Egypt – 18th December 1986 – 3 January 1987. We decided that we needed to see Egypt so we booked a 600 mile cruise down the Nile with Swan Hellenic. I think we were one of the last cruises down the Nile as it has now become impassable in places and of course it was a time when the uglier side of Islam had not yet raised its head.
Cairo. The trip did not begin well. William refused to fly Egypt Air which Swan’s had booked so we paid over the odds to fly British Airways. The only thing is that when we arrived at the airport, the British Airways flight to Cairo had been cancelled for whatever reason, and we were told we could return home to London for the night and come back the following day or stay in a hotel, we opted for London. Well, I kicked up quite a bit of a dust with BA. Our fellow travellers had all set off for the cruise leaving us behind and it was becoming hit and miss as to whether we would be able to join the cruise ship; before it set off. William was all for abandoning the trip at this point but I refused and thank heaven I was so resolute.
We returned to the airport the next day and the flight was on. A BA crew member came up to us when we had settled down in our cramped seats and, I suppose because I had had such a hizzy fit at the airport, bumped us up to the front of the plane, and we travelled to Cairo in great style. Unfortunately it gave us a taste for expensive aircraft seats. We arrived at midnight in Cairo. Utter confusion in the airport. Eventually we found a taxi and managed to explain where the ship could be found. After much frantic waving of hands and wondering if we would be dumped somewhere in the city and robbed we set off in some trepidation through the dark to find the Nile Star who we knew was due to set sail in the early hours of the morning.
Sadly we had missed a whole day in Cairo including seeing the pyramids. We finally found the ship and went on board, where we were greeted by the chief steward who had kindly waited up for us and presented us with a bottle of champagne. We we had hardly gone to sleep in our spacious cabin No.204 when we heard the boat set off. So a very mixed start to the trip.
Saturday 20th December. The next morning, very early, absolutely shattered but very excited we breakfasted with our fellow travellers, we were a party of 50, and disembarked at Hawamdieh and began our journey by coach, one minute we were driving through lush green vegetation the next, as though a line had been drawn on the ground, we found ourselves in the desert. We headed for Sakkara, there to see the Colonnade and Pyramid of Zoser (2700 BC)
Pyramid of Zoser 2700 BC
We entered our first pyramid the Pyramid of Unas. We were accompanied throughout the trip by an official Egyptian guide but we also had with us George Hart from the British Museum, a charming and very knowledgeable guide with a twinkle in his eye. What he made of the motley wholly ignorant group he had in his charge I cannot guess. One thing we all had in common was a passion to see and absorb as much as possible of the world of Ancient Egypt which we only knew from visits to museums. I do not think there was a single member of the party who had visited Egypt before. George usually allowed, because he had to, the Egyptian Guide to give the usual sometime dull spiel full of dry dates and facts and then took over and brought the place to light for us.
The pyramid of Unas. Looked like a heap of rubble from the outside
The marble walls of the pyramid of Unas were covered with hieroglyphs from top to bottom, nothing too wonderful but just extraordinary; but we were inside a Pyramid over 2000 years old, for god’s sake.
We then visited the shaft grave tombs of Mereruka, who was Vizier and son-in-law of King Teti. False door with statue of Merreuka (below).
(top) scene of men rowing with hippos and crocodiles below. (bottom) two dwarfs butchers preparing meat for Merreuka
The tomb of Ank-Ma-Hor who had been a doctor/vizier is situated on the northern side of Teti’s pyramid at Saqqara in the block of tombs belonging to the officials of the king’s Dynasty VI reign. Covered with incredible scenes of daily life.
Scenes of circumcisions taking place. Mastaba of Ank-Ma-Hor.
Tomb of Ka-Gemni, Chief Justice and Vizier, the highest post in the bureaucracy of Old Kingdom Egypt (c. 2321-2290 B.C.). Walls covered in rural scenes, presumably these were depicting the property of Ka-Gemni.
and also visited the Pyramid of Teti. The burial chamber contains an unfinished sarcophagus, and a fragment of a lid. Teti was the first Pharoah of the 6th Dynasty of Egypt and probably reigned for about 12 years – 2345–2333 BC .
We then went on to Memphis to view the colossal statue of Ramesses II lying on its back.
I see from an old photograph that it once lay in a grove of palm trees but is now entombed in an ugly concrete shelter which does enable you to look down on it. It really is a magnificent piece and it was the first of many times we were to meet Ramesses II.
We then went on to see the Sphinx of Memphis, much corroded but fortunately still in the open air. The Sphinx is located near the remains of Memphis. The carving was believed to take place between 1700 and 1400 BC. The was originally called the Alabaster Sphinx but it fact it is made of calcite which is similar. It was found in 1912 jutting out of a sandhill. It is 26 ft x 13ft. Very impressive.
We then joined the boat at Mazghuna and spent the afternoon cruising up the Nile. One of the great pleasures of the trip were our leisurely trips up the Nile, passing colourful groups of women washing clothes and spreading coloured clothes over bushes to dry, camel trains, mud houses, tiny mosques with minarets, birds, people still wearing the sort of simple clothing usually found on paintings of Christ and his disciples. We passed many wells where donkeys were walking around and around to bring up water to irrigate the fields. We once passed a massive raft onto which camels were being loaded, each with one of its front legs tied up double beneath it, which looked extremely cruel but hopefully was not. Small sailing boats passed by and brown kingfishers and other birds constantly darted about the boat. Buffet lunches were often served on deck and the food, throughout, was absolutely delicious. The decks were lined with walls of crates of bottled water and we were kept regularly supplied; as fast as you finished one of the three or four in your cabin another would appear in its place. We were told to drink as much as we were able and to always carry bottles with us. We were also told that on no account were we to drink or eat anything other than what was provided by the staff on the boat. If we ever were due to stay at a site for a long period we always found a van or our coach packed with water and sometimes tea, coffee and snacks were served to us. We were very pampered, and as far as I know no one suffered from anything.
