Journal: Thursday 13 November 2003
We only have one full day in Bahariya and we wanted to try to see all the ancient sites that are open – and there aren’t that many, so our first stop this morning was at the antiquities office in the centre of Bawiti where we bought our tickets for all the monuments. There is also a magazine housed in a warehouse here where we saw some of the mummies that had recently been excavated from tombs in the famous Valley of the Golden Mummies. There were four glass cases on display containing mummies that had golden masks as well as a few other objects found in the oasis.
Our tickets took us next to Qarat Qasr Salim, on the northern edge of Bawiti where there are four well-decorated Dynasty XXVI tombs belonging to wealthy members of the community. We climbed down the newly-installed and locally-made iron steps which the gafir seemed to be very proud of. The first tomb was identified as the burial place of the Governor of the Oasis, Djedamun-ef-ankh, whose large tomb has beautiful squat round painted pillars, unusual in oasis tombs, several painted false doors and extensive religious scenes depicting the owner offering to the deities. On the ceiling of the burial chamber the goddess Nekhbet is shown as a vulture in a starry sky. It really is a lovely tomb with gorgeous earthy muted colours. Bannentiu, the son of Djedamun-ef-ankh, was also a wealthy business owner and his recently restored tomb is even larger and more elaborate that that of his father. The paintings were stunningly bright and fresh, though somewhat damaged by tomb-robbers in recent years. Unfortunately, photography was not officially allowed here, though the gafir permitted one picture. The other two tombs were not open.
Back in the minibus for the short drive to Ain el-Muftilla, the area of the ancient town of Psobthis. There are few remains now of the settlement that once existed here, thought to have been the capital of the oasis and its main source of water. Four chapels or shrines have recently been restored and were found to be part of a larger temple complex dating to the reign of Dynasty XXVI King Ahmose II (Amasis). Photography was a definite no-no here and much to my disappointment we couldn’t persuade the gafir otherwise. Parts of the chapel walls had some lovely painted scenes and one of them was built by Djedkhonsu-ef-ankh whose tomb we had just seen. This chapel was dedicated to the little god Bes, whose cult monuments are quite rare. The chapels, now under protective wooden roofs, had some unusual deities and cult standards. I would have loved to take pictures here but we were closely watched the whole time.
Our next port of call was the Temple of Alexander at Qasr el-Migysbah. This area was the beginning of the old caravan route from Bahariya to Siwa Oasis and the temple here is the only known temple in the whole of the Western Desert to be built in the name of the Greek conqueror Alexander ‘The Great’, whose images and cartouches were found by Ahmed Fakhry when he excavated the monument between 1939 and 1942. Though we searched for a cartouche, the reliefs in the largest chamber are so damaged and worn that little can be made out at all and the low walls of the smaller square chamber were quite bare. A lot of consolidation has taken place here recently and the walls of the main building are built up and roofed, but there is really little to see of interest. The surrounding area which is comprised of mudbrick walls of priests’ houses is strewn with pottery. The guards here were quite unfriendly and couldn’t make up their minds whether to allow photography or not so in the end we gave up and after stopping a while to admire the view over the palm and grass-covered landscape, we went back to the hotel.
The most interesting part of the day came later in the afternoon when I went for a walk with Kevin and Tim, up the mountain behind our hotel to Gebel el-Maysarah. We were just going to climb to the top and look at the view, but the amazing landscape kept leading us on further. This is called the ‘Black Mountain’ for good reason because it is covered in a very strange black residue – a thick layer of ferruginous quartzite and dolomite rock that felt like we could be walking on the surface of some alien planet. Once on the flat top of the mountain, gentle slopes led to steep gorges as we wound our way around the edges of the hills until we came eventually to some dark disused stone buildings with a story that I heard later in the Bawiti coffee shop. Locally known as ‘English Mountain’, Gebel Maysarah’s peak was the location of a fortress built by a Captain Williams during the second world war. This housed British troops and was a lookout post to keep an eye open for Sanusi raids from Libya. Situated in such a wild and remote place, the fortress gave a view over the whole of Baharia Oasis to the north and south and to the west, but must have been a lonely spot for the soldiers. We could see groves of palm trees and cultivated agricultural areas far below us and in the distance there were two large lakes, all bounded by the gentle escarpment that surrounds the oasis. By the time we came down off the mountain it was already quite dark.