Journal: Friday 10 October 1997
Another day on the West Bank. Three months ago I visited the tomb of Kheruef at Asasif and having read more about the mass of information contained in the beautiful reliefs there, I wanted to see it again. Kheruef, among other things, was a steward of Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III. At the entrance to the passage a double-scene on the lintel depicts Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten) with his mother Tiye offering to deities and includes offering texts with a cartouche of Tiye at the bottom. The scenes in the passage were very damaged but could just about be recognised as Amenhotep IV adoring his deified parents, with Kheruef kneeling below. Representations of Amenhotep IV were defaced, presumably after the Amarna period, even though work on the tomb had ceased before he had become Akhenaten. Perhaps Kheruef was buried at Amarna, as this tomb was not used. As a steward of Queen Tiye, he may later also have been part of Akhenaten’s court, but we shall probably never know. Many of the reliefs contain details of Amenhotep’s jubilee festival, in which Kheruef must have played an important part. The nobles’ tombs, much more so than the kings’ tombs, show more about the lives of the men and women for whom they were built. They have a human quality not seen in the grander royal tombs. In Kheruef’s portico there is a lovely depiction of a frolicking calf, a bird and a baboon. There is also a row of dancing girls, part of the king’s jubilee celebrations, which fascinate me. The dancers are bending forwards with their hair falling in a shower over their faces. Their bodies are graceful and supple and the movement of the dance is beautifully depicted. Even the girl’s hands are bent in a symbolic way. They reminded me of the Sufi trance dances I saw at a festival in Karnak village last year. Having spent a while in the tomb, the two guardians insisted that we drink tea with them. They had been a great help to us, positioning mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the dark walls in just the right places for photography. Kheruef’s tomb is one of the lesser visited tombs on the West Bank and I think the guardians enjoyed our company for a while.
Not far away was the tomb of Ankh-Hor, who was a steward to the ‘Divine Votress Nitocris’ as well as a Mayor of Thebes and an Overseer of Priests of Amun. Another powerful and obviously wealthy personage, this time from a later date – the 26th Dynasty. I hadn’t visited this tomb before and was surprised at how large it was. The staircase down into the underground levels of the tomb is steep and leads into a sun court, deep below ground but open to the sky. There are square pillars and an offering table still in situ but the wall reliefs are shallow, although delicately carved. Although much of the decoration was unfinished, some colour remains in places and it was interesting to see some of the lines drawn in red paint, where carvings were to be made but were left incomplete. The tomb reminded me of Pabasa’s tomb near Hatshepsut’s Temple not far away, which dates from the same period and has similar rare scenes of beekeeping. All of the inner chambers of the tomb were left unfinished. A pillared hall, vestibule and cult chamber are roughly cut and unplastered and remains of a mummy (of a later date) could still be seen in one of the side-chambers. When we came out of the tomb, blinking our way up the stairs in the bright sunlight, the guardian said that they had made tea for us in their little hut up on the hill. It would have been rude to refuse, so once again we found ourselves sitting on tiny wooden stools in the guards’ shelter and drinking glasses of very hot, very sweet black tea. They spoke a little English and were full of the usual questions and conversation; ‘What country? How many children? You like Manchester United? One of the men kept going outside and prowling around with his ancient rifle – either being diligent in his job or just trying to impress us. The view from outside the hut looked right across to Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir el-Bahri. After a decent interval and baksheesh all round (funny how more guards always turn up at this point) we said goodbye and walked back down the dusty track onto the main road to wait for an arabeya to the ferry.
Back at the hotel in the afternoon, I had put my name down for the first of a series of Arabic lessons. If I was going to spend any more time on the West Bank, I had decided, I needed to be able to talk to people and was very keen to learn more of the language.
That evening my friends and I went back across the river to eat at the Africa Restaurant on the river bank. These old restaurants and shops have now been demolished to make way for new buildings and the new, smarter Africa Restaurant has moved further up the road into Gezira, but in 1997 it was a little humble cafe set in a garden overlooking the Nile and served wonderful Egyptian food. A really good meal of soup, bread, main course with salads, then coffee and fruit to follow, cost around LE20. I sat under the dark starry Egyptian sky, looking across the wide black river with streamers of coloured lights from the Corniche reflected in the water and felt totally at home here.