B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The Ramesses Tour of Egypt for November-December 2009 ran from the 19th November to the 10th December. It included the following participants: Mr John Armfield, Mrs Philippa Armfield, Mrs Christine Brumby, Ms Robyn Butler, Dr Elizabeth Chapman, Mr Francois Devos, Ms Barbara Hanley, Ms Jean Hart and Ms Kate Lewis, Mrs Agatha Holmes, Ms Frances Johnson, Mrs Marietta Russell, Mr Robert Snow, Ms Janet Stewart, Ms Sheena Such, Ms Alison Savage, Mr John West and Mrs Glennise West. The tour was led by Dr Michael Birrell, and we were accompanied by our Egyptian guide Mr Mohamed Aziz.

We arrived in Cairo early on the morning of the 20th November and checked into the Shepheards Hotel. After freshening up we went to Memphis to see the colossal sculpture including the statue of Ramesses II. We then headed to Saqqara where we toured the new Imhotep Museum and had some lunch in the local cafe. Our afternoon was spent seeing the ruins of the remarkable Third Dynasty Step Pyramid of Djoser, the Old Kingdom mastaba tombs of Mereruka and Kagemni, and the Pyramid of King Tety. The following morning was spent at Giza where we explored the antiquities around the Great Pyramid. We all enjoyed seeing the remarkable cedar boat of Khufu and then visited the pyramid of Khafre - some of the group entered the pyramid and then we explored Khafre’s impressive Valley Temple and saw the Sphinx. Lunch was spent at the Felfela Restaurant at Giza before heading off to the Khan el-Khalili markets.

The colossal statue of Ramesses II at Memphis
The grandeur of Deir el Bahri

The next day, the 22nd November, we headed north to the famous Delta site of Tanis to see the ruins of the ancient city. The journey is always eventful as we get to see the small country towns en route - we also managed to have a ‘brush with the law’ when we managed our bus managed to sideswipe a police car! A highlight of Tanis is the inscribed tombs of the Libyan Kings where the Tanis treasure was found - as a rare treat we were allowed into the tomb of Osorkon II which is not always open to the public. After a picnic lunch, we saw the Delta ruins of Bubastis, a highlight being the colossal statue of Merit-amun, daughter of Ramesses.

We next explored the remarkable Cairo Museum with a guided tour concentrating on the New Kingdom remains. We saw the statues and reliefs of the 18th Dynasty and Ramesside Period including the treasures of Tutankhamun. We also concentrated on the Tanis treasure in the afternoon and there was free time for exploring other parts of the museum’s collection. The following morning we flew from Cairo to Luxor where we checked into the Nile Valley Hotel, our base for a week in the area. We visited Luxor Temple on the first afternoon, concentrating on its superb remains of the Ramesside Period.

On the 25th November we stopped to see the impressive Colossi of Memnon, enormous statues of Amenhotep III, and then explored the famous mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty, including the newly reconstructed Third Terrace. We had lunch in the nearby ‘Ramesses Cafe’ before travelling by bus to the Valley of the Kings. Here we saw three of the royal tombs of the New Kingdom.

The Ramesseum, Luxor
Sailing on the Nile at Luxor at sunset - perfect!

Our visit to Deir el-Medina, the ancient village of the workmen, was on a beautiful clear sunny day. We explored the village and the painted tombs of Senedjem and Inherkau. We stopped to see the small Temple of Hathor which has newly been restored. We also explored a number of the painted tombs belonging to high officials of the New Kingdom including the tomb of Vizier Ramose. We had lunch in the gardens of the Amun Gezira Hotel and spent the afternoon looking at the beautiful ruins of the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses II, also known as the Ramesseum.

The following day was set aside for rest and relaxation. Many of us went over to the Winter Palace for a taste of colonial Egypt. The rest of the day was free for exploring the many attractions of Luxor including the local markets. I took a relaxing felucca ride on the Nile in the late afternoon - a perfect way to unwind!

The newly cleaned ceiling of the Temple of Dendera
The sacred lake at Karnak Temple

On the 28th November we crossed the Nile by motorboat at sunrise to meet our bus for the excursion north of Luxor. The old convoy system has been removed so we were free to travel as we liked and stay as long as we liked. We went first to see the impressive remains of the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor at Dendera and had a wander around the ruins. Recent restorations and cleaning of the pronaos has meant that the once obscure colours are now remarkably vibrant. We then headed north from Luxor by bus to see the mortuary temples of Sety I and Ramesses II at Abydos. These superb temples contain beautiful wall reliefs and the famous king list. We also had a chance to walk across the desert to the Osireon, mythological tomb of Osiris, and explored the small Temple of Ramesses II.

