The adventure began in Cairo where we were based at the luxury Mena House Hotel and we headed straight off to the Giza Plateau with the chance to enter pyramids , mastabas and of course the solar boat Museum. We could not leave Cairo without a visit to the Egyptian Museum where Chris talked us through some of the finds relative to his latest book ‘Search for the Lost Tombs of Egypt. The Tanis treasures, the Amarna collection and Tutankhamun’s treasures were highlights and relevant to the journey ahead.
Alexandria is a vibrant and exciting city and we had a busy schedule planned. Our hotel, the historic and comfortable Cecil on the corniche overlooked the ancient harbour and Ptolemaic royal quarter, a contender for the lost tombs of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Kom el Shuqafa, Kom el Dikka, Shatby Necropolis, the Archaeological Museum and the Royal Jewellery Museum all delighted.
However, a first for most of us was the special AWT permit to visit Abu Sir known by its Roman name as Taposiris Magna. We drove along the Mediterranean coast road with our Inspectors for the site and stopped on the road close to the ‘Lighthouse’.
On our journey to Amarna we made a stop at Beni Hassan, where on purchase of one of the new photography tickets, for the first time in some years we were able to take pictures.
Amarna was, as ever, fascinating and Chris gave a guide to the tomb and likely occupants while we were actually in the Royal Tomb. It was a bonus and a real treat to meet up with Barry Kemp and his wife Miriam while we had our picnic lunch in the Rest House. Barry gave us all the latest news on his work during the drive back to the dig house.
The area shows a variety of burial styles and we debated the idea ‘lighthouse’ or ‘funerary monument’ before walking past many excavated and empty tombs to the temple believed by many to be the burial site of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. While at the site we experienced a shower of rain but fortunately took cover in the ancient public baths. Back in Cairo we took a day trip to visit one of the most impressive sites of the Delta, the vast site of Tanis. Here we studied the tombs of Osorkon and Psusennes, find site of the Tanis treasures now in Cairo Museum. As we wandered through the shattered blocks, statues and obelisks of the Temple of Amun Chris explained theories on the site, much of which is still completely untouched by excavation.
Leaving Minya behind we visited the lovely Museum at Mallawi. Looted and fired in 2013 the Museum has now been completely renovated and many of the missing items returned. The Museum has some stunning displays and the lighting, display cases and exhibit labels are first class. Later we arrived at the rarely visited Governor’s Tombs at Meir, set in the cliff high above the Nile Valley. Steps covered by drifting sand were negotiated before entering the Old and Middle Kingdom Tombs to view desert hunting scenes, some reliefs still showing colour and others with wonderful boat scenes uncompleted on their grids.
Continuing to Abydos we visited the regular tourist sites of Seti I and Ramesses II temples and Shunet el Zebib but the highlight of the day was to be another AWT special. We had a permit to enter the hidden tomb of Senusret III and before entry Chris gave us the latest news on research being carried out by Joseph Wegner and his team.
Entry to the tomb was tricky but many of the group made it to the two undecorated rock-cut chambers. Following Chris’s lead a few others scaled a masonry blocked corridor and followed the horizontal passage past the double shafts and on to the burial chamber. A truly exciting experience.
Our final two days were in Luxor staying at the Lovely Winter Palace. Both days we were headed to the West Bank to visit more tombs. The Valley of the Kings being first call and our first tomb was a special permit entry. KV55 although small and undecorated is famous for the dismantled gilded shrine panels, damaged royal coffin and canopic jars all viewed while we were in Cairo Museum.
Chris explained the layout of the tomb and the problems surrounding the interpretation of the finds and clearance by Theodore Davis in 1907. After free time to explore more tombs on our own we drove to the West Valley to enter the tomb of Ay. After a local lunch we went to the Workmen’s Village at Deir el Medina where we had plenty of time to enter all possible open tombs. The Ramesseum, Asasif, Deir el Bahri and Medinet Habu all featured.
Our last official visit on the tour was a visit to meet up with Dr Kent Weeks at the Theban Mapping Project Library. We were greeted with the good news that at last work is to begin on a purpose built library on the West Bank. On our next visit we may even be able to see the new site.
Kent explained his work on the library project and showed everyone round the small rooms full of books that are proving so useful to so many people from tourists and Egyptology students to Inspectors.
Educating children on the importance of the environment and care of the monuments is vital so local children can go to the library to hear talks, play and learn. Many passengers carried gifts of pens, pencils, crayons, craft materials and made donations to this very worthwhile cause. Everyone agreed it was a perfect way to end the wonderful tour.
A wonderful time was had by all. Once again a huge thank you to Medhat for his guiding skills and to Wael for all his help.
And of course, thank you to Chris for sharing his ideas and enthusiasm and giving such thought provoking talks along the way. And as always,
THANK YOU EGYPT.