Microbus to Tuna Al-Gabel
Necropolis of Hermopolis
Police to Al Ash??? (Hermopolis)
Baboons and pillars
Oversized tuktuk home
This morning we wanted to go out to the Necropolis. It is only about 20km away, so shouldn’t take longer than 3 hours to get there.
It turned out to be fairly easy. We were able to pick up a micro bus from outside the hotel. It was even going in the right direction. To start. No, we had no problems at all getting there. The bus took us to the closest town, and then offered to take us to the site for a further L.E. 10 (3 pounds to go 17 km and 10 to go 3km!) Still, we thought it was worth it as we would not have to stuff around, and would probably end up paying the same price.
At the site, there is the ticket office (as with every site in Egypt. Even if it is a small hole dug by the side of the road, it will have a ticket office). Paying our tourist tax, we were assigned a police officer to take us around the site. It was a Friday, and the site was very busy. There were people everywhere, sliding down the sand dunes, under the trees, surrounding the sites and pretty much everywhere. While it costs us L.E. 35 each to visit the site, they again get to go for free, and muck about however they want, whilst we are reduced to having an armed escort with assault rifles to protect us from the scary Egyptian people.
Due to our escort, we were not hassled too much, and when we made it to the first tomb, the guard there shooed everyone out so we could have a private viewing. The tombs here are different as they are mausoleums. Decent sized stone and brick structures that housed the sarcophagus inside. The outside is not that well decorated any more, but the pillars are still intact. This was the tomb of Petosiris from 300BC. From the Ptolomaic period (Greek Egyptian).
Inside there are a few descriptions depicting the offerings for his death, and what he did while he was alive as a high priest of Thoth and land owner. It was fairly pretty, and unfortunately we were not able to take any photos. However we were told we could if we paid the guy baksheesh (the photos here are from our info book – not the best quality to start with). At the back was a small chapel shrine. There is a bit of colour left,and in this section offerings were left for the family.
After this we were escorted to the Funerary house of Isidora. Apparently she drowned in 120BC. This was a brick building coated in plaster. There were no decorations left, but the mummy is there enclosed in a recent glass coffin.
From here we were taken to the catacombs. This was the bit we were looking forward to. It used to house thousands of mummified Ibises and Baboons. The catacomb is said to stretch more than 3km and could go all the way to Hermopolis. When we got there, we were taken into a small side room first, where we were shown some small statues and remains of a few Ibises. Our guard left us in the hands of one of the caretakers, as we descended into the depths of the earth. It was not that far, and occasionally there had been small collapses to let in natural light to supplement the lights down here. It was a good thing we had brought our torch though, as most of the side enclosures were not lit. Our guide brought out a mummified Ibis for us to inspect. The first thing you see is something resembling a bit of old dark wood. On taking it, you can feel the weight behind it, and on close inspection you can start to make out the details. Wrappings soaked in resin to give its texture and appearance, and then the outline of the beak and head. So we got to hold a 5000 year old dead bird! YAY!
The tunnels have passages and rooms splitting off in all directions, and a lot of these are not properly excavated. Many of them are still filled with ceramic vases used to hold the birds. Other storage containers were there as well from stone vessels to wicker baskets. Other rooms have been very roughly gone through, creating a trail of broken pottery and a gap for a person to climb into and see if there are any treasures stored at the back. Yet more are empty.
We met a nice Canadian man here that was travelling Egypt the accepted way. Have a guide, car and driver to take you around. Yet we still had to lend them the torch, as they (guide & driver) had not thought one necessary! We were a bit envious of him, as he will never have to put up with the crap we have to! We also hope he was a bit envious of us doing it the hard way too… Still, it was good to see someone else here.
Winding our way deeper, we were shown where the final resting place of one of the maintaining priests was. A large black granite sarcophagus in a room barely big enough to fit it. There was a stone roof above it covering the hole from where the sarcophagus was lowered to its final resting place. This was basically it (it was good to see though), and as we were being led out, a whole group of school aged kids had been let in. Unaccompanied. They were yelling and screaming as they ran up and down the passages. We would not have been surprised to see them crawling through the side rooms, but we didn’t. On exiting the catacomb, we wanted to sit in the sun for a little bit, as the weather here is good. Not too hot, and a clear day.
