medina and as Nubi had a day off from his excavation work he said he would come with us. It was a pleasant walk in the early morning before the tourist coaches arrived to churn up the dust as they hurtled along the road.

Early temples at Deir el-MedinaAt Deir el-Medina we were introduced to Dr Mohammed Sayed Hasan, who was in charge of the antiquities on the West Bank and Kit and I went into the tombs of Sennedjem and Inherkau as Dr Mohammed’s guests. When we came out he arranged cups of tea for us all and after a long talk with him about the West Bank monuments, he came with us to the Temple of Hathor and showed us around himself. I realised then that this must be an important man by the way the temple guards were acting – as though this was a royal visit! Although I had been in the beautiful little temple several times before, Dr Mohammed made it much more interesting and I felt honoured to have his company. He explained a lot about the earlier temples which were in various stages of consolidation. Amenhotep I, who was worshipped as a deity after his death, is thought to have been the founder of the workmen’s village and there are a few remains here of a temple built for his cult, to the north of the Ptolemaic temple. In front of this is another reconstructed chapel of Hathor built for the workmen by Seti I and on the hillside opposite are the remains of another temple built by Rameses II and dedicated to the Theban Triad. There had obviously been a lot of restoration work done recently on these small shrines. When it was time to leave I thanked Dr Mohammed for his kindness and to my great surprise he invited Kit and I to tea at his house in Qurna the following day.

Cooling water jars at Kom LollaNubi, Kit and I walked the long dusty tarmac road back to Medinet Habu under the scorching mid-day sun. There is no shade or vegetation at all along this road, which branches off from the wide road leading to the Valley of the Queens and you just have to keep going. Eventually we arrived back at Kom Lolla, which is the proper name for the village where Habu Temple is situated and to Nubi’s house behind the temple, where his lovely wife Zeinab had prepared a feast for our lunch. We were all glad to sit down in the shade under the trees in their garden for a rest. Nubi and Zeinab’s older children had just come home from school and were eager to practice their English on us as their younger son played happily in the water from a hosepipe. Nubi is the son of Haga, a wonderful old lady I had met a few years ago, but hadn’t seen yet on this trip and after lunch he suggested we called in at her house near Habu Temple for tea. As usual we were made very welcome. Nubi and Kit were getting along famously and Haga made a lot of fuss over him. I think my credibility went up for having brought Kit to meet my Egyptian friends and they all seemed to be really pleased to meet him.

It was late afternoon by the time we got back to our hotel, just time for a rest before dinner. All this tea drinking can be very tiring! Later in the evening Kit and I went in a taxi to the airport to meet my friend Robin who was flying out from England today. She would be also staying at the el-Gezira Hotel with us.

Temple of Montu at Medamud

Although Medamud is only a few kilometres from Luxor, it seems to be a difficult place to get to. Permission is needed from the tourist police, who will escort any visitors to the temple, which is in the countryside beyond the road block on the northern edge of Luxor. For this service they charge a huge fee. On Wednesday morning, Kit, Robin, Sam and I piled into Abdul’s Taxi to go to visit our friend David in his home in the village of el-Arabet, which was situated about half way between Luxor and Medamud. Over a mid-morning cup of coffee, it was David who happened to mention that Medamud was just a short distance across the cultivation, almost within walking distance. Then Abdul told us that he could drive his taxi along the tracks by the canals, through the fields of sugar cane and it would only take a few minutes to get there. We needed no persuasion.

Temple of MontuThe Montu Temples at Medamud and Karnak were once linked by a canal. The site of the present temple was built on remains dating at least back to the Middle Kingdom, by kings of the Graeco-Roman Period and dedicated to Montu, Rattawy and Harpocrates. When we arrived there after our short taxi ride the guards seemed surprised to see us but were only too pleased to let us have a look around the site, showing us the unusual triple gateway built by Ptolemy VIII and the kiosk walls decorated with singers and musicians and one of my favourites, the little god Bes, who was shown dancing. The temple has distinctive slender columns in the forecourt which are now the most substantial remains of the monument. The rest is fairly ruined, with walls no higher than a metre or two, but we did see a granite doorway depicting Amenhotep II before Montu-re that was the oldest of the visible remains. One of the most interesting aspects of the temple, in the east court, is the precinct of the sacred bull, who was kept as the symbolic incarnation of the god Montu. Carved on an exterior wall, marking the place where oracles were delivered, the Emperor Trajan can be seen worshipping the sacred bull. There were once many domestic buildings on the site including granaries, a well and a sacred lake but these are now gone. A few of the ram-headed sphinxes which once lined a processional way leading from the temple to the quay can still be seen and the quay itself is in quite good condition. After we had a good look around we sat and had a cup of tea with the guards, who seemed very friendly. Then the police turned up (it could only have been the guards who let them know we were here) and we were told in no uncertain terms that we should not have come here without them. It was of course our taxi driver Abdul who got into the most trouble (and was afterwards in danger of losing his licence), which we all felt terrible about. I suppose we should have played by the rules.

Abdul was unconcerned at the time by the police’s arrival and when we left Medamud he took us to a new golf course that was being built on the edge of Luxor. He wanted to see someone who worked there, so while he was busy we sat and chatted to Chris, a golf pro who had taken on the task of getting the course up and running. Chris told us that the golf course was a very big project and was intended to become an major international course of 810 hectares. At present, though there were water sprinklers everywhere, it still looked like part of the desert but we did see a few blades of grass struggling up through the sand on some of the greens. A big task indeed.

