Sunday, 26 September 2010

Middle Egypt Trip Report

Middle Egypt 2010 I have put the photos in seperate posts by day

Day 1
Left Luxor at 7:30, an earlier start and breakfast boxes might have been a good idea as there was a lot to see on route. We skipped Abydos and Dendera as many of the group had or could see these another time. Our first stop was Akhmim which is the home of the statue of Meritamun, daughter of Ramses II. Similar to Esna it is situated below the level of the town, there is a modest open air museum with some interesting blocks. As well as the very large statue of Meritamun there is a much later statue of Isis as Venus. There were some blocks from the Amarna period with rays of the sun terminating with hands.
There is excavation going on in the area both as you go into the display area and also across the road behind some hoardings. There was a large statue of Ramses II. This is some considerable distance from the display area which suggests there is much more to be discovered.
We drove on to the White and Red monasteries at Sohag, there were actually pharaonic objects both incorporated into the building and just lying around. The White monastery was open to the sky and the architecture was graceful and appealing. There was a black granite naos of the twenty-ninth dynasty pharaoh Hakoris as well as some blocks lying outside. At the Red monastery the interior is being restored. One of my photos shows a half line where you can see the difference. The restoration is stunning, well worth a visit.
Then we drove further to Assuit and stayed at the only decent hotel there, the Akhenaton. It was a little down market but perfectly ok for one night. The food was surprisingly good and beer was available.
Day 2
Next morning we went to the rock tombs at Assuit. That simple statement covers a highly complicated procedure. In Egypt, especially the more obscure parts there are places that you can visit but they do not have tickets. They are not closed sites either just not commercialised. However in Middle Egypt you have to have the police with you all the time. Now sometimes these are really nice, excellent English and want to help you have a good time. Other times they are surly uncooperative and refuse to let you go places. Ken who was leading the group had done the trip before so was in a position to argue, pointing out he had been there before, you could visit and it was part of the schedule he had sent them. He also had a driver with the diplomatic skills of a UN negotiator who acted as an advocate, bargainer and if all else failed bribed them with sweets. Of course baksheesh was a huge part of all this. Yes it is annoying to pay baksheesh to a policeman to let you go to a site that has tickets but if you want to see Middle Egypt this is the price you have to pay. I was quite astounded how much of our tour was ticketed but without Ken and Sayeed we would not have stood a chance of getting there.
So this early morning tomb visit was allowed but had to be negotiated. It was the first time for Ken and he commented it was the biggest Middle Kingdom tomb he had seen, Hapidjefa. This was a physically challenging site.
Then we went to El Hammamiya which was an Old Kingdom set of tombs, bit of a climb but actually one of the easier set of steps. I had never seen OK tombs outside a royal necropolis and found them very interesting. In one Kakhent, the wife Ify, was very prominate in one of them which was notable.
Near to Qaw-el Kebir we saw a Middle Kingdom causeway however we were not allowed to climb to the tombs as they are currently being excavated
Then we went to Meir, which is the toughest site I did, there was a flight of steps leading there but part of them was covered with sand. To this day I do not know how I got up. One of the guardians was helping me otherwise I never would have made it. There was some excellent scenes, including an antelope giving birth and the baby being eaten by a dog or jackal, a cow tied in a normal offering position with incredible detail, the anus being quite clearly visible, also an emaciated figure herding, whether this was a different racial group or evidence of famine was inconclusive. It was worth the climb but beware.
We then arrived at the Nefertiti Hotel at Minya, we were really happy with it until we found a brand new hotel Horus resort across the road with better rooms at the same or cheaper prices and beer at 15 instead of 22. It was very lively with a lovely garden overlooking the Nile. Ken intends to stay there next time.
Day 3