We were a very mixed bunch, mostly English, with a close-knit group of middle aged married couples, who we tried to steer clear of, and four Americans, a couple of newly-weds. She always had to run off in front of the party and get herself photographed beside whatever we were viewing before we all descended on it; an absolute air-head but they were too absorbed in one another for anyone to get to know them. The others were a gay male couple, the one elderly short, ugly, squat, (looked just like the God Bez, statues of whom we were to meet quite often) reeking of medications of various sorts, wealthy as Croesus, he had a large art collection which included a Picasso, one of a number, which he kept in his kitchen of all places, his companion a handsome young man in his early 20s, wished he would find somewhere for one of the Picasso paintings other than the kitchen. Not that I doubt either ever went into a kitchen which was clearly the realm of the servants. There were also two ladies, whom we got to know very well, one, Betty, rather stout, mad about golf but good company, the other very slim, Kit. We were befriended by Kit from the day we met till her death many years later. She eventually left her millions to the National Trust. Her husband, we discovered, had died shortly after they married, just as they were setting up house. At his death she froze the house like Miss Haverhsam, though unlike Miss Haverhsam, she kept the place spotless, but her bedroom remained only partially furnished as it had been when he died and all the books were frozen on the shelves so that nothing was ever added to them. She read avidly but instantly disposed of the books once read. No new object was ever allowed to enter the house permanently and of course no TV and the ancient radio came out of the ark. She was very lively but with a sharp witty tongue. She was a financial wizard and had worked at Downing Street. We remember her with great affection.
Saturday, 21 December. We stayed overnight at El Wasa and were woken up at an unearthly hour by what appeared to be a demented recorded voice shrieking from the local minaret. At 7.25 we disembarked to visit the Pyramid of Meydum. It was freezing cold, but the standard drill was to wear as much clothing as possible and slowly peal off the layers and put them in your haversack as the day grew hotter.
The pyramid of Meydum
Meydum was quite something, an early pyramid which had lost part of its outer shell. We waited in the stillness of the desert for a considerable time as the man with the keys to the pyramid had not turned up. Eventually he did and one by one we climbed up to this gap in the lower wall of the pyramid and found to your consternation that there was a drop on the other side, with two people waiting for you to drop down so they could catch you. We had been warned of this and I don’t know why it was but all of a sudden I found myself thrust to the front and the first to go down. Torch in hand I then walked down a long steep dark corridor to the tomb room which was in the centre of the bottom of the pyramid, to get to it you had to finally climb up (was it by ladder, I forget) anyway it was upwards and finally I found myself in what appeared to be a very small corbelled room. It really was a very strange experience. There was nothing in the tomb from what I can remember just this terrible feeling of claustrophobia and wishing you were out in the desert again. From there we joined the boat at Beni Suef, had a buffet lunch on the top deck, and set sail for a cruise up the Nile to Beni Mazar where we arrived at about 7.30pm and spent the night. During the cruises and after some of the visits when we returned to the boat before dinner was served, George lectured with slides on aspects of what we had seen or on a general topic related to Ancient Egypt. We always attended, but it must have been very discouraging for him as I, like many in his audience usually fell asleep. The lectures were far from dull and if you managed to keep awake we found them instructive and entertaining, but dear me it was a struggle to keep awake with the gentle sound of the motor all the scents wafting in, it took a great deal of strength to keep awake. Where George found the energy is beyond comprehension. He walked just as much as we did and we were a great deal younger. There was no excuse, but it was delicious to sink into a deep sleep with his gentle voice pulling you further and further away from consciousness.
Sunday, 22 December. We sailed from Beni Mazar and after lunch we disembarked and walked for about 25 minutes to the hill of Beni Hassan to see the rock tombs.
There are about 37 of them hewn out of the rock and many were highly decorated with scenes of every-day life and of the journey after death. We saw four of the most important ones. The tomb of Khnbumhotep II, which is one of the most notable dated to almost 2000 BC.
He was a high official with the title of Overseer of the Eastern Desert. The tomb itself is fronted by a columned portico and a small courtyard leading to the tomb entrance. The tomb is decorated with the story of Khnumhotep’s life and shows the close relationship he had to the royal house. It also shows his excellent character and asks visitors to make offerings to him. There are representations of the preparations for his funeral, his death and rebirth.
The views from the hill were magnificent and we could see the Nile Star and the stark line where the vegetation stopped and the desert began. It never failed to astonish us.
We sailed from Beni Hassan and sailed to El Till where the spend the night.
Monday. 23rd December. After breakfast we disembarked at El Till and walked passed the faint remains of El Armarna. As it was quite a trek some of the party went by tractor. We were only too pleased to stretch our legs and so walked to the hill to visit the north El Amarna tombs.
These decorated tombs belonged to some of the principal men at Akenaten’s court and included two of his most senior priests Merye, Royal Scribe and Overseer of the Royal Harim of Queen Nefertiti and Paneshe Chief Servitor of the Aten.
As can be seen severely damaged. The pharaoh Akenaten and Nefertiti worshiping the sun, two of their children behind them.
From the tomb of Merye, North Tombs, El Armarna.
We also saw the tombs of Ahmose a sealbearer to the king, steward in the house of Akhenaten, overseer of the front hall of the Lord of the Two Lands (court of justice?), and a fanbearer at the right hand of the king.
and Pentu, the Royal Scribe and Chief of Physicians. Here for the first time in their original settings we saw that quite extraordinary style favoured by Akenaten and his court. How was Akenaten able to break the artistic rules and why and how did he convey to the people who created these images, the type of style that must have been wholly alien to the tomb carvers who had worked from father to son for centuries using a standardised style.
The famed El Amarna. The faint remains of the capital city newly established and built by the Pharoah Akhenaten and abandoned shortly after his death 1332 BC. It was here that the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti was discovered by a German expedition just before the 1st World War
We walked down and visited the minimal ruins of what remained of El Amarna, barely shadows of stones in the desert. I understand a great deal of work has been done on the site since.
We returned to the boat which sailed at 10.45 and spent a leisurely afternoon cruising down the Nile passing through the Assiut Barrage or Dam, one of the oldest dams on the Nile (completed 1903) and designed by Sir William Wilcocks
and arrived at Assiut at 8pm where we moored for the night.
Tuesday. 24 December.
Whole day spent sailing down the Nile past the imposing limestone cliffs of the Gebel Selin, watching the birds, darting over the water and the life on the banks. We arrived at Balliana at 9.45 pm.
Wednesday, Christmas Day. We disembarked and travelled by taxis to the sacred city of Abydos.
Here we saw the vast temple of Seti I. Abydos is one of the most ancient of the cities of Upper Egypt and Ancient Egyptians believed that the tomb of Osiris the God of the Dead was in Abydos. The Seti I temple is known as the Great Temple of Abydos and has some of the finest raised reliefs in Egypt. The Temple also contains a unique list of the Kings of Egypt till the time of Seti I.