Making tea on the farmAfterwards we stopped at a farm near the golf course. By now I was completely lost having never been in this part of the countryside before and it felt like we were a long long way from Luxor town. The farm belonged to Abdul’s uncle and we were all made very welcome, shown the animals and then given the inevitable glasses of tea while sitting outside with views across fields of crops. One of the outbuildings contained a huge old generator used to pump water and some of the farm workers insisted on firing this up for our inspection because it had been made in England. It was all very interesting and made a nice change from looking at monuments.

Nefertari’s Tomb

While we had been off in the countryside yesterday my friend Nubi had been busy. He had arranged with Dr Mohammed Sayed for our party (myself, Kit, Sam and Robin) to visit the famous tomb of Queen Nefertari as his guests. Kit and I had already had the honour of having tea with Dr Mohammed at his house a couple of days ago – which proves it’s not what you know but who you know in Egypt.

Entrance to Nefertari's tombNefertari’s tomb was cleaned and restored by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and the Getty Conservation Institute and had only recently been opened in 1995. Visitor numbers and the time spent inside the tomb was limited and tickets were expensive at LE100 each. They could only be obtained by queuing at the ticket office at 6.00am and needless to say I had not been there yet. So it was with great excitement that we took a taxi to the Valley of the Queens this morning to meet the Queens’ Antiquities Inspector Mr Abdel Fetuh and Dr Mohammed. We waited until the last of the visitors left and the tomb closed at 12.00pm before entering.

Model of Nefertari's tomb (Turin) Nefertari Mery-en-Mut, whose name means ‘most beautiful, beloved of the goddess Mut’, was the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II. Her tomb reflects the queen’s position in the eyes of her husband in the beauty of its construction. The colours are very vivid and the scenes are unusual, with many favourable epitaphs which describe her beauty and her sweet and charming nature. As we all descended down the entrance stairway and into an offering hall, I had not really known what to expect, but the photographs I had seen in books do not do the tomb justice. I was dazzled by its colour and freshness. Visitors are allowed only ten minutes in the tomb but we were left for over half an hour to work our way around in our own time looking at each scene, with Mr Fetuh occasionally interrupting to point out some the most interesting aspects. All too soon the visit was over, but I will always feel very privileged to have been given this wonderful opportunity and give my thanks to the antiquities staff for allowing it.

After an afternoon in Luxor, Kit, Robin and I had dinner at Nubi’s home with his family and his mother Haga. A feast of dozens of different dishes were laid out on the floor and we all sat around on cushions, dipping our bread into each dish to sample it – no spoons or forks here! We sat talking late into the evening with Nubi, who told us fascinating stories of his excavation work, especially at Abydos where he worked periodically as an assistant surveyor. It had been a wonderful day.

Tod and el-Moalla

After our problem with the police two days ago at Medamud, we wanted to avoid any mishaps this time by seeking permission to visit the temple at Tod, which is around 20km to the south of Luxor and then to go on to el-Moalla, a little further south. We went to the tourist police, who this time were very helpful and were given permission to leave Luxor with the morning convoy on its way to Aswan, then branch off with a small police escort to the village of Tod. Why this should be any different to Medamud, which is much closer to Luxor, I will never know. Kit, Robin and I went over to Luxor on the ferry where we met up with Sam and our taxi driver Abdul to wait in line for the 11.00am convoy to leave. It was very straight forward. Our police escort were very nice and we turned off after the bridge at the traffic station south of Luxor, then crossing the railway tracks, followed the road east though the countryside until we came to the village of Tod.

The rear (modern) entrance to the temple lies at the end of the paved road through the village. Our first problem of the day came when the temple guards told us that tickets could only be bought at Luxor Temple – nobody had mentioned this when we went to ask the police about the visit. After much deliberating and arguing with the guards, who were adamant, Abdul insisted on driving back to Luxor to buy our tickets, which he could do alone without waiting for the convoy. It didn’t take him long and he was back in forty-five minutes with our tickets. By this time it was just after mid-day and the sun was scorching.

Montu Temple at TodWe spent a couple of hours in the temple which, like Medamud, was also dedicated to the god Montu. The remains date back to Dynasty V in the Old Kingdom when there was a local cult of Montu here and we saw some blocks from the early shrine in the magazine store near the entrance to the temple. During the reigns of Mentuhotep and Senwosret I of the Middle Kingdom there was a great deal of construction here, but little from this period remains today. A cache of gold and silver artefacts known as the ‘Tod Treasure’ was discovered during excavations beneath the floor of the Middle Kingdom buildings in 1936. Most of the extant remains date from the New Kingdom up to the Roman Period with a small barque shrine built by Tuthmose III and restored by later Ramesside kings on the northern side, where there was once a small sacred lake too. On the west are remains of a quay and avenue of sphinxes. The larger part of the buildings today consist of a Ptolemaic columned hall which includes a hidden room side which was a treasury. The later temple was built against a wall of the Middle Kingdom remains, and we saw a long line of text by Senwosret I, over-carved with Ptolemaic reliefs, but many of the later cartouches were left blank (often the case in Ptolemaic building works).

Did I mention the dogs? Just after the guard had gone off and left us to wander around on our own, we were suddenly surrounded by a pack of snarling yapping yellow dogs who seemed to resent visitors in their temple. Perhaps we were disturbing their afternoon sleep, but it was an uncomfortable few minutes until the guard came back and scared them off and shooed them away into the village. I’ve often seen these semi-wild dogs living in the temples. Usually they are no trouble, but I get uneasy when they start baring their teeth.

