March 2019 Tour Day 4

This morning’s quest demanded walking shoes as we were about to hit the tombs of the New Kingdom elite. Maybe tomb is the wrong word, as all of these sepulchres are really a combination of a final resting place and a memorial temple, in that each one, while containing a place for burial, is actually about celebrating the life and accomplishments of its owner, and so we find walls resplendent with scenes of daily life, rather than the spells and magic formulae of both the royal Tombs and those of the craftsmen of Deir el-Medina.

Tombs of the Nobles

We’re headed for Qurna and the Tombs of the Nobles. Most of the open tombs are actually the chapels that would have remained open after the burial, to be visited by friends and family on feast days throughout the year, keeping the cult of the deceased alive. The actual burial chamber was usually below the chapel and was sealed at the time of internment.

Nakht

Our first stop was the team of Nakht, a scribe and “Observer of the Hours (of night)”, possibly meaning he was an astronomer. This tomb is perhaps best known for the depiction of the musicians, a group of three scantily dressed women, who would seem to depict the somewhat decadent lifestyle of the day. There is the traditional hunting scene in the thickets of the papyrus marshes with Nakht catching birds and fish. Just below this is an idea of what went on in the vineyards, with scenes of grape picking, pressing, and the eventual bottling.  Below this we find food preparation as birds are killed, dressed, and roasted on skewers, providing provisions for Nakht in the hereafter. Much has been learnt from these scenes of daily life.

Amenemopet

From here we headed north over the rise to the final resting place of Amenemopet, royal scribe and “Chief Administrator of the Domain of Amun”, a very important man. The colonnades either side of the entrance are spectacular despite the damage done in the 19th century when the tomb was used as stables. There is much to see here.

Menna

Our third stop was for Menna, “Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands”. The walls are filled with lively paintings of agricultural work. The scenes, as in the other tombs, work in two ways. Firstly, they are a celebration of life, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they are a wish for the future in eternity.  But this is also a chapel to the departed, and so we also find depictions of offerings being made by Menna and his wife to Osiris. There is also the customary funerary procession which, for the first time in a tomb, ends with the Judgment of the Dead, and the well-known Weighing of the Heart ceremony.

Sennefer

Sennefer was Mayor of the Southern City, meaning Thebes ((Luxor), under Amenhotep II.  His tomb really is the tomb, as the long descent leads to the actual burial chamber, a small square room containing four pillars. It is probably best known for its uneven ceiling, masterfully painted to resemble a grape arbour, indeed it was known as the “tombeau des vignes”.

Rekhmire

Vizier under Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II, Rekhmire was basically, second in command as far as officialdom went. Many scenes here show local tax revenue being delivered to Rekhmire in the form of livestock, grain, beads and cloth, as well as gold and silver, however the tomb is largely noted for its representation of foreigners bringing goods to Egypt. We see emissaries from Punt and from Crete, followed by tributes from the peoples to the south, the Nubians and the Sudanese.  After them is a deputation from Syria and the East. There are also scenes depicting in wondrous detail, the local craftsmen; from the vineyards to the carpenters shop, from hunting and fishing; to food preparation, tanning, and metalwork. Another fascinating tomb, and the “long hall” has to be seen to be believed. It is nearly 90 ft long, just over 6 ft wide, and 26 ft high at the end. The latter half of this extraordinary room is purely religious, and the Opening of the Mouth depictions are probably the best of this ritual, broken up as it is into 50 individual scenes.

Ramose

Last, but not least, is the tomb of Ramose, the vizier under Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten. The best-preserved scenes are either side of the entrance, showing the funerary offerings as well as the guests who were to attend the funeral celebrations. The pictures of the mourners show the fluidity of artistic style that would come to be known as Amarna art. The tomb of Ramose is perhaps most unusual in that it has two depictions of Amenhotep IV: on the left side of the entrance to the unfinished burial chamber we find Amenhotep IV in the traditional style, with the goddess Ma’at standing behind him, while on the other side of the entrance we find the King, now as Akhenaten, in typical Amarna style, with his wife at the Window of Appearances.  Again, another fascinating tomb.