Behind the temple is the Osirion. This temple was a subterranean complex dedicated to Osirius. The chambers are some of the most ancient of all the ancient Egyptian ruins and predate the temple by about a 1000 years.
The whole site is very bewildering and almost impossible to take in so we just wandered around in a state of amazement.
The adjacent temple of Ramesses II is much smaller and only the lower part remains covered with scenes of the Battle of Kadesh.
It became very hot and we were supplied with snacks and coffee from the crew from the Nile Star. At 12 noon we returned and embarked at the Nag Hamadi Barrage to which the boat had sailed during our visit to Aydos.
Christmas lunch and dinner
Unbeknown to us the crew on the Nile Star had been busy transforming the ship with Christmas decorations and while we sailed down the Nile we sat down to a massive Christmas lunch with turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, mince pies and wines. Quite extraordinary and totally unexpected. Dinner that evening was decidedly sumptous. People were asked to come in fancy dress. Horrors, as far as we were concerned. But some people did make the effort and very jolly it was too. We also had some Egyptian dancers and singers to entertain us. We stayed the night at the town of Nag Hamadi moored at the Government Club Quay.
Thursday 26 December. After breakfast we disembarked at 7am and departed by motor coach for the Temple of Hathor at Dendera.
Front of the Temple of Hathor, Dendera. We arrived at the site by the North Gate which has almost remained intact. Around it were wild dogs, all looking very unkempt and half-starved. Sadly we had nothing to feed them.
We were also assailed by large numbers of school children, all of whom, we slowly gathered, wanted our pens and pencils. This was to happen to us many times on the trip. If only we had been told beforehand of this particular need we would have come armed with bags full of them. As it is, I doubt if any of us returned home at the end of the trip with anything to write with.
The Massisi, built during the time of Nero. The exterior of the building is surrounded by pillars with high partition walls.
The panels of the Massisi show the Emperor Trajan wearing the crown of Lower Egypt and making an offering to the Goddess Hathor who is shown suckling her son Ihy.
The Emperor Trajan from the Massisi
The back of the Temple of Hathor , built in the late Plolemaic period, has vast reliefs of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion by Julius Caesar.
Cleopatra and her son Caesarion by Julius Caesar
Cleopatra and her son Caesarion by Julius Caesar
The rear of the Temple of Hathor
It was at Hathor where we first came across a statue of the God Bez.
The God Bez. He was a household protector, responsible for killing snakes, fighting off evil spirits, looking after children and aiding women in childbirth
We had his monstrous replica travelling with us who was the exact opposite to all the good qualities attributed to the god. Many of the columns of the main temple had capitals with the head of the goddess Hathor wearing a sistrum, a sort of Ancient Egyptian musical instrument on her head. The outer hypostyole hall was decorated with images of Emperors ranging from Augustus to Nero.
The Temple of Hathor itself was constructed during the reign of Tiberius and remarkably its ceiling was intact with signs of the zodiac.
A portion of the original painted ceiling with the head of the goddess Hathor on the left.
The wall carvings were magnificent throughout the complex building, which seemed to have a maze of rooms and halls. There was a staircase to the roof on which sat a kiosk, again with Hathor pillars in which it is thought the ritual of the goddess’s union with the sun disk was performed.
The small temple on the roof
Sadly the site is encroached by a modern town under which is reputed to be a temple of Horus. One of the party tripped over the uneven floor of the roof and hurt herself badly. Fortunately we were able to come to her rescue with our pharmaceutical collection which we carried about with us; just in case. Happily we never did make use of it ourselves.
In a state of some exhaustion we departed the site and took an hour’s journey by coach to Khozam where we caught up with the Nile Star and had a buffet lunch on deck while the boat sailed to Luxor. It just so happened, we were sitting at a large empty table and were descended on by a tight-knit group of married couples who seemed to be always together and did not mix with the rest of us. We were then assaulted, I can only describe it as an assault, by members of the group who insisted that we tell us where we came from, which was fine, how had we met, which was none of their business, how many year ago, where had we met, were we father and son, which was meant to be rude, and if not, what exactly was our relationship, it went on and on, questions fired at us from around the table in a rather aggressive manner. I wanted to return the rudeness by asking our main interrogator whether his lady companion was his mistress, his mother or his wife, but held my tongue. It was really rather alarming, extremely discourteous and with a whiff of homophobia which we had never encountered before. In all our trips around the world with many groups, it was the only time we had met with such a hostile group of people. All of course dying to know if we were a couple. In silence, we picked up our plates and removed ourselves to another table. We avoided them like the plague for the remainder of the journey.
After lunch, somewhat shaken, we disembarked and caught another coach to the Valley of the Kings to visit the Tombs of Tutankhamun, Amenophis II, Ramesses IX, Seti I and Ramesses VI.
What struck one immediately about the tomb of Tutankhamun was how small it was. We walked down a short flight of stairs, then down a passage, through to an antechamber, of course now emptied, and finally to the small burial chamber. The walls of the burial chamber were covered, with what seemed to our now reasonably tutored eyes to be rather crude if colourful wall paintings with just the hint of the El Amarna style.
One of the inner gold sarcophagi was lying in a glass covered box. One whole wall was taken up with paintings of baboons. It was hot and stuffy and there were too many people inside, but this room was one of those places you have to be in like St Peter’s or the Parthenon or walking through the Lion gate at Mycenae, or up the Sacred Way in Delphi.
Tomb of Amenhopis II. After going down and through stairways, corridors and vestibules, you reach the tomb chamber of Amenhopis II which consists of a large rectangular hall supported by six boldly decorated pillars on which the pharaoh appears with a number of gods and whose ceiling is decorated with golden stars in straight rows against a dark blue sky. The royal quartzite sarcophagus is carved to represent a cartouche.
Apparently when it was discovered in 1898 it still contained the body of the pharaoh though the tomb had been looted many times.
When the tomb was discovered they also found a blocked up and previously undiscovered chamber in which were the bodies of many of Egypt’s most famous pharaohs, who had apparently been secreted there by the priests and lay undiscovered by tomb robbers.
The tomb of Ramesses IX is more or less in the form of a long corridor which eventually leads to a vestibule which opens up into a four pillared hall and another short corridor which leads to the vaulted ceiling burial chamber.