Time to leave. We were going on to el-Moalla to visit the tomb of Ankhtify, but first we had to go back to the main road with our escort and wait to join the next Aswan convoy. It was now almost 3.00pm, extremely hot and there were no drinks available at the checkpoint, so we refilled our water bottles from a dubious-looking tap at the roadside and thought we would probably regret it, but we had an hour to wait for the next convoy and there was no shade either. Eventually we were on our way again to drive another 12km south, turning off over the railway tracks towards the village of el-Moalla. The provincial cemetery appeared desolate and windswept, but two important tombs among many belonging to provincial governors and officials of the Old Kingdom to First Intermediate Period can be found here.

Tombs at el-MoallaAbdul went off to find the tomb guard and this was when our next problem began. Very few visitors came to el-Moalla, so being Friday and the Islamic day of rest, the guard who had the key to the tombs had gone off to Esna to visit his sister. Well, we had come this far and were not about to be defeated. Abdul, bless him, was duly dispatched to Esna to find the guard, or at least the key, returning an hour later with both. Meanwhile, we three women and my son Kit were left alone on this desolate hillside in front of the tomb, Sam refusing to move until we had been inside. We were not bothered by dogs, but this time it was young boys who turned up to keep us company, full of curiosity about what we were doing here. We must have seemed a bit odd standing there waiting. Before long, more boys turned up and a few of the older ones became quite threatening, demanding money, cigarettes and anything else they thought we were good for. By the time the guards came back and the tomb of Ankhtify was unlocked, it was almost dark but we eventually got to see the tomb, albeit with the aid of fluorescent torches shone onto the walls. The decorated tomb shows many interesting and important painted scenes which give glimpses into the complicated political events in the obscure First Intermediate Period. I decided I really must revisit el-Moalla in the daytime.

Aswan Weekend

Once again Kit and I had made use of our ISIC cards, this time to buy half-price train tickets to Aswan, splashing out all of LE 15 (about £1.50) to travel first class. We were at Luxor railway station bright and early to catch the 6.30am train, which for reasons unexplained, left Luxor at 8.30am, and arrived in Aswan three and a half hours later. We hadn’t booked a hotel so we had to spend the next hour or two trawling the town for a cheap place to stay. These were few and far between, and we looked at several dismal places before eventually settling for a small Egyptian hotel called the Philae, on the Corniche. This was very basic but reasonably clean and relatively inexpensive. The nicest thing about my room was the little balcony with a beautiful Nile view and I didn’t discover the downside of noisy all-night traffic until much later.

Qubbet el-Hawa, Aswan

We dropped our bags and went straight out to explore. My long-haired ‘hippy’ son immediately felt at home in Aswan. The town is much more laid back than Luxor with reggae music coming from every riverside cafe and Rastafarian guys with their dreadlocks and multicoloured oversized hats, sitting in groups on the pavements playing drums. Kit would have sat down to join them but I managed to lure him away with the promise of a felucca trip, my ulterior motive being to cross to the West Bank tombs. We struck a deal with a captain called Nasser on his felucca called ‘Greenland’ and he took us over to the opposite bank where the sand-covered hills are strew with the rock-cut tombs of high-status officials of the Old and Middle Kingdom I didn’t count the steep steps leading to the upper level of the cemetery – but there were a lot!

Beginning at the southern end of the upper terrace we visited the six tombs which were open to visitors, these mostly dating to Dynasty VI, a period that is poorly represented for accessible decorated tombs. They were badly preserved but quite different from the New Kingdom Luxor tombs, so were well worth seeing for their fine examples of hieroglyphic texts detailing the careers of their owners as well as scenes of daily life in the earlier periods. My favourite tomb and probably the best preserved, belonged to Sarenput II, Overseer of the Priests of Khnum and Commander of the Garrison at Elephantine, dated to the reign of Amenemhet II of Dynasty XII. In his colourful biographical text I found an unusual hieroglyph of an elephant, which I had not seen before. Perched on the top of the hill above the ancient cemetery is the domed tomb of a Muslim prophet which gives the hill its local name, Qubbet el-Hawa or ‘Dome of the Winds’ and which can be seen from just about all over Aswan.

Kit on felucca 'Greenland'Having accomplished my mission and worn myself out climbing up and down those sand-covered steps and into the deep tombs, we were back on felucca ‘Greenland’ for a trip around Elephantine Island. Kit was now in his own element (i.e. on a boat) and he had found a kindred spirit in Nasser. While I lay back on the bench cushions for a nice relaxing sail, Nasser and Kit competed with each other to see who could steer the boat closest to the rocks around the island, veering away at the last minute without actually crashing into them. There were one or two very close calls and my goodness, I hadn’t realised that feluccas could move so fast!

Nasser dropped us off at the northern end of the Corniche near the Old Cataract Hotel because we wanted to get to the New Nubian Museum before it closed. We had hired Nasser’s boat for over three hours and it had cost LE 60 for two of us for a really lovely afternoon. I yet hadn’t been to the new museum, which was opened only last year, in 1997 and it was well worth seeing if only for its beautiful Nubian-style architecture, nestled into the hillside. The site covers 50,000 square metres of landscaped gardens which are divided up into different sections with many outdoor exhibits. Inside the museum a flight of stairs leads down from street level to the entrance of the temperature and light controlled exhibition space, with an 8m high sandstone statue of Rameses II as the focal point. We were led by informative history boards around the exhibits in a chronological order, beginning with the Prehistoric, through the Pharaonic era to Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods of art. The exhibition space itself was airy, well-lit and almost empty of visitors, but we had only two hours before the museum closed, not nearly enough time to see everything.