Ramesseum Rest House

But now it is time to go in search of lunch and where better than right next to this afternoon’s destination. We headed across the road for the Ramesseum Rest House.

A good lunch and a good chat with Nubi Hussein Abd el-Rasoul. It was Nubi’s father who was the young boy photographed wearing Tutankhamun’s pectoral at the discovery of the tomb. To hear the story from his son is experiencing living history.

Ramesseum

After lunch it was a short walk to the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Rameses the Great. This 600 feet long temple is perhaps best known for the 57 ft high statue of the King that once stood in front of the 1st pylon. Sadly, it now lies in pieces. Although generally in a state of disrepair, many of temple’s remaining pillars still bear their original paintwork, reminding us that the temples of antiquity were not hushed places of grey stone, but were thriving hubs of local and national economy set against a backdrop of riotous colour.

Colossi of Memnon

More statues for our final stop, and these are the two 60 ft high statues of Amenhotep III that mark the beginning of his own mortuary temple. Much work has been done in recent years in excavating what remains of what was once the largest temple in Luxor. 

A quick photo opportunity and then home to reflect on a busy day. 

March 2019 Tour Day 3

Breakfast looking across the Nile, watching the last of the hot air balloons as they finish their early morning flights.  One can’t really complain.

The West Bank

Today, we start on the West Bank.  Grabbing water, hats and sunscreen we piled into the minibus that was to take us the comparatively short distance to our first port of call, the Valley of the Queens.

Nefertari

The flagship tomb of the Queen’s Valley, if not the whole West Bank, is definitely that of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II. The Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt, as it is sometimes called, is a beautiful demonstration of how not all the royal marriages of the time were purely ones of convenience with deep political undertones but were sometimes actually built on an emotional platform. Rameses the Great’s love for his wife is all too clear in the romantic poetry written on the walls.  Yet, he doesn’t appear in the tomb at all. This was the first New Kingdom tomb for many of our party, and the expressions on their faces were something to behold.

More Tombs

There are around 100 tombs in the greater Valley of The Queens area, but only a handful are open.  After Nefertari it was the turn of Amun-her-khepeshef, a son of Rameses III. A simple, straight tomb, looted in antiquity, its wall’s decorations are in excellent condition. Next was the very similar tomb of his mother, Queen Tyti. Our final tomb was that of the eldest son of Rameses III, Khaemwaset.  Another well preserved tomb, with magnificent wall decorations. Most scenes show the young prince, easily identifiable by his sidelock, being led by his royal father, yet it would appear that he outlived his father and his final funerary arrangements were handled by Khaemwaset’s brother Rameses IV.

A Word of Warning

Time to move on to the other end of the social scale. We are headed for the workers’ village of Deir el-Medina. A note of caution here: do not try and walk across the mountain path to the village as the ban on such journeys is strictly enforced by the police.

Deir el-Medina

Discretion being the better part of valour, we opted for the road route and minutes later were at the village itself. This is the erstwhile home of the craftsmen who built and decorated the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. An isolated but well looked-after, for the most part, village of master artists, Deir el-Medina is one of the finest documented ancient villages in all history. The tombs of Deir el-Medina are striking in that their decorated walls are not of daily life but almost exclusively scenes from the various Books of the Dead. An echo of the work carried out by these craftsmen on the other side of the mountain. At the far end of the village stands the Ptolemaic Temple which replaced the one built by Seti I. In fact there is so much to see at Deir el-Medina one could spend the entire day there, but lunch was calling, and so was the Café & Restaurant Maratonga.

Medinet Habu

It is always nice to return to places and be remembered by the people there, and so the return to Maratonga was a good one.  After a sumptuous lunch and a quick photo it was only a short waddle to Medinet Habu. It was the team’s first mortuary temple, and probably the most impressive.

