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Monday, April 18, 2022

We Stop at the Alabaster Factory

 Any tourist visiting Egypt will ultimately end up at three places: a perfume shop, a papyrus store and an alabaster factory.  Some may visit four, including a carpet factory.  In each case, they will receive an interesting explanation of how the product has deep roots in Egypt, and shown how it is produced.  A convenient retail sales operation, of course, is located at the factory.





This year, we stopped to visit at Sekhmet 2 for Alabaster, very close by Hatshepsut's temple.  I don't know if there is a Sekhmet 1, but this place has at least one 5-star review on Trip Advisor.   Two years ago we stopped at Monaliza Alabaster.  I was shocked, shocked! to find a Reddit thread discussing these factories as scams.  

If you ever go to one of these factories, my advice is to thoroughly enjoy the demonstrations and the tea or soda that will be brought to you.  (I put a short video of our previous visit to Monaliza on YouTube.)  If you choose to buy anything, set a top price in your mind, start low, never go over what you intend to spend.  Have fun negotiating!  Don't be afraid to walk away, the salesman will eventually meet your price.

Sekhmet 2 for Alabaster has an excellent selection and display of various stone souvenirs.  



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Not surprisingly, there is another souvenir shop right across the street with more tourist buses parked in front.



We almost always buy something at these places, it helps keep the economy rolling and someone back home can always use a pyramid or statue of some Egyptian god such as Min.



The Temple of Hatshepsut

 After touring three tombs at The Valley of the Kings, we stopped to visit the nearby Temple of Hatshepsut, ruler of Egypt from 1507–1458 BC.

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Her mortuary temple, one of the most recognizable in the country, is contemporary even by present day standards.


From the ticket office, it is a short jitney ride up to the boundary of the temple.  Of course, we always pause there to examine the famous Myrrh tree that Pharaoh Hatshepsut brought back from the land of Punt (modern day Somalia).  One has to look closely to see the remains of the 3500 year old tree stump behind that grate.

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 The statues of Hatshepsut on the upper level are well-preserved and restored.

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 With three levels to examine, a visitor might be inclined to skip some parts, but the sanctuary of Amun is a special highlight, not to be missed.

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The restoration work on this temple has been the project of a Polish team of archeologists for over sixty years, beginning in 1961.  We saw part of the team at work out front on "one of the sphinxes that once stood along the temple’s processional avenue."  I recommend visiting their website, accessible in English, here.  They note that this year's  "spring season will last from January 20 till March 15."  They spend less time in Egypt than we do.

The team was laying bricks for a plinth that will support a sphinx opposite one that has already been put in place.  


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I was fascinated to watch for a while as these people were laying bricks using three tools that I have never seen any other brick-layers in Egypt employ: a ruler; a level and most importantly, a string!

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When bricks are put in place free-hand style, in our neighborhood of Cairo, the results are frequently somewhat jumbled as shown on the side of this building near our apartment.  I also note that the Poles are much more generous with the mortar than what I have observed in town.

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 Additional photos at this Flickr Album.


Friday, April 15, 2022

Valley of the Kings, Part 3 - Ramses III

Our final tomb visit was to KV11, Ramses III. He ruled from 1186 - 1155 BC, and is considered the last significant monarch of the New Kingdom.  He ruled during a time of war, defeating the "sea people"; he suffered through some tough economic times and may have succumbed to a knife wound to the neck.

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This tomb is undergoing some restoration at the bottom so it is closed off at the burial chamber.  The rather nice looking red granite sarcophagus that should be there is found in Paris at the Louvre.  There are some very attractive paintings on the walls in the tunnel leading to the bottom, so there are lots of people posing for pictures.  



 I managed find a small pause in the stream of folks to get a picture of Amy and Terry.



Of the three tombs that we toured, this may have the best photo opportunities.

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After a brief rest, we were ready to move on to our next stop.



More photos at this Flickr Album, of course. 

A bit of research led me to this photo of the bottom of the sarcophagus on Wikipedia. (Greudin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)  I then enhanced it a bit with Photoshop.

The blocked entry to the burial chamber at the bottom of the entrance tunnel, with its "No Photos" sign and a web link to a restoration project, was quite intriguing to me.

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The restoration team is from Humboldt University in Berlin and appears to have begun planning its project in 2011 and got underway in earnest in 2016.  The team maintains both a website and a blog at this link.   Both are accessible in English.  There we learn a bit more about the sarcophagus:

The famous sarcophagus that was removed from the tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings (KV 11) in the beginning of the 19th century is nowadays housed in two different European Museums: while the lid is displayed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Inv. No. E.1.1823), the coffer is to be seen in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (Inv. No. D1).

