B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The January 2007 tour of Ramesside Egypt was a great success with an adventurous and enthusiastic group enjoying all the wonderful sites in Egypt. The tour included Claire Bousfield from Adelaide, Tracey Shand from Melbourne, Lyn Galloway from Queensland, as well as Greg and Bev Batten, Carol Rowe, Warwick Barnard, and Philip Davies from NSW. The tour leader was Dr Michael Birrell, and we were accompanied by Mohamed Aziz, who did a great job in helping make the tour a success.

Most of the group arrived in the early morning into Cairo and checked into the Cosmopolitan Hotel in downtown Cairo - the hotel has an evocative feel of a bygone era, with its grand chandelier and old style lift. Lyn managed to get stuck in Singapore, however, and then lost her luggage for the first week so we had to buy her some clothes in the local shopping district which caused much fun for the local shop assistants.

On the first day we went to the Cairo Museum for an informal visit. An afternoon beer on the roof terrace of the Hilton Hotel, watching the sun setting behind the distant pyramids, was a relaxing way to end the day. We started the tour proper at the ruins of Saqqara where we saw the Step Pyramid of Zoser. We then visited the Old Kingdom mastaba tombs of Mereruka and Kagemni. Lunch was at Memphis where we saw the colossus of Ramesses, and some of the ruins of the temple of Ptah.

For our trip north to Tanis on the following day we had a brooding overcast day which suited the atmosphere of this dramatic site with its numerous broken obelisks and statues of Ramesses II. A highlight was the inscribed tombs of the Libyans Kings and the statue of Princess Meritamun, daughter of Ramesses, at Bubastis.

Lunch at Giza
That seems to be taking a lot of concentration!

The next day we went to Giza where we admired the Great Pyramid of Khufu and explored the surrounds. A visit to the nearby Boat Museum, housing the superb cedar boat of Khufu, was a highlight - everyone looked very fetching in their cloth shoe covers designed to keep the place clean! We had lunch near the sphinx, with a stunning view of the pyramids. We subsequently headed to the Khan el-Khalili markets in Old Cairo where everyone tried smoking a water pipe in the famous Fishawy Café (tobacco only of course!).

We flew to Luxor next morning, checked into the Nile Valley Hotel and had some breakfast. We were treated with a remarkable sight directly in front of us - a flotilla of boats brought US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak across the Nile to the haunting theme of the Godfather!!! Visions of Cleopatra and Mark Antony came easily to our minds. The river crossing was off limits for some time and our planned crossing was delayed until the esteemed guests had passed by. We therefore made an afternoon visit to the beautiful temple of Luxor. In the evening we enjoyed a buffet meal and watched some sufi-style dancing on the roof of our hotel. Warwick displayed hidden talents in accompanying the local musicians.

Playing second fiddle?
A sunset like no other

Our planned visit to the Valley of the Kings the following morning was disrupted by another visit by Cleo and Antony - instead, we got in one of the local boats for hire and headed to Karnak Temple, unexpectedly pursued by the police who apparently considered us a security risk!! Never-the-less, we made it to Karnak, and enjoyed our exploration of this wonderful complex of buildings. It was a good afternoon for a sail, and we went for a felucca ride in the afternoon with the cloud formations giving us a splendid atmospheric effect.

The following morning we stopped at the Colossi of Memnon and then visited the ancient town site of Deir el-Medina, home to the workers who decorated the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. We saw two beautiful painted tombs and then did the walk across the Theban Hills to Deir el-Bahri. The view was superb, with a fresh clear morning, and Bev did very well in conquering her fear of heights. In the afternoon we saw the Ramesseum, the beautiful temple of Ramesses the Great.

The walk across the Theban Hills
The Ramesseum in all its splendour

In Luxor we also saw the excellent antiquities Museum, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings and made a day trip to Abydos and Dendera to see the temples. We also had some free time for personal exploration of Luxor. A highlight for many was the chance to visit the family home of Musa, one of the staff of the Nile Valley Hotel. This humbling experience revealed the simplicity of life in rural Egypt and made us all feel how fortunate we are.

Our travels then took us south by bus to Aswan stopping at the superb ruins of Edfu and Kom Ombo. We checked into the Marhaba Hotel with excellent views across the Nile to the Nobles Tombs on the west bank. We visited the Temple of Philae, the granite quarries and the Aswan High Dam. We also climbed to the top of the Dome of the Winds, visited the Botanical Island and explored the Nubian Museum. A visit to the Nubia House restaurant gave us superb views over the river. Our cruise on Lake Nasser was undoubtedly a highlight of the program. The 'Kasr Ibrim' is a very comfortable boat with excellent service and food. The weather was perfect for our visit, and it was very relaxing to sit on the deck at the end of the day and watch the world go by as the sun set over the desert landscape. We saw the superb rock temples of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel and went to the sound and light show. The boat headed north to Aswan, stopping at temple sites along the way. Warwick (otherwise known as Wazza) bought a waz-sceptre, Egyptian symbol of power, during one of our stops.

Our tour ended in Cairo with a chance to explore the medieval mosques of the Old City, and we made a visit to the Cairo Museum. There was time for last minute shopping in the Khan el-Khalili markets before heading back home to Australia.

Michael Birrell

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