Tuesday 28 February 2023

I'm Off My Beaten Track in Tell el-Amarna...

 ... I'm resuming the jottings from my Egyptian Journal today.  Come and join me as I experience yet another novel form of local transport and visit more tombs and ancient palaces...


Early start today.  We upped anchor before breakfast.  There had been a lot of noise from the other boats moored near us, and I had not slept well.  The Panda-eyes were getting darker and bigger.  We docked at a village just below the tombs of Tell el-Amarna.
Our transport is a sand tractor.  This comprises a tractor - working state not necessarily guaranteed - onto which is attached a covered trailer resembling an open-sided cattle truck.  There were long benches down each side with the minimum amount of padding and a third long bench down the middle.  As with all other forms of Egyptian transport, once full inside, it is perfectly acceptable to hang on at the back or stand on the tow bar, and for a privileged minority, take a seat up front next to the driver.
It is still quite early.  The haze hovering over the escarpment in the distance gives the landscape an ethereal and mysterious look.  I'm very much afraid that today might be dull, which is a disaster for the camera, but a welcome relief from the fierceness of the sun for my skin.
Our little convoy progressed through the village, passing tiny tumble-down houses along known but apparently unmarked sand tracks, carefully negotiating children and animals.  At the edge of the village was a vast expanse of desert, and we head straight out into it.  The village stopped rather than gradually fizzling out.  The greenery stopped with equal abruptness.
Tell el-Amarna was the site to which the 18th dynasty Pharaoh, Akhenaten, moved when he decided to reject the numerous gods of Thebes and to worship only the sun god, Aten.  As well as changing his people's religion, he also changed his own name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten.  He began constructing a city and a palace for himself and took up residence with his family in the eighth year of his reign.  Eventually, his wife, Nefertiti, returned to her northern palace.  Akhenaten appointed his half-brother Smenkhkare as his co-regent.  Unfortunately, Akhenaten died shortly afterwards.  On his death, his city was raised to the ground, his religion obliterated from existing records, and the high priests were restored to Thebes.
Our first destination was the excavation of the ancient mud-brick palace.  To protect the site - which still had to be fully dug out - a wire fence had been erected all the way around.  This was to keep out the villagers rather than the tourists.
The palace had its own household water system and an indoor pool.  The various rooms could be distinguished and along one side were the areas where the animals would have been kept.
Back to the cattle truck and we continued into the desert to the foot of the escarpment.  It was quite a climb up to the tombs and some of the elderly fellow travellers were showing signs of fatigue.  Again these tombs are hewn out of the solid rock and once belonged to the wealthy citizens of Akhenaten's city.  These tombs are not as spectacular as those at Beni Hasan.  However, the best one is that of a high priest called Meri Re.  In the reliefs, the Pharaoh is presented as a generous man.  He is depicted giving gifts to the dead man and honouring him.  There is greater realism in the artwork with the Pharaoh being presented in human form and as the same size as his people rather than towering above them.  There is a considerable amount of damage and pieces of the reliefs have been taken from the walls.  These tombs too, have been defaced by the early Christians.  They used them to practice their religion in secret and to hide from the oppression of the majority faith.
By the time we had left the final tomb the sun was scorching the sand, the wind was hot and burning and the view across the valley was stunning.  We climbed down the rock face and waited at the bottom for our transport.  I overheard two women talking and discovered they were French.  We exchanged pleasantries and details of our respective travel plans.  We both commented on the prevalence of the poverty all around us in Egypt.
Another adventurous trip across the desert and we were back at the docks.  
Back on board ship and I can relax in the shade as we spend the rest of the day sailing.  The scenery changes south of Tell el-Amarna.  The green fertile belt on the eastern bank lessens until it disappears beneath a high sandstone cliff.  Weathering shows the numerous bedding planes and the symmetry is broken from time to time by a limestone intrusion or a fault.  Eventually, the river turns west slightly and another narrow fertile plain begins to develop.  Upstream there are clusters of mud brick houses at the water's edge.  They have circles of animal dung on them drying in the sun.  The 'cowpats' are the household fuel for cooking and for heating in the winter evenings.  Our armed guard is still with us...

There will be more from my Egyptian journal in April.  If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy my earlier posts about Cairo Giza Solar Sailing and Egypt generally - just click the links