Pyramid Explorer was a sell-out tour with lots of specials. They began with a visit to the new Fustat National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. So far only one gallery is open to the public but it is a vast site, and work is well underway for a planned opening in the next couple of years. One of the most interesting pieces on display was the coffin of Nedjemankh, this had been repatriated from the Metropolitan Museum of New York in September this year. There were some lovely exhibits of jewellery manufacture, alongside woodwork, textile and pottery crafts to view.
Coptic Cairo was exceptionally busy as it was a public holiday. We had time to visit the Coptic Museum, the famous Hanging Church and the Babylon Fortress.
In the evening, we had a visit to the Egyptian Museum which really was a treat. Because we were the first group to arrive it was deserted, and as Medhat said on entering the building, “The Museum is Yours”.
A trip to Mit Rahina before visiting Giza for an in depth excursion where Colin explained the geology of the site and we listened to Colin’s theories on the weathering of the Sphinx.
We headed across the desert to Abu Ghurob in our four wheel drive vehicles and explored the Sun Temple of Niuserre, dating from the 5th Dynasty.
We were accompanied by Dr Ali Bek Elsilihdar who is a specialist expert at the site and he pointed out all the main features. The huge altar with its four ‘hotep’ symbols is six metres in diameter and was carved from five blocks of white alabaster – truly amazing. Dr Ali led us to more interesting features including a block with the hieroglyph for sun temple and the many alabaster basins thought to be for purification rites.
Our day continued with the short ride to Abu Sir where Dr Ali led the group around the site including the Pyramid of Sahure with its lovely palm columns.
Our private evening opening of the Great Pyramid is always a wonderful experience. Entering the site when it is closed to the public and the traders are finished for the day is very special. Excitement is heightened as doors are unlocked and keys rattle.
We began by descending over 100 meters in the bedrock to the subterranean chamber where Colin gave us his thoughts on the chamber and the tunnel leading from it. Next to the Queen’s chamber, and finally along the Grand Gallery to the King’s Chamber.
A fabulous evening, especially as on emerging from the pyramid an almost full moon gently bathed the site, completing the whole magical experience.
A full day at Saqqara with the first treat seeing the Step Pyramid clear of scaffolding for the first time in many years. Time to enter the Bubastieon tombs of Maia, ‘wet nurse’ of Tutankhamen, and Nentymes, before continuing to the Pyramid of Unas. After time to enter the pyramid we walked part way down the Unas causeway where our inspectors were waiting at the entrance to the 2nd Dynasty Tomb of Ninetjer.
Once in the tomb, accessed via a metal ladder, our inspectors led us through a maze of tunnels and told us about their conservation work pointing out storage areas for pottery, wooden coffins and even mummies.
Later we entered the Serapeum, Old and New Kingdom Tombs, the Teti Pyramid and wandered round the Step Pyramid.
At Dahshur our first visit was The Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III as we had another special permit allowing entry.
Our local Inspectors led us through a network of interconnected passageways to the ‘King’s Chamber, containing a pink granite sarcophagus with carving resembling the serekh motif. The corridors and chambers are all cased in fine limestone, and at the end of one tunnel we found the alabaster canopic chest. Shining a torch inside the chest showed the beauty of the alabaster used.
Next, to the Bent Pyramid, now a regular tourist site that includes entry to the pyramid in the ticket price. This was followed by entry to a satellite pyramid, and finally the Red Pyramid. After entry to four pyramids in one morning it was good to get to The Sakkara Palm club for a relaxing lunch.
Our final day began with a trip to the Meidum Pyramid where we investigated some of Colin’s theories and some of the group adventured in to the burial chamber of Mastaba 17.
While on site Medhat became aware of a group of Egyptian engineering students who found the site difficult to understand; he ended up giving a talk on the history of the area. It was fun to hear Medhat teaching students in his own language.
Before we left Meidum we drove out to the north of the pyramid to look at the Mastabas of Nefermaat and Rahotep and his wife Nofret.
Although we could not enter the mastabas it was interesting to see the original location of the Meidum Geese scene and the home of the lovely limestone painted statues of Rahotep and Nofret, now on display in Cairo Museum.
Our final adventure included lunch in a fine restaurant in Khan el Khalili.
Once again Pyramid Explorer lived up to its name and many thanks to Colin Reader for taking us down and through so many exciting passageways!
Thank you Medhat Saad for guiding throughout and of course to all the Ministry of Antiquities Inspectors who accompanied us on our travels.
A big thank you also to Dr Ali Bek Elsilihdar for guiding us around the rarely visited sites of Abu Ghurob and Abu Sir.