The walls and ceilings throughout are covered in paintings some looked as though not much care had been taken to paint them. Very claustrophobic. No sarcophagus was ever found but the body of Ramesses IX was found in 1881 in a cache of bodies at Deir el-Bahri.
The tomb of Seti I is one of the best decorated tombs in the Valley and apparently is now always closed. Again it consists of a long corridor connected with steps which lead through various vestibules, chambers and then finally to the tomb chamber; though past the tomb chamber lies a further sequence of chambers.
The sarcophagus was removed and finally found its way to the Sir John Soane Museum in London and now sits in a horribly cramped and cluttered space where it is not seen to advantage. Apparently Belzoni found a mummified bull in one of the chambers.
Tomb chamber of Seti I
By now I think we were all thoroughly bewildered by the subjects of the vast acres of painted walls through which we walked, though through George’s help we were able now to recognise some of them.
And finally we visited the tomb of Ramesses VI which again was a corridor tomb but with no stairs.
The broken remains of a large granite outer sarcophagus can be seen in the burial chamber which had an impressive vaulted astronomical ceiling. Most of the walls were covered with a bewilderment of paintings wall to ceiling.
I think, by now, we were absolutely tomb sated and I doubt if anyone in the party could have taken much more on board. We returned to the boat by ferry as it had now moored on the East Bank for a delicious tea.
After tea we were given spare time to make an independent visit to the Luxor Museum. The museum is a gem beautifully laid out and because there are not too many items, all have a special space to themselves, even the garden which surrounds the museum had a beautiful display of mostly full length Ancient Egyptian statues; all items at the museum were from Luxor.
I recall there were magnificent statues of Akhenaton they really are mesmerising objects; one of the heads must have come from a colossal statue of him. What magnificent objects must have been destroyed at the end of his reign. Presumably Akhenaton dictated his artistic break from the traditional method of depicting figures but how did he describe it to his sculptors or was there a sculptor who wanted to break with tradition and create this now art form. Fascinating.
There is also a colossal statue of Amenhotep III and a cow goddess from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
The was an extraordinary figure of a seated Amenhotep III as a very young boy with the crocodile god Sobek seated by his side, wearing a vast headdress .
A quite remarkable museum and it must have one of the richest collections of Ancient Egyptian sculpture in the world. We returned to the boat and walked along the banks of the Nile with birds swooping over the water and a glorious sunset. What a perfect day and here we were in Luxor, standing on the banks of the Nile, impossible to believe.
Friday 27 December. I see from the itinerary that we left the ship, after breakfast, at 6am. I do remember it was still moonlight and very, very, very cold. We went by ferry to the West Bank and then took a coach to visit six Tombs of the Nobles – Nakht, Menna, Rekhmire, Userhat, Kha-em-hat and finally Ramose.
Nakht was an Astronomer, scribe and priest who lived during the reign of Tuthmose IV. The funerary scenes were missing because of its unfinished state but by then we have seen rather too many funerary scenes. What we were left with was a delightful banqueting scene with dancers, musicians playing flutes and harps, a servant girl adjusting the earrings of one of the seated lady guests, a singing blind harpist. A seated Nakht and his wife receiving the produce of their grape harvest and hunting birds in the marshes. A small statue of Kakht was found in the debris of the tomb and was shipped to New York in 1915. Sadly the ship was attacked by a U-boat and poor Nakht now lies at the bottom of the ocean.
Nakht and his wife. Her hands on his arm and shoulder
Menna was a scribe of Tuthmose IV. Poor Menna has been defaced throughout the tomb, and had his eyes gouged out or his face or hands removed on the wall paintings. But there are some delightful scenes, one showing his wife and daughters and son in the marshes on a fowling and fishing expedition, he harpooning two fish his daughter on the left holding lotus flowers in one hand and two ducks he has caught.
Rekhmire was a Governor of Thebes and Vizier to the king he was also the High Priets of Heliopolis. The Hall and passage are spectacularly decorated with well-preserved scenes some quite unique. On one wall Rekhmire inspects the tribute brought to him from various parts of Egypt and another shows the tribute brought from foreign countries. Produce from Punt includes incense trees, gold and precious stones, a baboon and monkeys. Tribute from Crete includes amphorae, decorative vases, etc and show suppliants wearing Minoan kilts from Mycenae. The Nubians offer a giraffe with a monkey crawling up its neck, leopard, baboons, ostrich eggs and feathers and so on. Finally there is a group of foreigners including women and children brought by military escort probably as slaves or hostages. There are also scenes following a hunt with slain animals heaped up waiting to be recorded including ostriches, wild bulls, lions, gazelles, etc.
Tributes being brought to Reckhmire from Minoan Crete
Userhat, was a Royal Scribe and Child of the Royal Nursery. The tomb is one of the best preserved of the Theban nobility tombs, with scenes depicting the deceased Userhat and his wives receiving gifts and presents in the afterlife. On one wall Userhat is depicted with his wife Shepset and mother Tausert seated under a fig tree with two small bird spirits with human heads perched on a table and overhead are another two bird spirits with human heads. A tree goddess serves them water, bread, figs and apples. There are scenes or Userhat hunting in his chariot and spearing fish from his boat, grape harvest, etc. All quite delightful.
Userhat with his wife Shepset and mother Tausert under a fig tree
Shepset his wife with two other ladies possible other wives
The grape harvest. Tomb of Userhat
Kha-em-hat, overseer of the Granaries of Upper and Lower Egypt. Unlike the other tombs we had visited this one was in very fine low relief. One of interest showed ships moored in a Theban quay, delivering grain which was presumably to be stored in the Royal Granaries. The reliefs are refined and elegant, but many had been destroyed or taken to museums, leaving only copies behind.
