With our Expert Guide, Medhat Saad, the idea of this special new tour was to spend more than the usual excursion time in the Abydos area.
Many of the sites we planned to visit can be seen en-route from Minya to Luxor but require special permits. Time often does not allow for in-depth visits, so armed with special permits we planned to make the most of staying in the local hotel close to the temples.
Our week began with two nights at The Old Winter Palace, Garden Pavilion Wing allowing for a full day on the West Bank before heading north to Abydos.
After a brief stop at the Colossi of Memnon we went straight to the Valley of the Kings and on finding the coach park packed with buses we did a detour to the rarely visited West Valley to enter the tomb of Ay.
Of course we were the only visitors in the West Valley but we walked past a large team of workmen excavating in a side wadi. No photos allowed but we had time to watch and since my last visit it was clear that several metres of rock and debris had been removed exposing man-made workings including steps.
After our visit to Ay’s tomb we returned to the Kings’ Valley where we had a chance to buy extra tickets for Tutankhamun or even Seti I before setting off for a couple of hours looking at tombs.
After a fine lunch at our local restaurant we visited the mortuary temple of Ramesses II the Ramesseum and then the Temple of Seti I. We would be visiting the temples of both these giants of history in Abydos later in the week. Finally, a special treat as we had arranged a brief stop at the AUC library in Luxor where we met with Dr Kent Weeks. Many passengers had carried out donations for the library and handed over an assortment of art and craft goods for use by the local children. We were impressed by the work Kent is doing and our visit was a rewarding end to the day.
Next day we set off for Abydos making a stop at the lovely temple at Dendera. It was a very hot day and it was a treat to be in the temple itself rather than wandering about outside. Most people ventured down in to the crypt and explored the rooftop sanctuaries. We arrived in Abydos late afternoon to well received welcome drinks and checked in to the very comfortable rooms at the House of Life Hotel.
Our first day in Abydos we began with a walk to the Temple of Seti I. The new visitor centre is being prepared for opening and we looked at the new display model of the temple before our guided tour.
Cleaning and restoration work is an ongoing job in the temple and we heard about some of the current work. Plenty of time to view the beautiful reliefs before a look at the Osireion and a walk across the desert to the Ramesses II temple.
Back to the hotel for lunch and then we all met again to take local cars out to Shunet el Zebib, the huge mudbrick enclosure walls of Khasakhemwy dating to the 2nd Dynasty.
One of our accompanying Inspectors from the Ministry of Antiquities invited us to walk with him to the grave of Omm Sety nearby.
Next to Kom el Sultan where we explored the vast 1st Dynasty mud brick walls and the later Ramesses II Temple of the Monkeys before returning to the swimming pool at our hotel.
Next day we set off once again in our small local cars and we headed through the village to the Pyramid of Ahmose with our local Inspectors. Medhat explained the history and pointed out the location of the ruined cenotaph of Queen Tetisheri and our Inspectors pointed out an area in the distant mountain where they hope to excavate in the future. Back to the cars and a drive across the desert to ‘Anubis Mountain’ and the Tomb of Senusret III cut into the hillside. An adventure for those with no worries of claustrophobia. We took the descending passage to the vaulted chambers before taking the robbers’ passage past the sarcophagus into the curving rock-cut tunnel and the chambers lined with red quartzite masonry. An amazing feat of engineering. By the time we surfaced we were all exhausted but thoroughly elated by our adventure underground.
Lunch and a rest before our next treat, a special private AWT evening opening of the Temple of Seti I. As we walked towards the temple bathed in floodlight we were quite overcome by the stunning effects on the lights on the reliefs. The black sky around us and awareness that the temple was ours alone for an hour or two was overwhelming and a real privilege. Plenty of time to admire the Hypostyle Halls and Sanctuaries before thanking our Inspectors who organised everything so well for us before a slow walk back to the hotel for dinner.
Our last day in town and we set off for Beit Khallaf to explore the vast 3rd Dynasty mud brick Mastaba excavated by John Garstang in 1900. Of the recorded mastabas in the area the most impressive is K1 and we were able to climb to the top and look down in to the inner mud-brick workings exposed by Garstang.
Our next stop was Wanina known as Athribes by the Greeks. This site was originally excavated by Petrie in 1900 and now a team from Germany led by Dr Marcus Mueller are working with the Egyptian Inspectors to try and make the site more accessible for tourism.
The main temple is dedicated to the lion goddess Repyt and after a guided tour we had free time to explore. Excavations are ongoing and we were able to watch the men working on clearance of large areas, so it seems the site is growing!
Our thanks to Dr Mueller and the Inspectors for explaining the site to us and allowing us to explore fully in our free time.
After a short journey we pulled in to the compound of the White Monastery founded in 442AD by Saint Sigol the uncle of Saint Shenoute.
We had a guided tour with Father Atenaeus and he enjoyed a brisk question and answer time and sensing we were a group with special interest he offered to take us to a nearby shrine in the mountain.
Also known as the Cave of Saint Shenoute this shrine has been set into the mountain where the blocks for the building of the White Monastery were quarried.
We were even shown a service book with Coptic script and we all felt that this had been a very special visit indeed. After fond farewells we took Father Atenaeus back to the Monastery in our coach and journeyed back to our hotel.
On a final note on Athribes and the White Monastery connection, it seems that part of the late antique village of Athribes was home to the women’s monastery in Shenoute’s Federation and run by the Female Elder of the order
On our last full day in Egypt we left Abydos after breakfast and on arrival in Luxor we were welcomed back at the Old Winter Palace where we had lunch before heading to Karnak. A lovely guided tour before a welcome drink in the Karnak Café by the Sacred Lake which at last is open again.
On returning to the hotel Medhat and I were collected and rushed to the offices of His Excellency the Governor of Luxor for a meeting. We presented a plaque commemorating our visit, drank tea and talked about future tourism plans.
Farewell drinks in the Royal Bar in the Palace with time to say goodbye to Medhat and thank him for all his expert guidance during the week. Our group headed off for their own evening meal plans with many deciding on the excellent BBQ in the garden while others chose one of the restaurants within the hotel.
A wonderful week with thanks to Medhat and Wael and all our crew in Egypt.
Most importantly, once again a huge thank you to all the Inspectors from the Ministry of Antiquities who give us so much of their time and expertise while we are travelling.