Kit and I were tired but we both felt that we had had a very productive and enjoyable day. We walked back along the Corniche to our hotel, stopping to eat in a riverside restaurant while looking out over the inky river towards the now-floodlit sand dunes of Qubbet el-Hawa on the West Bank.

Expedition to Philae Temple

On Sunday morning Kit and I were up early and leaving our bags in the hotel reception to collect later, we took a taxi to Philae Port. I had been to Philae several times before, but only with a tour group, so this visit was a journey into the unknown, because from the port we had to negotiate for a motor boat to take us to the Island of Agilika, where Philae Temple rose above the glittering waters of the widest part of the river like a magnificent vision. It was still early and we were lucky that there were few tourists about so that the competition to take us was quite fierce. We negotiated a fare of LE30 for the boat to take us to the island, wait for a couple of hours and bring us back. I didn’t have any idea what the going rate for this trip should be but we were happy to pay what was asked. There were no groups on the island at this time of day and for once the temple was almost deserted. It was bliss to wander the vast columned halls in peace, taking our time to study and photograph the reliefs. To our amazement our boatman was still there to take us back to port when we were ready to go (I had heard stories of people being abandoned on the island).

Philae Port

A taxi back to Aswan took us to the bazaar and we walked along the main street looking at the brightly coloured stalls. I bought some spices, one of the things Aswan is famous for and Kit bought some trousers, a Nubian hat and a darabuka, the kind of Egyptian hand-drum he had seen played on the Corniche. We then spent an hour looking for a suitable bag for the drum, eventually finding a perfect hand-woven bag in a fixed-price shop at the end of the Suq.

Aswan spice stallBy now it was lunchtime though we seemed to have already done so much. After another half hour searching for a small temple of Isis that I was destined not to find for many more years, we found ourselves at the southern end of the Corniche, so I suggested we go to the Old Cataract Hotel for lunch on the terrace overlooking the ruins on the Island of Elephantine. It was lovely to sit there with a band of Egyptian musicians playing in the background like an old fashioned palm court orchestra and I could have happily spent the rest of the afternoon there, but Kit wanted to take another felucca trip. Walking back along the riverfront we met Captain Nasser from the previous day and had an hour sailing on his boat ‘Greenland’ – this time in a more relaxed mode as the wind was not so strong. The songs of Bob Marley, as heard on an old tape player on a felucca, will forever remind me of a chilled-out afternoon on the Nile at Aswan.

The sun was setting over hill of Qubbet el-Hawa as we ate an early dinner in a riverside restaurant named, for some reason, the Mona Lisa and after calling at the hotel to collect our bags we made our way to the railway station. Aswan Corniche is quite long and we must have walked miles along its uneven pavements in the past two days. The train was only half an hour late and we arrived back in Luxor at 11.30pm, a time of night when the streets are still busy. It had been a lovely weekend away, but Luxor was home and we just had to call in at the Amoun restaurant for hot chocolate before making our way back across to the West Bank and the Gezira Hotel.

Three Tombs at el-Khoka

At the beginning of our third week in Egypt and following a hectic weekend in Aswan I decided Kit and I needed a restful day, so a leisurely breakfast on the hotel roof terrace was stretched out until lunchtime. Catching an arabeya from outside on the street, we went as far as the taftish (ticket office) where we bought tickets for the three tombs of Neferonpet, Djutmose and Nefersekheru at Khoka. El-Khoka is an area of the West Bank just to the south of Deir el-Bahri, on the hill that divides it from the village of Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna, so we strolled along the hot and dusty main road as far as the Ramesseum where, deciding we needed a cold drink before going any further, we went into the cafeteria there for a Coke.

View from the Ramesseum Cafe

The three tombs are grouped together on one ticket and share the same courtyard entrance. There were no other tourists around and I was once more reminded that mid-day is the best time to visit sites if you like peace and quiet. Even the dogs in the tomb courtyard were fast asleep in the sun, hardly raising their ears as we approached. A guard came out and ushered us first into the tomb of Neferonpet (TT178), who was a temple scribe and held the title of ‘Scribe of the Treasury in the Estate of Amun-Re’ during the reign of Rameses II. This tomb consisted of a large hall leading into an inner chamber with a statue niche at the rear.

The tomb of Nefersekheru (TT296) was next and this is built onto the eastern end of the tomb of Djutmose, so that they almost seem like one tomb, except that we had to scramble from one to the other through a small opening. Nefersekheru held the titles ‘Scribe of the Divine Offerings of all the Gods’ and ‘Officer in the Treasury of the Southern City’ during the Ramesside Period. In the entrance hall there are scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ in which Nefersekheru appears with his wife Nefertari as well as a judgement scene where his heart is weighed against a feather before Osiris, Isis and Nephthys. I especially liked a lovely picture of Nefersekheru and his wife drinking from a pool in a garden and another of him playing the game of Senet, which is said to have had a religious significance. There is also a well-preserved scene depicting the cult images of the deified Amenhotep I and Ahmose-Nefertari who are seated in a kiosk.

