B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


B.C. Archaeology ran a tour of Egypt in March 2010 with special interest in the Amarna Period of the 18th Dynasty the period when Egypt was ruled by Akhenaten. The group included: John Wagner, Judith Wickert, Margaret Debenham, Lynette Galloway, Anna Johnson, Margaret Gaydon, Joanna Quinn, Glenys Buselli, Ian and Ann Brown, and Sandra Bardsley and her sister Dianne Thompson. The tour was led by me, Michael Birrell, and we were accompanied by our Egyptian guide Mr Mohamed Aziz.

The Great Pyramid at Giza
The Pyramid at Lahun

Our flight on Singapore Airlines left Australia on the 11th March and we had a short stopover in Singapore. A brief stop was also made at Dubai but we did not leave the plane. We arrived in the new Cairo International Airport (Terminal 3) in the early morning and were met by our bus. We checked into Shepheards Hotel and had the chance to freshen up. A short drive then took us to Saqqara where we visited the ruins of Memphis and saw the colossus of Ramesses the Great in the local museum. We then saw the new Imhotep Museum at Saqqara with its fascinating collection of objects from the site. We walked around the remarkable Third Dynasty Step Pyramid of Djoser which has recently had an unsympathetic ‘restoration’ by the Antiquities authorities. We explored the well preserved Old Kingdom mastaba tombs of Mereruka and Kagemni.

The next morning was spent at Giza where we walked around the Great Pyramid and had a look in the guest house of King Farouk (which seems to be getting a restoration). We saw the magnificent cedar boat of Khufu and then walked over to the pyramid of Khafre and saw the impressive Valley Temple and the Sphinx. Lunch was spent at a café overlooking Giza - a magnificent view! In the afternoon we went to the Khan el-Khalili markets. This mediaeval market is a maze of shops and old mosques - some of us walked to the northern walls of Cairo to see the impressive Bab el-Nasser and Bab el-Futuh.

On the 14th March we spent a day in the remarkable Cairo Museum concentrating mainly on the 18th Dynasty remains including statues and reliefs of the Amarna period, and the treasures of Tutankhamun. The next day we left Cairo, heading south across the western desert to the Fayyum Oasis. Here we saw the extensive ruins of the Roman Period town of Karanis with its two stone temples dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek. Margaret Gaydon tried out the Roman bath for size! We had lunch in King Farouk’s old hunting lodge at the edge of the Birket Qarun (Fayyum Lake). In the afternoon we stopped to see the pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun before continuing south by bus to Minya, our base for a couple of days of sight-seeing.

The private tombs at Amarna
The Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

The following day took us south of Minya to see a number of sites on the east bank of the Nile. We went first to Beni Hasan - it was a beautiful clear morning and we had good views across the Nile Valley. We explored the beautiful painted tombs of the 11th and 12th Dynasties. Our picnic lunch at Beni Hasan was very pleasant, supplemented by Turkish style coffee. We next saw the desert temple of Queen Hatshepsut called the Speos Artemidos. On the way back to Minya we visited the ancient city and tombs of Hebenu, modern Kom el-Ahmar. A climb to the tomb of Nefer-sekheru offered a great view across the Nile Valley.

Our next two days were spent exploring the ancient city of Akhetaten, modern Amarna, to the south of Minya. We started our exploration of the site with a visit to the Royal Tomb of King Akhenaten in the desert valley to the east. We also saw the well preserved Boundary Stela U with its hymn to the sun-god Aten. The rest of the day was spent exploring the wonderful painted tombs carved into the cliffs on the northern part of the site - these have superb painted scenes of Akhenaten and his wife Neferiti and their family. Our second day at Amarna started with a big procession in Minya of fire trucks celebrating the civic workers. We then headed down to Amarna and crossed the Nile by car ferry. We spent some time in the ruins of the North and Riverside Palaces and the houses in the North City - the area has a large quantity of pottery spread around on the surface. We then saw the building of the Central City including the Temple to the Aten and the King’s Palace. After lunch we toured the South Tombs where we studied the Hymn to the Aten in the tomb of Ay.

On the 19th March we travelled to Malawi where we stopped to see the local Museum famed for its mummified ibises. We then visited the ancient site of Khmunu, modern Ashmunein. Here we saw the ruins of the temple of Thoth and the impressive Christian Cathedral of the 5th Century. We then went to nearby Tuna el-Gebel where we had a picnic lunch. The afternoon was spent viewing the painted Ptolemaic tombs, including the famous Greek tomb of Petosiris, and the atmospheric underground galleries housing the mummified remains of the sacred ibises and baboons of Thoth.

