Journal: Monday 13 October 1997
Because of the feeling of tension in Luxor at the moment, I wanted to take a break and decided I would like to go to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast for a day or two. The idea was that my friends and I would take a bus from Luxor, but everyone said it was going to rain – and you don’t go to Hurghada in the rain as the road was likely to be washed away! Sure enough, in the aftenoon the sky began to cloud over, a rare occurrence here. Later that afternoon Robin and I went over to the West Bank to see more tombs, this time we visited Menna and Nakht at Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna.
Menna was a ‘Scribe in the fields of the Lord of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt’ during Dynasty XVIII, and his job was probably to document the records of land ownership. His tomb was well-known for its superb wall-paintings of scenes of daily life and the agricultural methods of the Theban people, depicted in bright colours. The wall of the long inner funerary chapel shows the funeral procession with traditional scenes of offering-bringers carrying food and burial equipment to the tomb. Menna’s sarcophagus is transported on the river Nile in a barque which is towing another boat containing mourners, and later the sarcophagus can be seen dragged on a sledge towards the Western Goddess and Anubis. The far end of the wall depicts a judgement scene, in which Menna must account for his earthly actions and have his heart weighed. Here it is Horus rather than Anubis who is in charge of the scales and Thoth, god of writing and wisdom, who records the verdict. Osiris, as usual presides over the scene. The other side of the chapel shows boats in the ‘Abydos Pilgrimage’ with Menna and his wife depicted as statues being taken towards Abydos, with burial goods in another boat. This is the final pilgrimage to which all people aspired, either actually or symbolically and is often portrayed in the Theban tombs. Another scene shows the return from Abydos. The remaining scenes depict the ‘Opening of the Mouth Ritual’, with a priest supporting Menna’s sarcophagus.
The tomb of Nakht is just a little way to the east of Menna’s tomb. He was an 18th Dynasty scribe who held the title of ‘Astronomer of Amun’ or ‘Observer of the Hours’ (of the night). At the end of the 1980s this tomb underwent an experimental restoration in the hope of finding a satisfactory technique for the preservation of tomb paintings and its walls were covered with glass – something which was still quite unusual in 1997. The wall to the left side of the entrance to the burial chamber depicts the famous banquet scenes from this tomb. A naked maidservant helps three ladies to prepare themselves for the occasion. Behind this is a blind harpist is sitting with his legs crossed before the festivities. One of the most famous pictures from any Egyptian tomb is in the centre of the banquet scene where a group of three female musicians entertain the guests with flute, lute and harp. The girl in the centre whose head is turned to look behind, is depicted richly jewelled but almost naked for the first time in Egyptian painting. The grace and harmony and the colours of this composition are beautiful.
It was late afternoon and the guards were wanting to lock up the tombs and go home – so no cups of tea were offered today. We walked along the Qurna road to the Hatshepsut Restaurant, one of our favourites because we could sit on the rooftop terrace and watch the sun setting behind the mountains of Deir el-Bahri. This evening however, the sky was black and threatening. Before long, some English friends we had met arrived unexpectedly and we all decided to stay and have a meal together. It was lovely to look out towards Deir el-Bahri and although we couldn’t see the temple from here we could see the floodlights from the stage for tonight’s performance of Aida. Later we could even hear snatches of the music drifting on the wind. I would have loved to go and see the opera but tickets were very expensive and pretty well sold out. This was the next best thing. And later in the evening we had our own special light show when it began to thunder and streaks of lightning flashed across the sky. The predicted rain was heavy, but didn’t last long. People will say it doesn’t rain in Egypt, but I had seen my fair share of dramatic storms over the past couple of years and especially at this time of year.