Built for Rameses III, it is in an incredibly good state of repair. Of particular interest is the 18th Dynasty temple just inside the entrance, built by Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III. We all split up and began an extended afternoon of exploration. The interior walls and columns still bear fabulous examples of the original paintwork, and it is easy to get lost in the multitude of gods that surround you. Outside, on the north wall, can be found the famous Battle of the Delta, assumed to be showing Rameses III and the Egyptian forces repelling the still unidentified Sea People.

And as the Sea People were defeated, so it was time for us to withdraw, back to our hotel on the edge of the Nile.

March 2019 Tour Day 2

A lazy start to day 2 for most of the team, as yesterday had been so long. We only finally arrived in Luxor around midnight, and most of us had been on the go since the morning of the day before.

The Avenue of Sphinxes

After a quick breakfast, it was up to me to go and get our Luxor Passes. The issuing office has moved from behind the Luxor Museum and is now at the Karnak visitor’s centre. Leaving everyone else sleeping, I set out, via the ferry, for the East Bank and then followed, as far as possible, the Avenue of Sphinxes. This is currently under restoration and it is only possible to see it from the raised position of the roads that run alongside it. The Avenue ends at the Bab el Amara gate in front of the Khonsu Temple, just past where the Avenue splits at the Precinct of Mut. It is still quite a walk to get around to the new Karnak entrance, which is something that is going to have to be taken into consideration if the Avenue is going to be open to the public as a link between the Luxor and Karnak temples.

Luxor Passes

Just inside the entrance is a door marked Luxor Passes, and from here a lady led me to another room to get them. A fairly painless procedure; just make sure you have the relevant paperwork – your passport, 2 copies of the passport’s info page and 1 ID style photo and the fee in US dollars or Euros. I took along a glue stick as a form of baksheesh which helped things along a little. Nice to know that I could get them for the whole group without the others having to be there. Armed with the GnT team’s Luxor passes I headed south to meet everyone else at the Luxor Museum.

Luxor Museum

This is probably the best introduction that you can get to the New Kingdom, especially the 18th dynasty.  There was much interest in the two mummies in their darkened rooms. Upstairs for a quick rundown on Akhenaten and on to the basement which houses most of the statues from the Luxor cache found 30 years ago in the temple of the same name.  Some of the finest stone-working to be seen anywhere. This is still my favourite museum.

Mummification Museum

Just upriver stands the small, and often bypassed, Mummification Museum.  After some hurried checking about our Luxor Passes, we were allowed in to this fascinating, well laid out, visual explanation of the mummification process with numerous examples on display.  Not just human, but also many different animals and birds.  Also on display are some exquisite mummy cases, a selection of Ushabtis, Canopic jars and examples of the actual tools and chemicals used in the process. Fascinating and well worth a visit.

Rameses the Great

Time for lunch and an afternoon of relaxation before heading across the river once more to the magnificent Luxor Temple.  Our timing was spot on, as when we arrived a team of workers was busy with the restoration of one of the statues of Rameses the Great that front the first pylon.  The men were busy lifting a massive timber joist up to the top of the scaffolding that surrounded the base of the restored statue.  All done by hand with ropes and calls.  A large crowd watched mesmerized as the work crew slowly lifted this huge piece of wood into place. One could easily imagine that this is how it has always been done.

Luxor Temple

This incredible edifice was team GnT’s first real introduction to New Kingdom architecture, and there were several open mouths as we stood at the base of the one remaining obelisk.  Once inside, I think it is only after successive visits that one begins to appreciate the difference between the Rameside work and that of the earlier, more delicate 18th dynasty.  As the sun began to sink, so the numbers of tourists increased and it would have been easy to let oneself be swept along by the throng, but stepping out of the flow allows you to take in the full splendour of the temple, especially once the lights come on.

With Ra descending behind the Theban mountains it was time for us to also head west.

Tomorrow we start on the West Bank and the Place of the Beautiful Ones.