Waking Priest and Sleeping PriestThe Dynasty XVIII tomb of Djutmose (TT295) is just a single chamber entered from the previous tomb with other parts now inaccessible. Also called Paroy, he was a mortuary priest and embalmer, probably during the reign of Amenhotep III, and held the titles ‘Head of the Secrets in the Chest of Anubis’ and ‘Sem Priest in the Good House, Embalmer’. I love this tomb because it has a rare and mysterious picture of a sem-priest performing part of the ‘Opening of the Mouth Ritual’ in a scene from the ‘Book of the Dead’. We can usually identify the sem-priest, the mortuary priest who oversees the burial, by his leopard skin worn over a white robe, but the one in this tomb looks like he is wearing his nightshirt, a garment with horizontal red stripes! In the scene, usually referred to as the ‘Waking Priest and Sleeping Priest’, the priest is first seen kneeling upright on a low couch before a statue of the deceased and next he is lying down on the couch before the statue. This seems to be some sort of mysterious ritual where the priest (often the son of the deceased) may be in a trance state or perhaps communicating with the dead (according to Sir Wallace Budge). There is a similarly clad sem-priest in the tomb of Rekhmire, but it is not a scene which is common. It intrigues me, and I am reminded of the ‘Tekenu’, another mysterious depiction of a figure lying on a sledge.

Karnak Open-Air Museum

After meeting my friends at the Amoun Restaurant for a breakfast get-together, Kit and I took a caleche to Karnak, where we bought tickets for the open-air museum. It had been a couple of years since I last had a good look around here and there were many changes. The biggest change was that the blocks from Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel were no longer sitting on concrete risers where they could be easily seen, because most of them had now been incorporated into the rebuilding of the monument in the centre of the museum space.

Restoration of the Red Chapel, 1998The Red Chapel or ‘Chapelle Rouge’ was a barque shrine built for Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III towards the end of the Queen’s reign and originally stood at the centre of the Temple of Amun. However, the shrine was not destined for a long life and was eventually dismantled by Hatshepsut’s successor, Tuthmose III, who reused some of the original quartzite and diorite blocks in a monument of his own. While other blocks were found scattered throughout Karnak, many more were recovered after being used as infill for Amenhotep III’s Third Pylon. By 1995 more than 300 blocks from the Red Chapel had been located and were stored in the open-air museum. The rebuilding of the chapel began in 1997 by a team of French and Egyptian restoration experts, who have had the difficult task of piecing together the remaining blocks like a jig-saw puzzle. New red-coloured concrete blocks have been made to fit the spaces left by missing blocks and so far it is looking very good.

Another important reconstruction in the open-air museum is the Portico Court of Tuthmose IV, probably the major monument of his reign, which once stood in front of the Fourth Pylon in the Temple of Amun. The blocks from this monument were also re-used by Amenhotep III in the Third Pylon. The Portico is very long with large square pillars and the painted reiliefs on the sandstone blocks, having been protected from the elements for so long, are superb.

Barque shrine of Senwosret IMy favourite monument in the museum is the white limestone barque shrine of Senwosret I, a beautiful open structure on a raised platform with steps leading into the shrine. Once a way-station built for the king’s jubilee festival, the detail of the carved hieroglyphs is the finest I have seen anywhere in Egypt. This restored monument is a survival of the Middle Kingdom monuments at Karnak and depicts the god Amun in both his anthropoid and Ithyphallic forms.

Nearby, for fans of Akhenaten, there is a very large but very shallow and incomplete relief of the king as Amenhotep IV smiting captives, before he shunned Amun. This was once in the vestibule of the Third Pylon.

Kit and I left Karnak mid-afternoon and went back to our hotel on the West Bank to shower and change. After meeting up with Robin, we took a service car to Kom Lolla and Nubi’s house where we had arranged to meet Mr Abdul Fetuh, an Antiquities Inspector who was going to take us on a tour of Malqata. The walk across the fields from Medinet Habu was especially lovely in the early evening with the sun just beginning to go down behind the Theban Mountain and a light breeze blowing over the long grass before it meets the harsher terrain of the desert. Everything was tinged in the palest pink glow and a bright full moon was rising in the east. We were shown all over the site of Malqata and although I had been here several times before it is one of my favourite places on the West Bank. There are no grand temples or pylons, only very low remains of walls which once contained the palace and town of Amenhotep III, but the whole site for me has a magical atmosphere. We walked in the desert as far as the Japanese excavation site at Birket Habu before returning to the French dig house for tea. While sitting with Abdul Fetuh and the guardian, Nubi entertained us with stories of the horned vipers hereabouts which can jump three metres in the air (and out of trees) as well as the many scorpions during the summer months. I made a note to only visit Malqata in the winter in future!

Luxor Bookshops

I’ve been in Egypt for over two weeks and hadn’t bought a book until today. I am an avid book collector and this must be a record for me. When I arrive in Luxor, one of my first outings is a tour of the bookshops – and there are many. I like to have a good look around and find out what is new on the subject of Egyptology and which shop offers the best deal. My favourite bookshop is Aboudi’s, on the corner of the little mall, behind the fountain next to the New Winter Palace Hotel. There are actually two bookshops side by side called Aboudi’s and I think the owners are related but they are different shops with different stock and often different prices. I usually visit the two or three branches of Gaddis too as they sometimes publish books themselves and the Gaddis on the left of the Old Winter Palace also sell beautiful old black and white photographic prints and old postcards. I can while away hours browsing in bookshops. I always look out for anything published by American University in Cairo (AUC) Press because they regularly publish Egyptological books in their own imprint, sometimes costing half the price of the original publication. One of the great things about AUC Press is that their books are often paperbacks and therefore lighter to carry home in my already bulging overweight suitcase.

