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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

We Visit a New Tomb at Sakarra - Mehu, Vizier to the King

Of course, it's not really new - just newly opened to the public. And it is not even newly discovered - that happened in 1940.

While the French Egyptologist, Pierre Montet, was exploring the 3000 year-old "newest" tombs of ancient Egypt at Tanis which we visited here, Egyptian Egyptologist, Zaki Saad, was exploring the 5000 year-old oldest tombs at Sakarra.  In 1940, Saad discovered the tomb of the king's vizier, Mehu.  Two years earlier, Saad had discovered the nearby tomb of another king's vizier, Hewaka, to much world interest.

Zaki Saad had a big advantage over the foreign archeologists for the next several war years.  As French, German, Italian, British and U.S. archeologists were either unwelcome or out of money, King Farouk was able to nurture his personal archeological interests with funding as he saw fit so he funded Saad.

Saad moved across the Nile from Sakarra to Helwan in 1942 and set up shop in a huge newly discovered ancient graveyard where he spent the next twelve years excavating the remains of 10,000 graves mostly from the common Egyptians of the first few dynasties - around 3000 B.C.  King Farouk kindly provided a headquarters building for this dig which included a home for Saad and his family.  There is reportedly a collection of some 6000 objects from this work tucked away in 158 crates in the basement of the Egyptian National Museum.  Hopefully, these will emerge one day at the new Grand Egyptian Museum when it finally opens.

Mehu's tomb with some of the best artwork in the same area remained closed to the public until last September.  Why keep it closed?  There are many mysteries in Egypt.  Cairo 360 magazine says this:
There is no clear reason announced behind this, but perhaps some tombs are kept for times when they are really needed. However, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has stated that restoration work was needed before the opening of this tomb. It is expected that this tomb will do very well for tourism, especially with Waziri talking about how it’s “one of the most beautiful [tombs] in the Saqqara Necropolis because it still keeps its vivid colours and distinguished scenes.”
We headed south to Sakarra to take a look.  Tickets for the "new tombs" cost an extra 60 EGP ($3.45)

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The tourism business is good at Sakarra.  The parking lot is filling up once again.  A few years ago we were one of perhaps a half-dozen vehicles here.

I have been coming to Sakarra since 2003.  Scaffolding has been up on some portion of the Step Pyramid of Djoser during all that time.  People joke that the scaffolding itself has become an antique.


We walked along the southern edge of the main site to the location of Mehu's tomb.
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Of course, being "open to the public" does not mean the same thing here as back in the U.S.  You have to know the tomb exists, then go find someone to call the man with the key who will then unlock the door for you.  Yes, you need a competent guide like Roshdy to do a tour of Egypt.  Don't try to "wing it."

But Mehu did lay out a nice spot for himself and his son.  The pictures speak for themselves.  All the colors are original.  The ceiling is granite.


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And what about that old Egyptian Archeologist, Zaki Saad?  Where is he buried?  Glad you asked.

After he retired in 1960, he went to work for the U.S. embassy doing tours for visitors (presumably VIPs from places like the Minnesota International Center.)  He and his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1966 and  ended up in North Carolina.  Zaki and his wife, Marcelle, are buried in Pinecrest Memorial Gardens in Clayton, NC.

Zaki managed to hook-up with a dentist from Corsicana, Texas, who was a frequent Egyptian visitor and together they published a book for the U.S. popular marketplace.  You can find a couple of Saad's books on the used market at Amazon.
Zaki and Helwan are going to be on my list for next year's "things to do in Egypt."

Zaki's son, later joined by his sisters, operated a radio/TV repair business that grew into a small television appliance and mattress chain based in Garner, NC.  And now you know "the rest of the story."

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Refreshments and Dinner at Kahn El-Khalili

We have several favorite eating spots in the Khan. In recent years we had favored Mahony's and had planned to have lunch there on our first trip this year.  Unfortunately, they have dropped the food service and now only serve drinks.  Maybe they will be back again next year?