Kha-em-hat and his wife
Ramose. As far as I was concerned, this part of the tour had left the best of the private tombs to the last. Ramose was a high dignitary during two reigns. Part of the unfished tomb had been decorated in relief which meant that the only use of paint is shown in the eyes. To me it reached a height of sophistication which was probably never surpassed. I had many times looked at illustrations of the work in the tomb and here at last I was standing in front of them. To quote from one of my books the scenes depicted “are distinguished by elegance and an unequalled stylistic purity and constitute one of the highest manifestations of ancient art.’ The tomb was left unfinished and it is thought that he followed Akhenaton and his queen Nefertiti to El Armana. The incredible thing is that this sophisticated art was abandoned and never picked up after Akhenaton’s death. There is only one painted scene in the tomb the rest is in relief. The portraits of Ramose, his wife, brother, and sister-in-law and the priests are masterpieces. There is a scene, some of it carved some of it sketched, with Akhenaton and Nefertiti at their palace window receiving the homage of Ramose accompanied by officials and fan bearers. There is also a consecration of offerings by Ramose, who is accompanied by three men carrying papyrus; quite stunning.
Tomb of Ramose
Ramose with his wife. Again, as in Nakht’s tomb her hand on his arm and shoulder
Ramose and his wife, with affectionate gestures from her
Guests at a Banquet in the Tomb of Ramose. Perfection
And the day had barely started. We left by coach to the Ramesseum Rest House where we were plied with water, coffee and snacks courtesy of the ship and its crew, and then on to Deir el Bahari
Deir el Bahri where sits the great Temple of Hapshepsut an incredible colonnaded temple set under sheer rock cliffs. A great deal of reconstruction was taking place so that visiting facilities were somewhat limited. About 12 years later over 50 tourists and Egyptians were slaughtered at the site. When I think of the virtually non-existent security we needed during our trip we realised later how lucky we were to visit when we did. I think there was an ancient member of the crew, who must have slept all day and spent his nights sitting at the top of the gangplank, unarmed as far as we were aware.
The restoration of the elaborate temple of Hathor at the south-west corner had fortunately been completed and we stood under its massive columns with capitals in the shape of Hathors with their bewigged impassive female faces with cow ears and wearing sistrums, a type of musical instrument, on their heads.
We also visited the so-called Punt Portico of the temple which showed the extraordinary king and queen of Punt, receiving Egyptian envoys. She, shown to be incredibly fat, with the most enormous behind, standing behind her slim nondescript husband shown as a token figure.
The queen presumably made a remarkable impression to be shown in this way when almost every other figure looked like the thousands of token figures we had seen so far.
We then travelled to see the Colossi of Memnon.
A pair of colossal quartzite sandstone seated statues of Amenhophis III, now stuck out alone in the desert but originally built to guard his mortuary chapel, not one stone of which can be seen though it originally covered about 36 acres. They are about 20 m. high and heavily eroded. The Greeks and Romans thought they were representations of Memnon, son of Tithonus, a legendary king of Egypt and Eos the Dawn, who was sent by his father to fight in defence of Troy and was killed by Achilles. The photographs I had seen show them to be in the middle of cultivated fields, but when we visited there was just barren parched earth. The day became very cloudy and they looked very eerie in their desolate dusty landscape. What struck us was the incredible silence. Apparently the figures were not always silent, due to an earthquake in 27 BC the statues emitted a bell-like tone in the early morning due to the rising temperatures and humidity. Everyone who was anyone in the ancient world including the Emperor Hadrian in 130AD visited the statues to hear the sound. The Emperor Septimius Severus ordered them to be repaired and inadvertently silenced them.
Returned by coach to the West Bank, caught the ferry and returned to the ship for lunch. What a morning. At 2pm we disembarked and left by coach and set off for Karnak. Karnak for heaven’s sake. To think that we were actually going to visit the temple complex at Karnak.
From then on it is all a bit of a whirl. Courtyard after courtyard after temple lined with massive statues, massive columns, including a colossal papyrus column the only remaining one of ten to survive. Two striding colossi of Ramesses II fronting each other. The statue on the right below is of Ramesses II
Temple of Rameses III
The Great Hypostyle Hall, probably the most impressive of the buildings at Karnak a positive forest of papyrus columns, some as tall as almost 70 feet, some 122 of the columns remain standing. It is reckoned that 50 people could stand on the capital of one of the columns. The roof sadly gone, but we would have missed the electric blue sky shining down the columns.
I recall two massive obelisks, both erected during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut. One she erected in the name of Tuthmosis III her father and the other also in red granite in the name of Hatshepsut herself. Her obelisk is the tallest obelisk in Egypt – just under 100 feet high – a stunning sight and apparently would have originally been covered in gold.In a state of extreme exhaustion and one has to say bewilderment at the sheer scale and complexity of the buildings we came to the ‘Sacred Lake’ where we were met by our crew from the boat who served us refreshments, my goodness we were pampered.
From there we visited the Temple of Khonsu.an almost complete New Kingdom temple was originally constructed by Ramesses III
We then caught our coach and rejoined the ‘Nile Star’ at Luxor. After dinner we returned to Karnak and watched a ‘Son et Lumiere’ overlooking the sacred lake. The moon in a sky scattered with stars. What a day.
Saturday, 28th December. Again we disembarked at 6am in the moonlight and crossed by ferry to the West Bank of the Nile and went by coach to the Deir el Medineh and the workmen’s village. On the surface the village is a jumble of bricks but the surprise was the visits to the tombs built by the workmen for themselves and their families. We visited the tomb of Sennejem, it was very claustrophobic and small so that we went in by groups of about two or three. The walls covered in brightly coloured paintings showing Sennejem and his wife and family.
Two gems will suffice.One shows Sennedjem holding a sceptre in one hand, and a lotus flower in the other. Beside him sits his wife Iyneferti and in front of them stands their son Bunakhtef, dressed in a leopard skin and clutching a leopard’s paw in one hand and a vessel in the other. He pours a libation from the vessel onto the lotus flower held by his father. Two further children stand under the chairs a naked boy named Ranekhu with a lotus blossom in his hand and his sister Heteput who holds a duck and a lotus blossom. Very moving. The colours were incredibly vibrant and the chambers looked positively cosy and intimate. Our visit to the tomb was not on the itinerary, so we were very lucky to see it.
From there we went to the Valley of the Queens to visit three tombs. The first up was that of Queen Tyti. The tomb consists of a corridor with a burial chamber and side chambers. It is thought that Tyti was one of the wives of King Ramesses III the paintings must have been magnificent but they were very faded and many damaged.
Three of the gods from Queen Tyti’s tomb
He was Crown Prince for part of his life and, apparently, was remembered for centuries after his death for his work on restoring ancient monuments. tombs and temples. Throughout the tomb he is presented as a young child wearing the curious side lock of blue hair decorated with a large gold band, which was worn by children.