The next morning we left Minya heading south towards Luxor - our trip was by bus down the new desert road and this gave us the chance to stop and see the magnificent Temple of Sety I at Abydos. The temple is one of the best preserved of the New Kingdom with much of its colour still intact. We basically had the place to ourselves. We then headed down to Luxor and checked into our hotel on the west bank. The following day we had a walk in the modern town of Luxor. We visited the magnificent Luxor Temple, located in the heart of the city, exploring this remains of the Amarna Period including the impressive Opet Festival scenes of Tutankhamun and the religious scenes of Amenhotep III. In the afternoon we saw the Luxor Museum with its famous talatat relief scenes from Akhenaten’s demolished Aten temple at Karnak.

Our next day saw us explore some of the wonderful sites on the west bank at Luxor. We visited the colossi of Memnon, the famous statues of Amenhotep III and the original location of his mortuary temple - we then went to Malkata Palace - not really expecting to be allowed to tour the site, which is not ‘open’ to tourists, we were instead given a detailed tour of the site and its painted plaster walls (for a small fee to the local guardian). We then visited Deir el-Bahri, the famous mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty and saw some tombs in the Valley of the Kings including the tomb of Tutankhamun in the main Valley and the tomb of King Ay in the West Valley.

The Dahabiya at anchor
Sunrise at Edfu - beautiful!

Tuesday 23rd March was dedicated to exploring the extensive ruins of Karnak Temple with an emphasis on the Amarna Period remains and scenes. We went to Karnak by motor boat in the morning and then saw the impressive Hypostyle Hall, the Third Pylon with its interesting Amarna period co-regency scene, and the 18th Dynasty Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III. In the afternoon there was some time to shop and relax.

The highlight of the trip was the 5 night cruise on the luxury dahabiya (two-masted sailboat) called ‘Giraffe’. Built in 1840, the Giraffe is one of the few genuine dahabiyas left on the Nile - it has no engine on board and sailing down the river is such a pleasant experience in comparison to the noisy cruise boats. The 9 cabins had en suite bathrooms and there was plenty of space for our group to enjoy the experience. We leisurely sailed up river, sitting on the deck watching the world go by and enjoying the sights and sounds of life.

Our cruise started at Esna where we saw the well preserved Ptolemaic and Roman Temple of the ram-head god Khnum. Our crew then hoisted the sails and we set off in the wake of Victorian traveller Amelia Edwards. Meals on board were provided by our chef either on the upper deck or in the lounge/dining space. In the afternoon we stopped to anchor near the ruins of El Kab. Sunset was superb and we began our tradition of cocktails with a view of the river. The next morning we walked the short distance to the ancient site of el-Kab and saw the ruined city and painted tombs of the New Kingdom.

We then sailed to Edfu where we stopped to explore the wonderful Ptolemaic Temple of Horus. In the late afternoon we continued our sail and docked for the night on the outskirts of the town. The following morning I saw a magnificent sunrise over the palm groves - breakfast, as always, was on the upper deck with omelet’s and fresh coffee the order of the day. We continued our sail up the Nile having the opportunity to see the water buffalos and kingfishers at the shore - without the sound of the engine it is amazing how much birdlife can be heard. The boat sailed through the narrow part of the river where the sandstone cliffs come down to the river’s edge. We stopped for the night at Gebel Silsila - in the morning we explored the remarkable New Kingdom shrines at the site including the Speos of King Horemhab. Our sailing then began - we enjoyed the sights of the river before coming to anchor near the ruins of the Ptolemaic temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo. Situated overlooking the river, the temple is a spectacular sight in the golden light of the late afternoon. We saw the temple and then settled near the shore to the south - the crew cooked us a BBQ of camel steaks - in an interesting culinary experience!

The March 2010 group in front of our Dahabiya
The Mosque of Nasir Mohamed in the citadel

The cruise on our dahabiya two-masted sailboat then continued up the Nile. The following day there was free time to relax, read and watch the life on the river bank. We dropped anchor at the river edge and visited the colourful camel markets of Daraw, one of the most prosperous Nubian villages to the north of Aswan and a centre for the camel trade. An exotic and fascinating experience! Our cruise then continued to Aswan where we spent our last evening. The next morning Lyn made us our breakfast - she had got up early to help chef prepare, and then made our omelettes. We then visited the temple of Isis on the island of Philae, one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt. Philae was often the ultimate destination of Victorian era travellers who came down the Nile on a dahabiya. Our cruise was at an end - and a wonderful experience it was!

In the evening we flew to Cairo and checked into our hotel. The next day we visited the Old City of Cairo to see the awe inspiring mediaeval buildings of the Islamic Period. High-lights included the spectacular 19th Century Mosque of Mohamed Ali and the monumental 14th Century Mosque of Sultan Hassan. All in all, a wonderful tour with new sights and experiences for us all.

Michael Birrell

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