Friezes from Theban tombs by Prisse d'Avennes

This morning I found myself in Aboudi’s and came across a paperback edition of ‘Atlas of Egyptian Art’ by Emile Prisse d’Avennes, published by AUC Press. This is a beautiful collection of the art of the French scholar and draughtsman, Prisse d’Avennes, which was first published in Paris between 1868 and 1878 after many years of travelling in Egypt surveying and recording the monuments and meticulously copying the documents and decorations he found there.

Shahhat, An EgyptianI was also thrilled to find a copy of ‘Shahhat, An Egyptian’ by Richard Critchfield, (AUC Press, 1989). This little book is a fascinating portrait of the life of an Egyptian fellah and provides a unique insight into contemporary peasant life in Egypt, first published in 1978. Shahhat also happens to be the brother of my friend Nubi and the son of Nubi’s mother Haga, who has been so kind to me over the past couple of years. I had heard all about the book but had never found it until now. I couldn’t wait to start reading it.

My third exciting find was an indulgence because I could have bought the heavy hard-backed book at home for the same price and saved myself the problem of carrying it back to England. But I couldn’t resist ‘Proportion and Style in Ancient Egypt’ by Gay Robins (Thames and Hudson, 1994). It is an invaluable book for the subject of my current studies and I had been meaning to buy it for a while.

I was in the shop so long that the assistant at the counter had brought me a glass of tea and we sat and chatted while he totalled up my purchases, slipping a handful of bookmarks into the bag as he always does. Some women find buying new clothes or shoes therapeutic, but for me, books do it every time!

Luxor Museum

Time is running with only four more days here in Luxor. As usual, time in Egypt has an elastic quality that makes me feel like I’ve never lived anywhere else, yet I am aware of the days flying by, packed as they are with things to do and places to go. Even though I try to fill every minute, I can still find time to sit and relax, usually in a cafe where I love to watch Egyptian life unfold before me. This combination of activity and inactivity suits me very well. But today we had quite a busy schedule, so, missing the morning rush hour, by 9.00am Kit and I were on the ferry crossing the river to Luxor.

Kit hadn’t yet seen the Museum, which was to be our first call and a was a visit I always enjoy. Although the exhibits in the museum are very well lit, the surroundings are very dark, and I had never managed to get successful photographs, so this time I brought with me a fast film especially for the task. While Kit had a walk around both levels of the museum, I wanted to concentrate on photographing the cachette statues. This new extension on the ground floor houses a collection of statues found in the ‘Luxor Cachette’. These beautiful sculptures were unearthed when a colonnade at Luxor Temple was dismantled for reconstruction in 1989. They had been buried (for reasons unknown) in the floor of the courtyard where they lay forgotten for over 2000 years. Many of these statues today look as though they have just come out of a sculptor’s workshop and the workmanship is superb.

Statues in the Cachette Hall, Luxor Museum

Another of my favourite exhibits is a reconstructed wall from a temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten). The small decorated sandstone blocks, called talatat, were discovered during reconstruction work on the ninth pylon at Karnak, where they had been used as infill in the original building of the pylon. Individual blocks on which the famous reliefs were carved can be seen in many museums, but here the ‘Talatat Wall’ represents the only successful attempt at reconstructing a whole wall of the blocks. Over 40,000 decorated blocks from Amenhotep IV’s early Karnak building works have been found, but only those from the ninth pylon are preserved enough to allow their accurate reconstruction. This wall is fabulous and is a rare example of the unique style of relief carving of the Amarna Period.

Talatat Wall in Luxor Museum

After a couple of hours in the museum we walked along the Corniche to the New Winter Palace Hotel, where we had a cup of coffee in the lounge. This was just me being nosy as I had never been inside this hotel before. Then it was back over the river to meet up with Robin for our next adventure of the day.

We had all been invited to visit the Valley of the Kings with Antiquities Inspector Mr Abdel Fetou, who met us at Medinet Habu and had a service taxi waiting to take us all to the Valley. I must say, being in his company meant that we were given the VIP treatment. This visit was another first for Kit as he hadn’t been to the Valley yet and we saw three tombs, as well as a special visit to the tomb of Tutankhamun. I was very impressed by Abdel Fetou’s knowledge of the tombs and especially the hieroglyphs.

Another lovely day ended after Robin, Kit and I were joined by Sam for dinner at the Africa Restaurant in Gezira and a leisurely discussion on the roof terrace of our hotel.

Deir el-Bahri

Wepwawet at Medinet HabuHaving arranged to meet Robin and Sam at Medinet Habu, kit and I caught an arabeya to the taftish and bought our tickets, before walking along the track which leads straight to the Temple. Habu is my favourite temple on the West Bank, probably the most complete and I love it for its colourful reliefs. By now, Kit has become quite good at reading hieroglyphs, or at least recognising what he’s looking at, so he was able to contribute as Sam, Robin and I looked at the various deities we found in the first and second courts. The pillars especially have beautiful reliefs of Rameses III before the gods. These characters, such as Hathor, Horus, Amun, Thoth, Anubis etc. are generally called gods, but I think of them more in terms of different aspects of possibly a single entity. Or perhaps they could be likened to the numerous Christian saints we find in western churches. We take for granted that the lady with the moon and horns headdress is Hathor, or the figure with the canine head is Anubis, the ithyphallic figure is Min, but this is often not the case. Looking at each ‘deity’, we found in Habu that some of the figures were un-named, while others, after reading the accompanying text, were not what we expected. We spent an interesting couple of hours looking at these figures, photographing them and making notes for further discussion.