The tomb itself is in the form of a long corridor with the burial chamber as part of the corridor with small annexes to right and left before you enter the burial chamber itself. The painting were extremely elegant and it was touching to see the prince being accompanied by his father during his introduction to each of the gods.
The tomb of Prince Amun-her-Khepshef is regarded as one of the masterpieces of art of Ancient Egypt. The prince who was at one time heir to the throne, died at the age of fifteen. Again he has the curious lock of blue hair worn down the side of the face and accompanies his father to meet and greet each of the gods and goddesses. The whole sequence of painting were charming and intimate.
So to the Ramesseum. Here we were met by our crew from the ship who served us more refreshments. They were clearly determined that none of us was going to be ill on this trip by buying anything to drink or eat from local sources.
The Ramesseum is the mortuary chapel of Ramesses II whose sons’ tombs we had just visited. The main temple was, as ever, massive.
With huge now headless standing figures forming part of the entrance columns, apparently known as Osiride pillars, and elegant papyrus columns, there were originally 48, I did not count how many were left, but there seem to be quite a few. What struck us was that we seemed to be the only people visiting the site.
On the ground in front of the temple was a colossal black granite head of one of two statues of Ramesses which stood in front of the chapel. This decapitated head looked very strange on the ground and would have been better served on some sort of plinth or in a museum as it is he looked like he had been buried in the sand up to his neck.
Incredibly the paintings on the interior were in a good state of preservation. The original site itself was on a massive scale and the few ruins were impressive and rather romantic.
Of course one of the main features of the site is the toppled gargantuan statue of Ramesses II now in fragments scattered over a large area. One of the ears alone is over three feet long and the height has been calculated to be 66 feet. The statue was the inspiration of Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’. George Hart gathered us together and we sat and stood around its shattered remains while he read Ozymandias to us.
I can still recall the stillness and beauty of the site with the faint scent of herbs wafting in the air while those memorable words were read to us. The statue was carved from a single block of limestone and had been brought to the site from Aswam; ‘Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!”
We then went by coach to visit the temples at Medinet Habu built by a number of pharaohs including Ramasses III, Tuthmosis II and Queen Hatshepsut. She really left her mark on Egypt.
Temple of Ramesses III – Mendinet Habu
We were faced with a vast complex of impressive temples, sadly the early Christians, as is their wont, had destroyed many of the statues. What is it about Christians that throughout history they have destroyed so much. Strangely, by painting over them they had managed to preserve some of the colourful scenes depicting various rituals connected with the ithyphallic fertility god Min and an impressive procession of the king’s numerous sons and daughters. In one of the temples there was a lintel with a row of worshiping apes; apparently their daybreak howling was interpreted as worshiping the rising sun.
Returning to our boat via the West Bank ferry we had lunch and a quick nap. At 3pm we set off again on foot to visit the Temple at Luxor.
We entered down a sphinx lined causeway to the first pilon, two massive structures which formed a gateway, flanked by two colossal seated statues of Ramesses II in black granite.
There is an extremely graceful and diminutive figure of Ramesses II’s wife Nefertari standing at the foot of his throne, the statues were originally flanked by two obelisks but sadly one of the obelisks was carted off to Paris as were two other seated statues. Inside is the court of Ramesses II surrounded by double rows of papyrus columns and vast statues of the king between each set of columns. Sadly there remains a mosque built into one corner which looks most incongruous and frankly rather tatty and unsightly. The reliefs on the west wall include the depiction of eleven of the reputed one hundred and eleven sons of Ramesses II. We then walked through a quite narrow colonnade of papyrus columns before arriving at the Court of Amenhotep III again lined with very elegant papyrus columns. From here you have to leave the building and enter the other halls and chapels, one of which contains a Roman altar bearing a dedication to the Emperor Constantine. There is a room called the Birth Room which shows on its reliefs the divine birth of Amenhophis III who wished to prove that he was the son of the god Amun-Ra and not of his father Thotmosis IV. One other room is the chapel of Alexander the Great which was built during his lifetime and which depicts him dressed as a pharaoh presenting offerings to the ithyphallic Amun. All very rum. The temples at Luxor are simpler to digest than the mass at Karnak.
Statues of Ramesses II
Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari
Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari
Court of Rameses II
Returned to the Nile Star and sailed at 5. Had we really seen so much in just one day. It seemed incredible and owed a lot to the magnificent planning of the tour company. We arrived at the Esna Barrage at 10pm and stopped for the night. The Barrage was built in 1906/9 to control the waters of the annual Nile floods with the aim of improving irrigation and increasing the area of cultivable land and is in the form of a huge barrier with a lock at the side.
Sunday 29 December. At 6am we passed through the lock of the Esna Barrage and docked in the town of Esna. Here we disembarked and walked to the Temple of Khnum. The temple is sitting in a hole in the centre of the town and is about 30 feet below the houses which stand perilously on the edge of the excavated part of the temple and in fact are built on the top of the major part of the unexcavated temple.
One of the panels showing the Roman Emperor Claudius Crowned as Pharaoh
The Roman Emperor Septimus Severus offering clothes to the Goddess Neith
The Roman Emperor Decius on the right making offerings to the gods
The temple is quite late having been built by the Ptolemys and the Romans. In fact the Roman emperors are well represented by inscriptions and depictions on the walls and include Claudius, Titus, Septimus Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Trajan, Decius and Domitian. The temple is rectangular supported by twenty four elegant columns with composite floral capitals of varying design and its roof is intact, with a ceiling showing the course of the constellations and the sun. In the courtyard in front of the temple is a charming statue of the little known lion-headed goddess Menhyt. Somewhere in the complex I spotted our friend the God Bez carved out of a piece of stone and seemingly not to belong to any part of the building. All around the temple were gangs of rather wild looking dogs all of whom were either trying to bite each other or fast asleep.
From here we sailed to Edfu and after lunch disembarked and travelled by horse-drawn carriages to visit the Ptolemaic Temple of Horus completed in 57BC.
It is probably the finest intact temple in Egypt. The first thing we saw was the vast pylon or entrance to the temple with its enormous figures carved in relief on the front but strangely all eyes are drawn to the small, in comparison, couple of granite figures of the god Horus in the form of a crowned falcon/hawk looking very cross.
Inside the courtyard we met another, this one in black granite wearing the double crown of Egypt which perched rather awkwardly on his head. His companion on the other side was sadly reduced to a headless, legless lump of granite.
