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"Just home from Egypt with Ted! Absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend the trip. Would do it again with Ted, in a heartbeat." Eve, Oct 2023​

Booking for the GnT Egypt Experience November 2024 tour is open – limited places

Includes a day at the Grand Egyptian Museum

Akhetaten

Akhetaten

The final missive from the land of sand.
Christmas Eve 2012: I returned to Giza with the sole intention of going inside the Great Pyramid. Arrived at the plateau to find it quite empty, maybe too many Christmas parties the night before for a lot of the tourists. As I had been to the site before I was able to avoid the usual “history of Cheops” nonsense and spent a good few moments discussing more philosophical matters. A new guide, name of Mahmoud, and all to myself (we are still friends and I still use him, 2024).

I climbed the outer stairs to the entrance blasted in the side of the pyramid. I had to give up my camera at the entrance and then I was in. The initial tunnel is rough as it was hacked through by explorers and is not part of the structure at all. At the end of the rough tunnel, a small spiral stair leads to the beginning of the Ascending Passage. The steps down to the Subterranean Chamber were heavily barred and no one around to ask for a look. The Ascending Passage runs at a fairly steep incline for many metres and you have to climb bent double as it is no more than a metre high. Exhausting. I stopped at the top, firstly to catch my breath and secondly to take in what has to be one of the most fascinating pieces of architecture anywhere. The Grand Gallery. Any thought of tombs is immediately dismissed, it is like you are inside some huge piece of technology. The vastness is overwhelming and the precision stone work is more stunnning than that of the exterior. It is truly like no room I have ever been in before; a long long inclined corridor many metre shigh, the walls getting closer and closer each course by massive course. It is a machine. Upwards ever upwards. A low gap under a huge stone eventually allows you access to the King’s Chamber. The alignment of the gallery to the chamber should tell you this has no relgious significance. The King’s Chamber is a neat rectangular room with the”sarcophagus” standing at one end. A colossal box, with no lid, and on closer examination, some remarkably neat interior right angles – no digging sticks and copper chisels here, Zahi! The opening to one of the ventilation shafts can be seen near the low entrance. Inside the Great Pyramid, Wow!

Took a walk around the pyramid to the Solar Boat museum which houses the result of a 14 year project. Started in1954, it is the reconstruction, from the many hundreds of pieces found, of a 43 metre long boat made from Cedarwood from the Lebanon. This is the Solar Boat that was used, just once, to carry the dead king’s body from the palace on the east bank across to the mortuary temple on the west one. And of course used daily, spiritually, to carry the Ka (spirit) of the king to renewal each dawn.

Down the hill for another look at the Sphinx and the Valley Temple and then an early night as we leave for Tell el-Amarna at 04:30. Why don’t any texts talk of the Sphinx Temple?

Christmas Day 2012: Up at 03:30 for a long day. We head south from Giza onto the Western Desert Road which runs alongside the river. Hours and hours of nothing but sand and rock until about 07:30 and then we reach Minya. Minya is one of the poorer regions and the road quality worsens as it twists through village after village, often completely blocked by the mixture of donkey carts, tuk-tuks, cars and trucks as well as children on their way to school, stray dogs, cattle and goats all accompanied by the never ceasing hooting. You have to smile, because in an odd way it all works. Eventually we turn off the main road and arrive at a ferry crossing where we can get across the river. Drive over and we are shortly at the “tourist office” for Tell el-Amarna to meet the local police. The police inspector invites me to use his toilet and then shows me a collection of fossils from the surrounding hills as well as some huge chunks of Alabaster. Me with 5 words of Arabic and him with about the same number in English. I love this place.

Tell el-Amarna is the modern name for the site where Akhenaten built his new capital city of AkhetAten, meaning the Horizon of the Aten. We leave the office with an armed policeman in the car and head for the Northern Tombs. These are the tomb sites of various nobles in the service of Akhenaten. We drive across the plain that once was a 14 kilometre wide city to the base of the cliffs to meet the waiting Tomb Guardian, again armed. We climb up almost to the top and there cut into the rock is the entrance to the first tomb. Although many of these tombs were decorated, the destruction by the post Akhenaten priests was wholesale and it is difficult to make stuff out. Still, enough remains to see the beauty of the art and to determine the shapes of the brutally defaced figures of the king and queen. The second tomb is in a better state of repair and much can be seen. Again, because they were nobles and not royalty much wall space is given to daily life which is important. My guide phoned his Egyptology professor to send me
detailed pictures of the walls. I have been impressed with both the guides I have had experience of and would recommend them to anybody, their knowledge was fascinating. No photos inside tombs. The third tomb was unfinished but gives you a clear idea of how the columns were cut out of the rock and dressed in the papyrus bundle style reminiscent of Amenhotep III.
We left the Northern Tombs and headed for the Royal Tomb of Akhenaten. Built for the king, but it is thought that his body was moved, or even never buried there, to avoid the kind of desecration that happened to all of his works. The tomb itself is very similar to the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but decorated in the Amarna style. It is only when you stand in front of these walls and take in the depiction of the king and queen mourning the death of one of theirdaughters that you see just how different Akhenaten was. Not for him vast scenes of him smiting his enemies, or listing his conquests, rather pictures of him and his queen playing with their children. The only survivng depiction of a pharaoh kissing his queen is of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

We had a long converstion about tourists after this, and I believe that all they want is the Hollywood Egypt.
Reluctantly left the Royal Tomb, it has a beauty about it that is difficult to put into words. Headed down the road for a look at the Southern Palace. The beginning of a reconstruction of the mud brick stuctures done by archaeologist Barry Kemp (d. 2024). Pity he wasn’t there, I should like to meet him. He has devoted his life to Tell el-Amarna.

Final tomb, the southern tomb site of that of Ay. Ay was high priest to Akhenaten and took the throne of Egypt after Tutankhamun. Again, much of the wall decorations have been defaced but one can still make out some details. It is in this rock cut structure that we find the Great Hymn to the Aten. A marvellous piece written by the king and said to be the source of Psalm 104. This was beyond brilliant to be here.

6 hours to get back to Cairo. (We startred out in the wrong direction and almost ran out of petrol)

The last full day I went back to the museum in Cairo to spend more time there.

I arrived with the new moon amid a meteor shower. I have trod in the footsteps of kings and queens from thousands of years ago. I have stood in the holy places in the temples of the gods. I have been to the Horizon of the Aten, I have read its name. I have stood in the heart of the last wonder of the world. I have walked amongst the dead and have said their names. I will leave with the full moon.

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