After a quick lunch break at the Rameses Cafeteria opposite the temple, we walked back to the ticket office to meet Mr Abdel Fetuh who was to take us to Deir el-Bahri. Here we were introduced to Dr Mohammed el-Bierly, who was the Chief Inspector for the area and we sat in the guards hut having tea with him before going on to tour the temple with Abdel Fetuh. This was the first time I had visited Deir el-Bahri since the ‘incident’, as it is called, the horriffic terrorist killings here last year. I wasn’t sure how I would feel being here again, but it was OK and felt like it had been cleansed of the atrocities.

Osirid statues on the Third TerraceThe Temple of Hatshepsut is very different from other West Bank temples because it is arranged on a series of three terraces, each containing important and fascinating reliefs. The third terrace has been under reconstruction by a Polish-Egyptian mission for many years and was not yet open to the public, so I was thrilled when Abdel Fetuh asked if we would like to see it. We walked up the ramp, admiring the huge carefully restored Osirid statues of Hatshepsut, before going through a doorway into the columned courtyard. The reliefs in the third terrace have been cleaned and Mr Fetuh took time to explain their sequence to us as we walked around. Many of the colourful scenes depict the ‘Beautiful Feast of the Valley’, showing barques carrying statues of Tuthmose I, II, III and Hatshepsut. Barques of the Theban Triad are carried by priests, with offering-bringers, dancers and musicians making up the procession.

The chambers in the northern part of the upper terrace are dedicated to the solar cult of Re-Horakhty and in one of these we saw a huge alabaster altar on which offerings would have been left exposed to the sun. Other niches and chapels such as those dedicated to Anubis and the parents of Hatshepsut still have very well-preserved colourful paintings. We were very grateful to have a sneak preview of these chambers.

Soon it was time to leave and Mr Fetuh came back to the el-Gezira Hotel, where we all had tea on the roof.

Tombs of Rekhmire and Sennefer

On Saturday morning, Kit and I were up early for a brief visit to the Qurna tombs of Rekhmire and Sennefer trying to beat the tourists who usually arrive there a little later in the day. Not that the tombs at Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna are ever really busy. I had an idea that the village children might be in school this morning, but that was not the case. As usual, as soon as we appeared in the village, we were quickly surrounded by ragged children of all ages, asking for sweets, pens and baksheesh. They can be very persistent and I would have rather avoided them this morning.

Sheikh 'Abd el-Qurna tomb area

In an effort to shake off our young escort, we climbed up the dusty track to the top of the hill and the tomb of Sennefer (TT96) in the upper enclosure, also known as the ‘Tomb of the Vines’ for it’s beautiful painted grape-covered ceiling. This tomb, which I had visited several times before, is deep in the ground with many steep steps, but the paintings inside the tomb-chapel are exquisite. Sennefer was a Mayor of Thebes during the reign of Amenhotep II, an important nobleman of the period, but his tomb, nestling just below the peak of el-Qurn, is beautifully simple in its construction and decoration compared to the tombs of the later New Kingdom.

Servant girl in Rekhmire's TombA little way down the slope from Sennefer’s tomb is the tomb of Rekhmire (TT100), whose titles were ‘Vizier’ and ‘Governor of the Town’ during the reign of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II. It is very different to Sennefer’s tomb both in its more traditional T-shaped construction and its decoration. Oddly enough, a burial chamber was never found and it is thought that Rekhmire himself may have been buried elsewhere. In a long dark passage with high sloping roof, there are some rather unique and excellently preserved paintings, giving a wealth of detail about the local crafts and industries of the time, including the sculpting of two colossal statues. One of my favourite scenes is high up on the wall, part of the funeral banquet and features a small servant girl standing behind Rekhmire’s mother and shown in back-view – the only known instance of this aspect in ancient Egyptian art.

After visiting the tombs we sat on the bench outside Mohammed Snake’s cafe and had a cold drink. My old friend Hamdi, who Robin and I had spent much time with in the Valley of the Kings earlier this year stopped by to say hello as he was passing and stayed to chat for a while. Unfortunately by this time Kit reluctantly admitted to not feeling well, so we made our way straight back to our hotel. Pharaoh’s Revenge had finally caught up with him – could it be because we had entered the Tomb of Tutankhamun a few days ago, with its infamous curse?

A Visit to el-Kab

Although Kit was feeling a little better this morning, he decided to stay in the hotel, while I was up before sunrise to catch the early morning ferry over to Luxor with Robin to meet Sam and Abdul with his taxi. We were travelling with the 7.00am convoy towards Aswan, but had permission to leave it to visit el-Kab, roughly halfway between Esna and Edfu. With the convoy rattling ahead of us along the main road like a bloated snake, our taxi, with a small police escort all to ourselves, turned off over a railway line and through a village. It was a beautiful clear morning as we drove along the track leading towards the Wadi Hellal and the site of el-Kab, with its high vertical cliffs. I knew we were fortunate to be allowed to come here as, at the time of this first visit, the site was not officially open. When we pulled up by some low concrete buildings that constituted an empty ticket office and deserted cafeteria, several guards came out to greet us. We asked if we could first drive down the wadi and were told no problem. There are times when the road is impassable, perhaps broken up after a rain storm has washed away the surface, but it would seem that at present the condition of the road was good enough. One of the guards got into the taxi with us and off we went.