There were even more people milling around outside than before. Someone came up to ask us if they could take our picture. We are now used to this and said O.K. Then we were mobbed by everyone. This was an, well, an interesting experience to say the least. Everyone needed their photo taken with us three times or more, and people were starting to get annoyed when others pushed them out of the way to get their photo taken. Not to mention we were getting a bit frustrated by the attention ourselves. The caretaker of the catacomb noticed this, and as our “guard” was no where to be seen, we were ushered back into the steps to wait for him to be called back. This took about half an hour. A few families came by, and some of them wanted their photos taken with us as well. One family was quite nice. They wanted us to go through with them, thinking we had not seen the site already. The guard eventually arrived (thank goodness, and we now know why they are there!) and escorted us back to the entrance. The nice family walked with us as well, as they had heard from the caretaker what had happened.
At the front gate there was some confusion. We wanted to walk back to town, but after the incident at the catacomb, we were not allowed to go by ourselves. We were worried that they would call a taxi to take us back at an outrageous price, but we ended up being ushered into a police vehicle (that we had to help push start in the sand!). The policeman was a nice guy, and stopped at a place we had seen from the distance. This was a boundary stone carved into the cliff by Akhenaten. It depicted him and his family, and lets every one know where the city boundary is. It had been covered by big sheets of plate glass, but this has now all been smashed. We had thought we would not be able to go up to look at it, as we were not allowed to look at the rest of the necropolis. In the area there were other interesting things. Columns and buildings that we had not been able to look at, so this was a good surprise.
Our police chauffeur then took us a far way back towards town. Much further than we had expected. He then stopped a passing vehicle and gave them some directions, loading us into the back. Thinking this would take us back to Mallawi, we ended up being dropped at Hermopolis itself. Mr. Policeman, whoever you are, Thankyou!
We were right outside two very large statues of Baboons. One was in fairly good condition, and the other was more smoothed concrete than stone. Thinking we were at an open air museum, we went towards the building to buy tickets only to be stopped by the police here. No ticket was needed, and we were trying to walk into a military base!
On appreciating the two lone baboons for as long as we could (there were plinths for other statues, but they are all long gone), a guard approached us, and said he would take us to the temple. This turned out to be in the field across from where we were.
There is not much left here. The remains of an outer gateway for a temple that still had some rough carvings, and the pillars of a Roman era church. This church was built by recycling the stone used in the Egyptian temples. There are only a few pillars remaining upright, and the scaffolding is still around many of them where the restoration work is still being carried out. We wandered around the site for a little bit. Someone speaking English came up and said that the guard needed to get back to work, and could we hurry it up a little bit. Fine, no problem, and we were walking back to the road.
Then our guard asked for Baksheesh. Giving him 5LE for the huge effort required by him to do his job was not enough. Apparently this was going to go to the caretaker of the site! What caretaker? The guy who asked us to move along? The person that spends all his time cleaning up the garbage, weeding, mowing and looking after the magnificent non-existent lawns? Or the person that just hangs around trying to extort money from the tourists dumb enough to go there by themselves? Saying that was all we had, we offered him a cigarette. This was not good enough, and he wanted the pack. Making it clear he was getting nothing else he took the proffered cigarette then asked for pens!
Back at the road, we thanked him and said we could make our own way back. This was not good enough, and he found us an oversized tuktuk (A car with a tray back and a bench running down either side). They originally wanted to charge us 20LE to get back to town. We basically said get stuffed. It cost 3 to get here, and we will pay 3 to get back. Then started walking. This got the desired result, even if it was an unsubtle way of doing so. We settled on 5 for the return trip. Jumped into the front (it is much better than riding in the back) and were driven back to Mallawi in a bit of comfort. Still, we made our objective for the day, and can feel our confidence returning. We may even try for Beni Hassan again tomorrow.