March 2019 Tour Day 1

Arrival

After a long and fairly sleepless flight, team GnT arrived at Cairo International. Immigration was straightforward although a recent rule change meant that we had to collect our luggage rather than leaving it to be automatically transferred to our later flight to Luxor.

Falafel Sandwiches

Moments later we were in our mini-bus and heading southwest for Saqqara. It is always interesting to watch people’s faces as they experience Cairo’s traffic for the first time. Having breakfasted at 03:30 it was time for some sustenance and a roadside stop for falafel sandwiches was most welcome.

Saqqara

On arrival at Saqqara we elected to first visit the Imhotep museum. Beautifully laid out, this is a must do. One tends to think of Saqqara as being an Old Kingdom necropolis, so it was good to be reminded that it featured in the New Kingdom and later. Especially interesting was the gallery devoted to Jean-Philippe Lauer who worked the Saqqara complex for so many years.

The Step Pyramid

Onto the Step Pyramid. For most of our group this was their first pyramid experience and this one never fails to impress. As you walk out into the Great Court from the entrance colonnade, you get your first full view of the Step Pyramid and realise just how big it is. A lot of work has been done since I was here last, notably the addition of the gleaming white walkway along one side.  We made our way around the west side of the pyramid and along the northern edge to get to the serdab. Again, it is always fun to watch people’s reactions to seeing the King staring back at them through the small holes.

The Pyramid of Unas

We moved on to the pyramid of Unas, going down into the burial chamber where the guardian was keen to show us the images that can be discerned underneath the hieroglyphs on the wall.  Both fascinating and beautiful, the torchlight picks out the blue of the first attested pyramid texts, against the gentle iridescence of the alabaster walls. From here it was a short trip to the Serapeum.

The Serapeum

What can one say about this incredible underground complex? The sheer size of the subterranean tunnels beggars belief, and that is before you start with the sarcophagi. The precision of stonework in here is remarkable, and to stand next to one of the colossal  stone sarcophagi is in some way overwhelming. One’s mind cannot help but question what sort of technologies were the masons and builders using.  A truly fantastic place.

Dashur

With a full itinerary it was time to move on to our next stop – Dashur and the Bent and Red Pyramids. With the clock against us, we didn’t stop at the Bent pyramid, but drove slowly around it, with a pause for photos. The Red Pyramid was a different matter.  The brave among us elected to take on the steep stairway up the side of Sneferu’s third attempt at pyramid building.  The climb accomplished; it is then a 200 feet long passage down to the first chamber. There are two more chambers after that. Truly magnificent and as impressive inside as the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Time to say goodbye to what the locals call the Bat Pyramid and head for the old capital Mennefer, better known as Memphis. 

Memphis

Although little remains of the fabled white-walled city it is still worth a visit.  Perhaps the most notable thing to see is the massive statue of Rameses the Great lying on its back in its own purpose-built museum.  The statue’s twin, now restored, stands in the entrance of the new Grand Egyptian Museum.  Memphis was the home of the god Ptah, and it is this god’s temple, Hwt-kA-ptH, via the Greek rendition Ai-Gy-Ptos, that gave Egypt her name.

Lunch

Nothing beats a quick koshari stop.  We pulled over to the side of the road in Giza for a quick lunch.  A bowl of one of Egypt’s national dishes, koshari, followed by another local favourite, roz bil laban, a sort of rice pudding, and then we were on our way once more. Next, the Giza plateau.

Giza

No words can ever really convey the full enormity of the Great Pyramid, you need to stand at its base, and for our first-time visitors this was a special moment. A slow walk down the hill brings you to the entrance to the Valley temple and of course the Sphinx.  It is good to see crowds of tourists here once more, and one can only trust that the Egyptian economy will see the benefits.  The Sphinx viewing platform was pretty full, and it took a degree of patience to get that perfect photo moment.

Departure

Exhausted but happy, it was time to get in the mini-bus and make our way across the city to the airport.

Next stop: Luxor.