Journal: Saturday 15 January 2011
I woke this morning to another cloudy day. I’ve never seen so much consistently cloudy weather in Egypt in all my years of coming here. The days are fairly warm, perhaps like a spring day in the UK, but the nights are cold enough to need two duvets on my bed. But enough of weather – an obsession of the English we are told. My main gripe is that my photographs look dull and flat when cloud covers the sun.
We all went up to the monument area and bought tickets at the ticket office. It amazes me that the man in the ticket office remembers me from years ago, even though my visits to Egypt are much less frequent now than they used to be. Fiona, Malcolm and I bought tickets for some nobles tombs, but Sam was going straight to Medinet Habu, where we would meet up later. The three of us began our day at Dra’Abu el-Naga.
The tiny Dynasty XIX tomb of Roy (TT255) was restored and opened to visitors a decade or so ago and that was when I last visited the tomb. Luckily I took photographs then, as they are no longer allowed. The colours and naturalistic paintings are superb and depict Roy, a royal scribe, with his wife Nebtawy in a series of agricultural and funerary scenes. The ceiling of this tomb chapel is especially beautiful with an undulating geometric textile design in yellow, red and black.
The adjacent tomb of Shuroy (TT13) is only a few metres away. Shuroy was chief brazier-bearer of Amun during the Ramesside Period. I think this tomb must have had more restoration since I last saw it as I don’t remember the paintings here being so beautiful. Shuroy’s tomb chapel is slightly larger than Roy’s, being T-shaped, with the modern entrance cut into the rear chamber. This tomb also has beautiful ceilings and typically Ramesside scenes. Tickets for the two tombs cost 15 LE.
Leaving the Dra’ Abu el-Naga tombs we decided to walk along the monument road. The sun had finally made an appearance. We stopped briefly to watch the activity at a big busy tomb excavation nearby, but there is so much happening in this area now that I wasn’t sure who was working here.
Many of the old alabaster shops have been pulled down or have now closed. It’s a sad sight, their cheery and colourfully painted exteriors have been a part of the monument road for so many years. A few of the larger ones still exist and one or two had tourist coaches parked outside, the stone-carvers busily chipping away, demonstrating their craft to the tourists, who probably don’t realise that many of the heavy statuettes and translucent vases for sale are factory-manufactured elsewhere. I photographed each building as we passed by – they too could be gone by the time I come again.
We walked past the entrance to Deir el-Bahri, the Temple of Hatshepsut, with its sign saying that photographs are not allowed, even from the end of the road, without buying a ticket! Walking along the sandy track past the huge Shoshenq tomb structure I was chased off by the gafir just for carrying a camera and not even trying to take a picture. We could feel his eyes on us all the way down the road. But I did take photographs of el-Qurn and the vast empty space that was once the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna.
Reaching the Ramesseum we decided on a break. I was feeling quite cold in my short sleeved t-shirt, and it was nice to sit in the sun in the sheltered cafeteria garden to warm up. After half an hour or so we carried on, looking at each of the destroyed temples in turn along the monument road. Not a lot has changed since last year, though I noted that more work has been done on the Tuthmose III temple by the Spanish team of excavators. Standing on the road we looked at the area of Tuthmose’s pylon on the eastern side of the road which has obviously had more uncovered and several rounded low mudbrick shapes have now emerged from the sand.
Eventually we reached the Temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu and spent a couple of hours looking around. Few changes here either. I wondered how many hours and days I had spent in this temple – probably more than anywhere else in Egypt and every stone and relief is very familiar to me. Occasionally scaffolding has been moved to where cleaning is taking place and I can take a picture or two of a wall that has previously been obscured. Casual visitors to the small Temple of Hatshepsut are still not allowed to go inside due to ongoing work. We watched amazed as a group of young Americans spent their whole temple visit trying to capture each other in mid-leap positions on camera. Fiona decided she just had to emulate them!
By the time we left the temple we were all freezing as there was a cold wind and the sun had once more vanished. We all went into the Hapy Habu Cafe for a delicious hot lemon to warm us up before making our way back to Ramla and an evening of home-cooked dinner and packing up for our desert journey that begins tomorrow.