The next day was set aside to explore the ruins of the vast Temple of Karnak. We travelled by motor boat to the site, stopping to see the model of the temple and movie in the new visitor’s centre. We spent the morning looking at the forecourt and Hypostyle Hall, before wandering around the granite shrine. We also saw the festival hall of Tuthmosis III. That evening we went for our felucca ride on the Nile - we had two boats for the group but the wind died down on our voyage and we had to float back to the dock. Later on we attended the evening of dance and music at our hotel - Barbara and Francois really got into the swing of things and tried the local instruments. Our last day in Luxor was the 30th November - we started early for our walk across the Theban Hills. It was a beautiful clear day and we had a wonderful view of the landscape and the temple of Deir el Bahri. We then visited the temple of Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III. This is one of my favourite temples as it preserves the original 20th Dynasty colour scheme. The Valley of the Queens was hot but the tombs were of interest - we saw a tomb which has only recently been opened to the public. In the evening we celebrated Frances’s birthday

Elephantine Island at Aswan
The November group at Abu Simbel

We left our Luxor hotel early next morning and headed south to Aswan. The old tourist convoy no longer operates so we could leave as he liked and stay at Edfu Temple longer. The crowds at the temple were not as bad so we were able to tour the site at a more leisurely pace. From here we continued on to Kom Ombo, before arriving at Aswan and checking into the Marhaba Hotel. The following day, the 4th November saw us visiting the painted tombs of the Old Kingdom governors of Aswan. It was a superb clear day and we took a felucca across to the site where some of us climbed the stairs to the tombs. The view across the Nile was magnificent and a few made it to Qubbet el-Hawa, the Dome of the Winds, on the summit of the hill. In the afternoon we visited Kitchener’s Island, the botanical gardens of Aswan. The wind was very light and we had to be pulled by motorboat to our next destination. We had lunch on a small island in the Nile. There was free time in the afternoon - some of us went out to St Simeon Monastery for a view of the desert.

Next morning we visited the granite quarries of Aswan and then saw the Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960’s and 70’s. In the afternoon we headed by motorboat to the beautiful island of Philae, to see the magnificent Temple of Isis. We had a picnic on the island. On the 4th December we had our 3 hour bus trip across the Nubian Desert to Abu Simbel - we checked into our boat called ‘The Nubian Sea’ and then toured the enormous rockcut temples of Ramesses II. We had plenty of time to explore the remarkable site and most of us went to the impressive ‘Sound and Light Show’ in the evening.

Our cruise on Lake Nasser began early the next morning with a sunrise view of Abu Simbel - we headed north to Aswan stopping at a number of antiquity sites - we stopped to look at Kasr Ibrim and later explored the romantic desert Temples of Amada (18th Dynasty) with its delicate raised relief and painted decoration and Derr (Ramesses the Great), with its monumental scenes of the king interacting with the gods. The following day we visited the picturesque temple of Wadi es-Sebua, constructed by Ramesses the Great. The temple is situated in a dramatic desert landscape and some of us took a camel ride across a vast desert landscape to see the ruins of the Temple of Dakka (Ptolemaic Period) and the Roman shrine of Maharakka. The cruise was very comfortable and relaxed, with plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent Nubian scenery and very pleasant meals. In the evening we had a cake for my birthday (a day early but na very pleasant meal) and there was some Nubian dancing - Sheena really got into the swing of things.

The 7th December saw the end of our cruise and return to Aswan. From the boat we visited the beautiful painted rock-cut temple of Ramesses II at Beit el-Wali. We also explored the impressive Roman Period temple of Kalabsha dedicated to the Nubian god Mandulis and saw the picturesque Kiosk of Qirtassi. We had some fish and chips by the Nile and then visited the Nubian Museum with its fascinating collection of artefacts from the local area. A coffee and snacks overlooking the Nile brought our visit to Aswan to a close.

The Temple of Derr on Lake Nasser
Medieval Cairo

In the evening we flew back to Cairo. The following day we visited the Old City of Cairo and saw some of the mosques in the citadel including the monumental 19th Century Mosque of Mohamed Ali. We had lunch in the Al Azhar Gardens and there was time for shopping in the Khan. A very enjoyable tour and enthusiastic group.

Michael Birrell

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