The next day was Deir el Bersha, Sheikh Ibada and Sheikh Said. The first stop was Sheikh Ibada or Antinopolis which was a pleasant temple surrounded by a huge unexcavated town. Loads of pottery underfoot. The locals were so friendly bringing out tea, chairs and even snacks for me whilst the others went exploring the town site. I did not attempt Deir el Bersha but scrounged other people’s photos; everyone agreed it was the steepest climb. Sheikh Said was the most ambitious site to visit; apparently EES had tried to get there but failed to find it. It is the most obscure site. The guardians told us the last visitors were three years ago, which is when Ken was there. This was another one where my camera visited and I didn’t. Frankly Middle Egypt is a strenuous tour but so worthwhile. I had a great time chatting with the locals and getting tea. I got quite a reputation in the group for managing to get tea at the sites.
Day 4
Having slightly recovered geared me up for the next day. We went to Tel el Amarna, Tuna el Gebel and Petosiris and Ashmumein. You have to get a ferry across and pay endless tickets; permissions etc. while the children of the village mug you to sell little woven baskets, cute aren’t they. Amarna has totally changed since I was there 8 years ago. There is a perfectly good road that takes you all the way to the royal tomb. It used to be only reachable by 4 x 4 but now our minibuses were able to take us to the door. Amazingly different. Last time I only visited the northern tombs but this time you could get to royal, northern palace, southern and northern tombs all by road. It was really strange to see those famous scenes right in front of you on the wall and speculate on the fate of the people portrayed. The northern tombs are full of detail but a lot has been lost, it was great to get into the tomb of Ay. A special favourite of mine is his royal tomb and to see his noble tomb in Amarna was a contrast. I think the Amarna tomb had better quality carving as KV is only painted and fairly crudely.
On the way to Tuna el Gebel we went past one of the boundary stele, this was much bigger than I had pictured. The tomb of Petosiris with the mixture of Greek and Egyptian styles and the Ibis catacombs. We had run out of time by now and could only stop by Hermopolis or El Ashmunein and take quick photos of the huge baboons outside.
Day 5
The next day we went to Speos Artemidos, Beni Hassan, , Zawyet el Maiyitin and the Frazer tombs. The Speos was much larger, better decorated and more complex than the Horemheb speos; about 1 mile down the wadi was a much ruined chapel of Tuthmosis III. Then it was on to Beni Hassan. I had seen these 8 years ago and I totally recommend it. Such wonderful tombs and very vivid decoration. We then had an uncooperative policeman who wanted to go home we think and totally denied that the other sites were visitable and the guardians were so afraid of him we did not get into the tombs at Zawyet el Maiyitin but we did see the small pyramid of Huni, he built 7 of these and some of the group had photos of 4 of them. At the Frazer tombs Ken took great delight in showing the policeman the tickets, indeed the guardian said he had visitors a week ago. So you can imagine how an uncooperative policeman can ruin your plans.
Day 6
Our last day was a long day of travelling. Minya to Assuit to Kharga to Luxor. There we saw the Bagawat cemetery with the chapels of the exodus and of peace and then on to the Hibis temple. We were all pretty excited about that as Dr Zahi Hawass had recently announced on his web site that it was open and when I came 8 years ago it was very closed and covered in scaffolding. Would you believe it, it was closed, talk about disappointed. We all returned to the bus but on the way I thought we are back in Upper Egypt and perhaps Mansour Boraik could help us. A couple of phone calls, a visit to the director in his office opposite the museum and I managed to get permission for the entire group. Only 10 minutes we were told, well this time WE decided that meant Egyptian 10 minutes. It was a great visit and the Egyptologist on site Ibrahim took us round and explained everything. It was the final highlight. The rest had gone round the museum whilst I was with the director so that is another thing to see there.
So definitely if you can spare the time go to Middle Egypt, you could do a week easily. Take at least plenty of patience, loads of baksheesh money, and a driver who really knows the area and can negotiate for you. If Ken organises another trip I recommend you sign up.

2 comments:

Heidi said...

You have had an amazing trip! As you know, I´ve been to a few of the places, but there was a few left I would love to see!

mary.crowther3@googlemail.com said...

thank you jane, for a very interesting read about your tour, i have never been sightseeing in middle egypt, only bus throught it. really enjoyd, readinf about all the places, that i doubt i will ever see, due to my health, regards mary.xx