Sunday 20th October 2019

After a lazy morning we were taken to the airport for our flight back to London Heathrow. We stayed in a hotel near the airport having travelled over 10,000 km by air for the once in a lifetime opportunity to sail 600 miles on the navigable section of the River Nile. This was so memorable, as for more than a decade this has been impossible and as we progressed northwards from Aswan word was out that we were passing and it seemed like whole villages were out to greet us.

 

Saturday 19th October 2019

This morning we arrived at the Giza Plateau just as it opened at 8:00 a.m. to visit the impressive Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

The Great Pyramid is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nine kilometres from the river, the pyramids sit on top of the desert-covered West Bank escarpment. The Great Pyramid of Khufu is 137 m high and was completed around 2570 BC. The sheer bulk, extraordinary shape and impeccable geometry such as the alignment of the four corners to the cardinal points of the compass.
It was built as a tomb but there is no evidence inside that it was ever used. It is totally devoid of reliefs or paintings. It was possibly built as an astronomical tool. The astronomical studies of Robert Bauval, published in “The Orion Mystery” showed that four narrow “airshafts” should be more accurately called “starshafts”, since they would have aligned about 2500 BC with four prominent stars to which the Ancient Egyptians accorded immense ritual importance.

The second pyramid, Khafre’s, is 136m high and stands on slightly higher ground. It still has its peak encased in its polished limestone casing. The pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three with only 1/10th of the bulk of the Great Pyramid.

Adjacent to the Great Pyramid is the hall containing a solar boat of Khufre that was designed to enable him to journey to the next world. It was unearthed in 1954 and is made from cedar from Lebanon. Below the pyramids is the Sphinx, a sculpture of a man with the body of a lion. It was carved from the bedrock at the bottom of the causeway leading from the Great Pyramid and is assumed was constructed during Khafre’s reign, or was it?

Studying it today it can be seen that the head is carved from a slightly different and more resistant limestone than that of the body which comes from the limestone that surrounds it. There is evidence of wind and sand erosion but also by rain water run-off and V-shaped channels in the back wall of the enclosure and in the desert above it. The removed limestone was used as the walls of the Valley Temple nearby but which is only encased in granite and not built exclusively from it. This theory is not accepted by many Egyptologists. This theory results from the work of geologist Dr Robert Schoch who suggests that the body and temple maybe thousands of years older than the accepted assumptions.

During the afternoon we visited the Egyptian Museum in Tahir Square.

It is a mass of cabinets containing ancient jewellery, statues and other artefacts with walls lined with large statues, reliefs and papyrus spread over 107 halls. It is currently in a state of flux as the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza is nearly ready for opening so many of the artefacts have been transferred there and we saw some that were boxed and ready to go their new home and some to the new Amarna Museum. We concentrated upon Akhenaten as we had visited his new capital at Amarna.

We could not however, leave the museum without seeing the Tutankhamun Gallery and in particular his 11kg solid gold death mask which we first saw in 1972 at the British Museum. Photography is unfortunately not allowed anymore but we do have photographs from the past.

Friday 18th October 2019

Another early start and in the early morning mist we left Beni Suef to drive to the Pyramid of Meidum (Maydum, Maidum) on the edge of the Fayoum Depression to the north of the ship. The pyramid is the ruin of the first true pyramid attempted by the Egyptians. The Step Pyramid at Saqqara was the world’s first but not of a typical pyramid shape. At Meidum attempts were made to make a limestone covered smooth pyramid. The remains show the internal structure of eight steps and the remains of a limestone exterior and a sand and rock infill. It is clear to see that the facing and internal filling has collapsed. This happened a few centuries after its construction, towards the end of BC time. It is thought that there were not only design flaws but the weight of the unconsolidated sand and broken limestone just gave way.
Today all that is left is the core and the mass of slumped material at the base. Pharaoh Huni (2637-2613 BC) ordered it to be built and afterwards his architects constructed the next pyramid at Dashur. This again had design flaws and the internal structure had to be changed to prevent the weight of the structure leading to collapse. This left the structure ‘bent’. It seems that these two pyramids are practice pyramids in area of little significance. Finally at the nearby Red Pyramid Huni had success and completed the first true pyramid. This led to the construction of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau.

