B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The 'Ramesses the Great' tour of Egypt took place from the 13th November to the 4th December 2008 and consisted of a fun and enthusiastic group. This included: Diana Black, James Black, Airlie Bodie, Anatole Day, Sue Etherington, Lynn Heilbronn, Bill Jamieson, Helen Lyne, Toni Messiter, Joan Phelps, Alex Radford, Shirley Rheuben, Lancette Rodgers, Philippa Shaw, Di Simpson, Manya Singh and Yvonne Stuckey. The program was guided by Dr Michael Birrell and the tour was accompanied by our Egyptian assistant Mohamed Aziz.

We arrived at Cairo International airport in the early morning and were met by our bus for the short ride into town. We met up with Philippa, Diana, James and Anatole, who were already in Cairo. Our hotel this time was the Shepheards which is located on the Nile and a short walk from the Museum. We drove to Saqqara where we saw the new Imhotep Museum and had some lunch before touring the remarkable Third Dynasty Step Pyramid of Djoser. We descended into the burial chamber of King Tety to see the famous Pyramid Texts then explored the well preserved Old Kingdom mastaba tombs of Mereruka and Kagemni. In the late afternoon we visited the ruins of Memphis to see the colossal statue of Ramesses the Great before heading back to Cairo.

Morning at Giza
Nile scene in Cairo

The following morning was spent at Giza - it was a perfect warm day and we had a clear view of the monuments. We saw the remarkable cedar boat of Khufu and then walked over to the pyramid of Khafre - later we explored Khafre's impressive Valley Temple and saw the Sphinx. Aziz arranged for us to have lunch at a new restaurant with magnificent views across Giza. In the afternoon we went to the Khan el-Khalili markets where a much needed Turkish coffee revived the spirits - Philippa also had a henna tattoo applied.

The following morning we headed north to the Delta site of Bubastis, home to the cult of the cat god Bastet. Here we saw the ruins and the statue of Merit-amun, daughter of Ramesses. Then we headed to Tanis to see the ruins of the city. We had a picnic lunch overlooking the site and then toured the numerous obelisks and statues of Ramesses II. We flew to Luxor the following morning and checked into the Mercure Hotel, our base for a week. We visited the ruins of Luxor Temple, before having lunch in a café with sweeping views of the city. In the evening we saw Luxor Museum with its famous collection of New Kingdom sculpture.

Our next day included a walk across the Theban Hills for a spectacular view over the Nile Valley. We climbed the stairs near Deir el Medina and walked to the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut - en route we stopped to see a panoramic view of the Valley of the Kings. It was a cool clear day and we took our time to enjoy the scenery. We had lunch in a local cafe before visiting the Valley of the Kings - we saw the more distant tombs in the Valley to avoid 'the tourists'. Next morning we went to Deir el-Medina, the ancient village of the workmen. We explored the village and two painted tombs. We also saw a number of the other painted tombs in the so-called 'Valley of the Nobles'. The afternoon was spent at the Ramesseum - one of the most beautiful sites in Egypt.

The Theban Hills walk
Camel ride at Wadi es-Sebua

The following day was set aside for rest and relaxation - many members of the group went for a balloon ride over the ruins at sunrise. The rest of us enjoyed a sleep in and time in the hotel pool. The next morning we headed north from Luxor by bus to see the temples of Sety I and Ramesses II at Abydos. These superb painted temples contain beautiful wall reliefs and the famous king list. We also saw the Osireon, a symbolic tomb of Osiris, and explored the small Temple of Ramesses II. On the way back to Luxor we stopped to see the impressive Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor at Dendera and wander around the ruins. The reliefs are finally being cleaned to reveal some splendid mythological scenes and a new theatrette gives the visitor some further background to the site.

The 22nd November was set aside to explore the ruins of the vast Temple of Karnak. We travelled by small motor boat so as to approach the temple from the water - we spent the morning looking at the forecourt and Hypostyle Hall, before wandering around the shrine. By good fortune we avoided the worst of the crowds and around lunchtime had the Hypostyle Hall to ourselves for a while. In the afternoon we saw the festival hall of Tuthmosis III, the Temple of Ptah and then had a late lunch down near the Nile. In the evening we had a felucca ride - the wind died down as the sun set and our crew ended up having to row us part of the way!

Our final day in Luxor was spent at Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III. This building is famous for its superb war reliefs and coloured scenes of religious processions. We also saw the Valley of the Queens. Our lunch was an Egyptian feast at the Amun Gezira Hotel. We then travelled by bus from Luxor to Aswan. En route we made two stops - the first was to see the temple of Horus at Edfu and then Kom Ombo, where the River Nile provides a dramatic back drop to the ruins. In Aswan, we headed directly to the docks on Lake Nasser to join our cruise boat - it was quite incredible to see all the commercial passengers waiting to go to the Sudan by ferry boat! We had the afternoon to rest and explore the boat - we travelled on the Omar Khayyam which is a very new boat. The cabins all had balconies and the food and service on board was excellent.

Our boat sailed on the morning of the 25th November - we stopped to see Kalabsha Temple and later in the day the temple of Wadi es-Sebua, constructed by Ramesses the Great. Many of us took the opportunity of a camel ride across a vast desert landscape to see the ruins of the Temple of Dakka (Ptolemaic Period). The following day we saw the Temples of Amada (18th Dynasty) and Derr (Ramesses the Great). Our arrival at Abu Simbel gave us a superb view of the temples from the water and then we had the rest of the day to explore these remarkable structures. We were lucky enough to have the main temple all to ourselves for about an hour which was very unusual!

We enjoyed the Sound and Light show in the evening (the best in Egypt!) and the following day we took a short flight from Abu Simbel to Aswan. We checked into our hotel, had a short reconnaissance and then some lunch down by the Nile. In the late afternoon we visited the Nubian Museum, and had afternoon tea at the Nubian House café with its superb views of the setting sun over the First Cataract.

Abu Simbel at night - stunning!
The Nov group at Philae

The next day we explored the evocative landscape of Aswan. We travelled all day by felucca sailing boat - the morning was spent visiting the painted tombs of the Old Kingdom governors of Aswan. We reached the cemetery by felucca and then climbed the stairs to the tombs. The view across the Nile was magnificent and the more energetic members of the group climbed up to the 'Dome of the Winds'. In the afternoon we visited Kitchener's Island (the beautiful botanical gardens of Aswan). We had a late lunch on an island in the Nile - shopping was on the minds of some, while Helen and I went by camel to see the ruins of the Monastery of St Simeon.

The following morning we visited the fascinating granite quarries of Aswan and saw the remarkable unfinished obelisk. From here we travelled to see the Aswan High Dam. In the late afternoon we visited the ruins of Philae, cult place of Isis. The afternoon was particularly beautiful as the temple had relatively few tourists and the site was bathed in golden raking light. In the evening we flew to Cairo and checked into our hotel.

The following day was spent in the Cairo Museum (Aziz led the group around the Museum) and our last day took us to the Old City of Cairo to see the awe inspiring buildings of the Islamic Period. We saw the monumental 19th Century Mosque of Mohamed Ali in the Citadel of Saladin and the medieval Mosque of Sultan Hassan. Last minute shopping in the Khan el-Khalili markets completed the program. A fun tour with a very enthusiastic group!

Michael Birrell

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