Hugging the East Bank of the Nile, El-Kab is one of the oldest settlements in Egypt and in ancient times was known as Nekheb which, with its sister town Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) on the West Bank, was the home of the vulture goddess Nekhbet. Leading into the Eastern Desert, the valley provides evidence of many Nubian gods who were also worshipped there because during the New Kingdom, el-Kab was on the northern limits of the region presided over by the Viceroy of Kush (Nubia).

Ptolemaic rock-cut temple at el-KabThe road through the Wadi Hellal runs 4km east towards the desert, but we first stopped after only a few hundred kilometres, where there was a Ptolemaic rock-cut sanctuary dedicated to Nekhbet. A long restored staircase led up the hill, through a stone gateway with carved lintel and into the paved courtyard of a small temple. This consisted of two decorated chambers hewn into the cliff, with Hathor-headed columns and a sanctuary deep inside. A stela of Rameses II was cut into the facade and there were also Ramesside reliefs which probably gives the shrine an earlier origin. Closer to the road was a tiny square single-roomed stone structure known locally as el-Hammam (The bath?), a little chapel built by the Viceroy of Nubia, Setau and dedicated to the deified Rameses II and local gods. The reliefs inside were shallow and poorly preserved.

Vulture RockBack in the taxi we continued further into the wadi, a desolated wide scrubby plain with high cliffs bounding it to the north and south. After about 2km we arrived at a large isolated jagged rock by the road, known locally as Vulture Rock. Some say it is the shape of the rock which suggests its name, while others tell of the colonies of vultures in the area. I could see neither the shape nor the birds and decided it must have been named for the Vulture Goddess Nekhbet herself. Around the back of the rock there are many well-preserved rock carvings and inscriptions dating from prehistoric times to the late Old Kingdom. Petroglyphs of primitive birds, animals, boats and strange undecipherable shapes were bruised into the surface of the rock and several small smoothed panels contained more recognisable hieroglyphs, left by travellers and pilgrims to this once sacred place. I managed to pick out the names of kings Teti and Pepy, but couldn’t find Snefru which is said to be the earliest king’s name carved here.

Another couple of kilometers into the desert and we stopped before a small free-standing temple built for Tuthmose IV and Amenhotep III and dedicated to Hathor and Nekhbet. This had obviously been restored and a low wall surrounded a paved courtyard before the single chamber of the temple. Inside there were some beautiful colourful reliefs depicting rituals for the goddess Nekhbet, which were apparently restored in late antiquity. On the facade is a text by Prince Khaemwaset, the son of Rameses II, announcing his father’s jubilee in year 42, as well as graffiti by other passing travellers.

New Kingdom tombs at el-KabAs the sun rose higher and hotter out in the desert, we made our way back along the road to the wadi entrance to see several New Kingdom tombs cut high up into the cliff. After climbing up a long concrete staircase we arrived on a terrace and visited the tombs of Ahmose Pennekhbet (EK2), Paheri (EK3), Setau (EK4), Ahmose, son of Ibana (EK5) and Renni (EK7) each with their lovely colourful painted reliefs.

Although we asked to visit the walled town just across the main road, we were not allowed on this occasion, but we did stand and look at the massive mudbrick enclosure walls for a while before getting back into Abdul’s taxi for the journey back to Luxor. Luckily we didn’t have to wait for the next convoy but were allowed to carry on back by ourselves – a much more leisurely drive.

Another Farewell

Once again it was time to leave Egypt, this time on an early morning flight out of Luxor. Kit and I had spent yesterday afternoon visiting many of our Egyptian friends to say a last goodbye – or rather au revoir, until next time. Nubi had presented Kit with a beautiful waistcoat made from heavy striped galabeya material which he had sown himself and Kit was really touched by this. After his couple of days’ tummy upset he now felt ready for the rest of his holiday and was as sad to be leaving as I was. We had been here three weeks. My friend Robin was staying here for a few months in an apartment she was renting. Sam had another week before going back to England. It wasn’t fair! Full of plans to return, Kit couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved Egypt, how he would like to build a Hassan Fathy style house with a cooling dome on the roof and become a felucca captain, spending his days sailing the Nile on a boat he would design and build himself. Oh and he wanted to study Egyptology too. My son the dreamer!

Sunrise over the Nile and Luxor

Reality hit at 6.00am when Abdul arrived at the el-Gezira in his taxi to collect us for the journey to the airport. As we drove towards the bridge the sun was rising low over Luxor and the mist hung in shrouds over the canal casting a sparkle of freshness over everything. I wanted to just carry on driving – not to the airport, but into the rest of Egypt. I had seen many new places on this trip but it only whetted my appetite for more. All too soon we were struggling into the airport with our bags and I was trying to smile as I heaved my overweight suitcase onto the scales. Luckily nothing was said, although the attendant groaned and clutched at his back as he removed my bag. The Egyptair flight was full and there had been some mix-up with seating so, as we were almost last to check in, Kit and I were given seats on the upper deck of the Boeing 747 (the posh seats). The very comfortable flight home was some consolation for having to leave. Once I see the bright blue coast of the Delta fall behind me I just want to get the journey over with, but it was almost midnight by the time we got home to Cornwall.

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