The reliefs were extremely fine and full of delicately carved details. The roof seem to be intact and there were a cluster of rooms around the inner sanctuary where the cult statue would have been kept. It was all very dark and I wished we had brought a torch.
We went up to the roof where apparently the cult statue was taken, this is all shown on reliefs on the stair. Sated, there are just so many reliefs anyone can possibly take in, we returned to the boat by horse drawn carriages.
After lunch we sailed all afternoon down the Nile to Kom-Ombo where we moored for the night.
Monday 30 December.7.35 am and we walked to the temple of Kom-Ombo which is another Ptolemaic one. The first thing you see before you get to the temple which is much destroyed, is a Roman shrine to Hathor piled high with mummified crocodiles in various states of decay. I understand there is now a museum which displays them.
Half of the temple is dedicated to the god Sobek the Egyptian crocodile god and very impressive he is on the reliefs. The other half to Horus the hawk/falcon god who we had met the day before. The surface of the outer walls are decorated with colossal reliefs of the two gods. Apparently they were created during the reigns of Nero and Vespasian. The entrance pylon is carved in relief of the Roman emperor Domitian paying homage to the two gods and somewhere else we met up with the Emperor Tiberius making offerings also. I had no idea the Romans were quite so batty. The setting of the temple immediately by the Nile gives the site a tranquil peaceful air. Again because we were so early, we had the site to ourselves.
We then sailed for the remainder of the morning to Assuan where we arrived just after lunch.At 1.30 the party boarded a positive fleet of feluccas and set sail for Elephantine Island.
The weather was perfect, there was a slight breeze and the silence apart from the flapping of the sails was a sheer delight.
Elephantine Island, because of the rock formation on the island which does look like a heap of elephants.
Sadly the Ottoman government destroyed the virtually intact temples on the Island and the whole site appeared to be under excavation. I see from my notes that excavations have been going on since 1906! We returned by feluccas. After dinner we were told we could visit Assuan, but to be careful, wallets etc to be left behind. We hit the vast market, all lit up with lanterns and the air drenched with the scent of spices, The meat stalls covered in flies and this incredible noise filled the air with everyone shouting their wares. I rather enjoyed it but William wanted to flee back to the boat. I have to say there was absolutely nothing we wanted to buy, certainly not one of the thousands of carpets we were offered, though apparently a number of the people in the party staggered back with carpets. The night was very noisy, goodness knows when the market finally closed.
Tuesday 31st December. The day began with a visit to the Aswan granite quarries with the sole purpose of visiting the unfinished obelisk, which would have been the largest obelisk in Egypt if it had not cracked before it was lifted from the quarry.It was truly massive and still entombed in its bedrock. It is thought to have been ordered by Hatshepsut. She must have been livid.
Apparently when the first Aswan Dam had been built the isle of Philae had been flooded and visitors during part of the year could sail among the tops of the temple columns. When the current Dam was built it was realised it would be totally immersed and lost to the world. So every last stone was removed and replaced on the nearby and higher island of Algikia which was cut down and shaped so as to resemble the island of Philae. The temple was built by the Ptolomies and finished by the Romans so is quite late, the last know inscription is dated 394AD, and the site and setting is stunning.
It was a beautiful day, hot but with a cool breeze. After passing through a colonnade you get to the first pylon with magnificent vast figures incised on the façade.
The Temple of Isis
I have a feeling that these are the obelisk stumps on either side of the door to the Inner Temple. Will someone please persuade the National Trust to transfer the Kingston Lacy obelisk to the safety of the British Museum before it rots.
One of the obelisks was removed by John Bankes who first spotted it in 1815 and then arranged for it to be transported to his country house of Kingston Lacy, in Dorset where it arrived in 1821 and where it sadly languishes, barely noticed, reduced to a garden ornament and slowly rots away with every foul English winter that hits it. It should be removed to the British Museum and erected in the great covered courtyard where it would be safe and form a spectacular centrepiece to the entrance to the Egyptian collection. The remainder of the other obelisk and part of the base, was later sent to Bankes as he needed pieces of the same stone to form the base of his obelisk, George IV also contributed some pieces of spare granite which he had from his collection of stone from the ruins of Leptis Magna!
Many of the great Roman emperors contributed to the many temples at Philae, among them Augustus and Hadrian and of course one of the most beautiful buildings on the site is the never completed Kiosk of the emperor Trajan.
Kiosk of the Emperor Trajan
Scattered over the site and incised on the walls were images of the grotesque God Bez one of them shows him playing a harp.
We returned to the boat for lunch and then set off by coach to Assuan Airport. We would much have preferred to go to Abu Simbel over the desert but that was not an option. At the chaotic airport we boarded a plane, which looked like it was made of tin tied together with string, and set off for Abu Simbel. How lucky were earlier travellers you arrived at the temples by boat, it must have been an incredible sight. The temples of Abu Simbel are now on top of a cliff having also been rescued from the flooded Nile below. We had been told beforehand to look out of the left side of the aircraft for our first sight of Abu Simbel, and of course everyone unfortunate to sit on the right side of the plane then got up and leaned over on the left, causing the plane to dip at a frightening angle. Everyone was told to get back to the seats. I have to say we really did think that the string that held the plane together would snap and we would all have landed on top of Abu Simbel. If we thought Assuan airport was grim, in comparison to the airport at Abu Simbel airport it was heaven on earth. We staggered out of the plane and into the searing heat and were fed into a fly-blown hell-hole of an airport. From there we were bundled into rubbish coaches and taken to the site. Not a good beginning.. After we dusted ourselves down, all was forgotten as we walked towards the temples and were overwhelmed.
Nubian slaves lining the entrance to the temple
The interior of the temple. No amount of looking at photographs of the temples prepares you for the fantastic sight of the four gigantic statues of Ramesses II. Nestling between his knees and alongside his legs are small images of his queen and daughters, but small though they are they are still larger than life. What staggered me also was the sheer size of the temples behind the statues. First of all you enter a massive hallway with eight pillars the walls covered in relief carvings, and then through to a further hall, the Sanctuary with four mutilated statues of seated figures representing Ramesses II and three deities. All waiting for the sun to penetrate the temple twice a year to illuminate them.