We stopped in at the popular Naguib Mahfouz restaurant instead.  This is more like a five-star hotel restaurant than a "Khan" style eatery, but the food and service are excellent. The mixed grill served here is an elegant if pricey sampler.
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For authentic Egyptian cuisine, you just can't beat Farhat.  That is the name on the menu and as a result, turns up in a few places on the Internet.  But if you want to "Google it" - try "Farahat"!  Their specialty is pigeon - so naturally, I started out my meal there with a glass of pigeon soup - not too bad, a bit like chicken noodle without the noodles.
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The mixed grill at Farhat is much less expensive than at Naguib Mahfouz - as it should be, the overhead is much lower.  There are no costumes on the waiters, no front doors (half the tables are out in the alley) and the washroom consists of an outdoor sink  at the end of the alley.  The restaurant is easy to find in that alleyway off Al-Azhar Street!   You will see mostly locals enjoying dinner here.
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Our favorite spot for a cup of tea and a lemonade is El-Hawagy. The owner takes care to welcome us each year. All guests receive good service and it is a great place to sit, to visit and watch people and street vendors.
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When we arrived with a couple of pretzels from one of the street vendors, the owner graciously brought some complimentary tahina sauce for us along with the usual mint for our tea.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Jewelry, Antiques and Crafts

We returned to Khan El-Khalili a couple of days ago.  We needed to have our shoes shined, to buy a few more things - and besides, it is fun to visit some of the merchants there.  We had interesting conversations with two shop owners.

I realized that I really needed an Um Kulthoum serving tray and had passed up the opportunity to buy it earlier.  We clarified that it is not just Egyptians buying the "Um" merchandise - visitors from the wealthy Gulf nations and north African countries love her too.

On the western edge of the Khan there are plenty of opportunities to buy gold.  It was good to see large crowds in this area as the shops were quite deserted over the past few years.  But maybe gold demand is up because of various market fears?


Linda's jewelry tastes run more toward the semi-precious stones - and they can be found here too.  We stopped in a shop making a wide variety of pretty necklaces and other adornments.
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I left her to find just the right combinations and headed down the narrow passageway to find other things of interest.  This craftsman was creating beautiful camels from boards.  He was quite an artist with the saw, file and rasp.


There are a few antique shops to be found in the Khan too.  This one caught my attention with its display of old cameras so we walked in to browse.  The shop must be about 6 feet wide and 50 feet long with a single meandering aisle.  The locomotives and railroad track stood out to me.
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Later, I noticed the collection of old photos displayed out front which caught the attention of a small group of Japanese tourists.


In a separate area, I saw this group of antiques displayed rather haphazardly near a shop I always check.  After wandering the alleyways of the Khan it was time to find some refreshments.


Friday, March 8, 2019

A Visit to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

We look forward to at least one or two trips to Khan el-Khalili Bazaar each winter in Cairo.  Yes, the Khan is a "tourist trap" - but I buy my watches there; get a great shoeshine from Ali, the best bootblack in Cairo and the photographic opportunities are exceptional.  It's just plain fun for us.

It was a clear day as we Ubered to the east side of town and we had a clear view of the Citadel and Mohamed Ali mosque before turning back in toward el-Azhar mosque and the Khan.

We found Ali - or perhaps he found us at the usual spot on the square.  We get a good cleaning and polishing every year - usually twice.  Ali's son is now working the crowd too when he should be in school - but life here is not what the fortunate few enjoy in the wealthy part of our planet.
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Ali bought us tea from this tea vendor, we gave him a heavy tip, and moved into the merchandise area.
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If you were looking for tchotchke to take home from Egypt, this is the place to find it.  The sales pitches are finely tuned - in whatever your language.  "Sir, how can I take your money?" is direct - others are more subtle.
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Much of the merchandise is actually made in Egypt, not China.  "Not plastic!  See - won't burn!" says the salesman as he applies a lighter to the leather, silver or stone pieces.
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Linda was browsing for art to complement some existing pieces at home and in the Cairo condo.  She found a large selection.
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Linda left this shop with Ahmed, the sales manager, to go find an artist at work who might help with what she was seeking.  I kept an eye on the shop while they meandered into the depths of the Khan.

I could sit for hours taking pictures in the Khan.  The colors - the patterns - the symmetries, the people, all lead to photographic nirvana.
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With business from foreign tourists still off from its pre-revolution peak, the merchants of the Khan are making more direct appeals to the local population. This appears to be at least part of the rationale behind the upsurge in Um Kulthum themed items.  Um Kulthum was a popular actress and singer from the 1920s through the 1970s.  She had energy and stamina:
A typical Umm Kulthum concert consisted of the performance of two or three songs over a period of three to four hours.
I suppose her audience had to have a high level of stamina too!  With that style and Egypt's heat, she is characteristically portrayed with a sweat rag in hand.  We visited her museum in 2014 and mentioned it briefly here.


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