The project team web site explains the basis for the restoration of the burial chamber as follows:

Since thousands of years, the Valley of the Kings, which is a dried out Wadi (river bed), suffers from flash floods. The sarcophagus chamber (hall J) of KV 11 has been flooded after heavy rain falls between 1890 and 1910. Nowadays, the chamber is heavily destroyed and filled with debris. the project plans to clear Hall J in order to make it accessible for researchers, conservators and for the public in near future.

Well, "near future" means different things to different people.  The project appears to be moving at a conservative academic pace since serious work began in 2017.  Unfortunately, at this rate, I don't expect to tour the restored burial chamber during my lifetime.  Of course, it is yielding a number of academic papers as it progresses and I strongly recommend visiting the two links above.

Valley of the Kings, Part 2 - Merenptah

 Our second visit involved a brief climb up hill the tomb of Merenptah in KV8 (also sometimes spelled Merneptah).  He reigned for ten years, 1213 BC – 1203 BC.



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This pharaoh didn't ascend to the throne until late in life as he was the thirteenth son of Ramses II and had to outlive the first twelve brothers.  The Wikipedia article referenced above says that "Merneptah was already an elderly man in his late 60s, if not early 70s, when he assumed the throne."  (This is not considered elderly by some of us!)  That same article contains a delightful account of Merenptah waging a battle against the invading Libyans.

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In addition to the decorations along the tunnel leading into the tomb, there is a very nice sarcophagus at the end of the tunnel. 

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More photos at this Flickr Album, of course.

Valley of the Kings, Part 1 - Ramses IX

 The Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile is the principal destination of most visits to the Luxor area.  With 63 tombs, including the one of pharaoh Tutankhamen, there is much to see.  Not all of the tombs are open at any given time - usually about nine.  And your normal admission ticket will only get you in to three of them.  Tut's tomb is always an extra cost option and has a long line.

A couple of cautions are in order.  First, the time of year to make this visit is around January, give or take a month, when the temperature is tolerable.  Summertime is an awful time to visit Egypt and just about intolerable in this area.  Second, don't expect to take great photos inside the tombs.  They are crowded with people, all of whom want to take a photo or be in a photo and the lighting is awful resulting in enormous differences in light/dark across the painted images.  This is truly a place for you to take advantage of HDR photography and you may end up with better photos from the HDR setting on your cellphone than from a camera.  You can get good images of small areas where the lighting is more uniform.

The visitor's center for the valley has a wonderful 3-D map of the valley.  It is worth a stop to get an orientation to the layout of the tombs.

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Beyond the visitor center is a walk or electric trolley ride up to the tomb area.


In contrast to the kings associated with the pyramids near Cairo who ruled Egypt for a few hundred years beginning around 2500 BC, these kings ruled for a few hundred years beginning around 1600 BC.  We are going to explore tombs belonging to three kings from around 1200 to 1100 BC. 

Our first tomb on this visit was Ramses IX.  He ruled from1129–1111 BC.  The tombs have sequence numbers, KV1, KV2, etc.  There is excellent signage just outside each one showing you the layout of the tomb and highlights to be noted inside.  Here Roshdy explains a bit about the king and the tomb before we enter.

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Here are a few images from the interior of the tomb.

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If your only familiarity with novelist Norman Mailer has been from news accounts or reading The Naked and the Dead, you might want to try Ancient Evenings: A Novel which is set in Egypt during the reign of Ramses IX.

More photos at this Flickr Album, of course.

Returning to the Nile Cruise

 I only posted about half of our Nile cruise story here on the travel blog.  The last post was here, as we were nearing Luxor after visiting Edfu.  I am so slow at "post processing" photos and composing the stories that I was falling farther behind every day - and missing out on the chance to describe local stories in Cairo that we wanted to share.

So there are over twenty Cairo posts in between Edfu and Luxor.  I will resume the journey now.  Recall that we spent one night on the train from Cairo to Aswan, then four days and three nights on the cruise ship M.S. Farah going from Aswan to Luxor and then took a plane back to Cairo from Luxor.

One of the delights of the Nile cruise is simply watching life along the river between Aswan and Luxor.  The route takes visitors past farms, villages and towns for over a hundred miles.  In many ways it represents time travel as you pass close to scenes of agriculture and livestock little changed from past centuries.  One of my favorite photos is from 2009 when I spotted this ox-operated pump lifting water from The Nile for crop irrigation.


A Nile cruise vividly displays the narrow band of arable land along the banks of the river.  Sandy hills and cliffs form a backdrop that leads out into the vast stretches of desert on either side.


A highway and railroad tracks run parallel to the Nile the entire distance from Cairo.  Here a train, possibly the same one we traveled on the previous morning, streaks past us, no doubt bringing more tourists for the cruise boats.


Fishermen ply the river netting a variety of species.

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Livestock farming occupies much of the land in this area.


Banana groves dot the shoreline.


A few small businesses and municipalities have docks.


Modern pumping stations appear periodically.


And some fine homes are situated along the river bank.


If you are interested in seeing more river cruise photos see this post from 2009 or these three posts from 2010.