Ramesses II with three gods, waiting for the sunset to fall on them
To the right of the colossal Ramesses figures and temple is a further temple to his favourite queen Nefertari, apparently a rarity for a queen to be thus honoured. There are six colossal statues on the façade. Four of the king and two of the queen. Behind the statues is a small temple with ceremonial reliefs. How to describe ones feelings at seeing this magnificent monument to utter vanity. One was just overpowered and almost unable to comprehend it properly. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I would be standing on this spot.
In front of the temple of Queen Nefertari
The sun began to set as we left for the airport and I felt saddened and slightly overwhelmed by the fact that our trip was nearing its end . We returned to our boat at about 5.30pm. What a day.
Wednesday 1 January 1986. This morning we took the plane to Cairo to begin our return journey. We stayed at the Hilton. Very comfortable, magnificent views of the Nile. Food unspeakable. As we had missed our trip to the Pyramids which the rest of the party had done on their first day. It was arranged that our Egyptian guide would take us to see the sphinx and the pyramids of Giza while the rest of the party were let loose in the Cairo markets. So off we set, just the three of us by car. He nearly ran over at least a dozen people, who just seem to throw themselves across the front of the car to cross the road. Hair raising, but our guide was good company, and not at all fazed by the mad pedestrians of Cairo and after a while we began to enjoy our crazy ride. Sadly that morning I had begun to realise that I was in the throes of a terrible cold. I was coughing and spluttering, feverish and feeling none too great. But I forgot all the aches and pains once we got to Giza, one moment we were travelling through what seemed a squatters camp with the most appalling shacks, dirt and terrible roads and suddenly we were in front of the Great Sphinx with the backdrop of the pyramids.
At the base of the Great Pyramid
He took us straight to the Great Pyramid of Cheops, bought our ticket, settled down in his car with his fags and, in a state of some shock at the suddenness of it, we were clambering up to the foul broken entrance to the Great Pyramid itself. Here we were met by thoroughly rude officials, shouting at people who were naturally unhappy about having their expensive cameras confiscated and wondering if they would ever see them again; fortunately I had mine on under my coat and did not admit to having one, not that I took any photographs of the interior anyway other than a sneaky one of the sarcophagus.
No one had warned us of what immediately faced us, and that was duck-boards laid end to end, i,e, planks of wood with struts at regular intervals to jam your foot against, and a low ceiling apparently about 3 ½ feet, which meant that my 6’3” was bent double, with a very hard irregular ceiling which could take off your scalp and a very, very steep gradient. When you have your head down so low you have no way of knowing who is coming down this small perilous footway or who is in front. We finally made it, with a great deal of protestations from William, who would much have preferred to have waited outside. However I was determined we both should make it, so told him to belt up and keep going. The ceiling eventually heightened, thank goodness and we finally made it to the main burial chamber. One had to forget the smell of urine and sweat that greeted us, and try to focus on where we actually were.
Fortunately the tomb chamberwas relatively empty, the rather sordid, sad broken stone sarcophagus in one corner, looking very like a stone water trough you would find in most fields in the UK if the sides were a trifle high. A most unremarkable room, apparently lined in pink Assuan granite, though in the gloom it was hard to make out. One wonders what marvels were placed in here when Cheops was originally put to rest; and look at it now. It struck me how extraordinary it was that we were standing in the centre of one of the seven wonders of the world under tons and tons of stone. It felt oppressive and stank and I could not help wondering if it was going to be today that the weight of stone would finally give way and bury us all for ever. It was certainly one of the most oppressive rooms we have ever been in. But I would not have missed it for the world. William was by this time beside himself wishing to leave, so we left, well, there was nothing to see and the smell was becoming unendurable. Have you ever tried to walk, bent double down a slope with just a rickety handrail to hold onto and hoping to god that no one was going to be coming up the other way? We made it to the entrance at last and were faced with what seemed to be 3 million Japanese tourists raring to enter. What a relief. We went and looked at the remarkable funerary boat, 129 feet long; remarkable in only that it had survived. It is thought it may only have served a ceremonial function. Our guide then left us to wander at will among the mortuary complex of buildings and to view the Sphinx. Sadly the Sphinx was in a very bad way, more rebuilt and being rebuilt. scaffolding and workmen everywhere. Still, here we were in front of the Great Sphinx. I had a strange feeling that all my life from India, Salford and London and all the places we had travelled to in the world all led me to this one spot. Very odd.
We took some photographs, wandered, rather lost among the buildings of the mortuary complex, admiring the incredible manner in which the large stone slabs had be carved to form corners, rather than have a corner where two slabs met. I was by now feeling none too bright, so we returned to our hotel for lunch.
After a foul lunch we were all taken to our final port of call, the great Cairo Egyptian Museum, there to meet many of the pharaohs we have come across and of course to see the Tutankhamun burial treasures; so many iconic treasurers in the flesh,. So many beautifully crafted gold pieces. The sheer glory of the colours, greens, blues, yellows…. The extraordinary statues of Akhenaten with their gigantic bellies and elongated almost art-deco faces. A feast.
Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye with their daughter
Akhenaten. Cairo Museum
Returned to the hotel for another ghastly meal, the whole hotel was throbbing with a wedding party, cymbals, trumpets, the lot. We dined with Kit and Betty and the American newly weds. Kit got my address from me and I thought no more about it, until we received an invitation to have dinner with her on our return. Our final night, the day was not done with us yet. Off we all went by coach to Giza to see the son et luminaire sitting beneath a starry night sky at the side of the Great Sphinx. We were narrated to by the voice of John Gielgud while the pyramids and the sphinx glowed in many colours. It had been the most extraordinary New Year’s Day anyone could ever have.
Thursday 2nd January. The two of us staggered out of the hotel at 4am and a taxi took us through Cairo to the airport. The airport was totally chaotic. Having parted with our suitcases, we were horrified to see them a couple of hours later sitting among a heap of other pieces of luggage stacked in the main thoroughfare of the airport. Some people using them as something to sit upon, children playing among them. How things have changed. I think, neither of us ever expected to see our luggage again but by some miracle, the two suitcases were at at the airport waiting for us to collect them when we returned home.
So ended one of the most incredible and momentous journeys we had undertaken. There were not to be any more of the cruises like ours down the Nile as it is not too silted to take boats along our journey from Cairo to Assuan. I think ours was one of the last cruises, if not the last. And now, of course, there are hardly any travellers to the sites we visited.