We will be visiting the Plateau tomorrow as currently we are docked in Cairo having successfully navigated 600 miles of the River Nile.

 

Thursday 17th October 2019

After another early start (just after sunrise) we visited the large Egyptian cemetery site at Beni Hassan upriver from Minya on the East Bank. This is a superb location as the fertile plain abruptly ends at the steep desert slope leading to towering escarpment. It is just below the summit where there are 39 tombs belonging to monarchs and local governors of the 11th and 12th Dynasties (2125 -1795 BC). Many are unfinished but the four open to visitors contain amazingly colourful paintings which illustrate daily life – fishing, hunting, glass blowing and gold smelting. The necropolis reflects the political differences between provincial rulers and the Pharaoh kings. Their layout and complex decorations mark a transition stage between the Old and New Kingdoms. Just after 11:00 a.m. we continued sailing to Beni Suef.

 

Wednesday 16th October 2019

With an early start, Hermopolis was our first site on the exploration of more of Middle Egypt’s antiquities. This was the site of a capital of the 15th Period (around 1600 BC) and according to legend translates as “8 town” with references to four pairs of snakes and frog gods in a creation myth. This area was also an important cult centre of Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing whom the Greeks identified with their good Hermes, hence the Greek name, Hermopolis.

Tuna Al Gebel was the necropolis of the site. Its dark underground tomb once held many thousands of mummified ibis and baboons both seen as a living image of Thoth. Tuna Al Gebel belonged to Akhenaten and his giant city of Akhetaten. Here the tomb of Petosirishas amazing coloured reliefs illustrating farming and daily life at the time. In the fifth year of his reign Akhenaten (1352-1336 BC) and his queen Nefertiti abandoned the gods and priests of Karnak and established a new religion based on the worship of one god, Aten, god of the sun disc. His capital, now known as Tel Al Amarna, is built upon the flood plain of a meander of the river with the high cliffs of the East Bank as a backdrop. It fell into ruins within 30 years but careful exploration reveals what the great city was like.

Within the tombs dug into the high escarpment and reached by footpaths and more than 200 steps there is a variety of unfinished construction and wall reliefs. One is complete and the relief shows Nefertiti driving her chariot protected by soldiers and supported by footmen.

Mid-afternoon saw us cast off and continue to Minya. This is the provincial capital of the region and was once the centre of cotton production and trade. The town now produces sugar, soap, perfume and electronics. We will spend the night here.

Tuesday 15th October 2019

Around 3:00 a.m. we set sail from Sohag. We took breakfast as we continued northwards to Asyut. During the morning we had an opportunity to visit the Galley and Engine Room. The Galley was small, in fact many kitchens in British houses were built of this size, so it was clearly a juggling act to prepare such delicious food for all of us.

Our ship was originally one of six of its type. Four were minesweepers and spent time in the Caribbean and the remaining two were tugs named the ET7 (now the Misr) and ET 8. Our ship arrived in Alexandria, Egypt in September 1918 to serve in the Egyptian Royal Navy. Little more is known except that prior to the WWII the ship was purchased by King Farouk and eventually was abandoned in Cairo. In 2002 it present owner, Travel Line purchased the ship with the intention of maintaining its early 20th century heritage. We visited the engine room and saw the boiler that generates 4.2 tons of steam per hour at a pressure of 10 bars and a temperature of 120C. There are two steam engines, each with two pistons and they were working away at ‘half steam ahead’ proudly supervised by their engineers.

Asyut is a town at the centre of the area’s farming communities. It was settled in Pharonic times because of the fertile plain and its location at the end of one of the great caravan routes from Sudan. We sailed through the town which until recently has been off-limits to foreigners.

We dropped 12 feet at the Asyut Barrage and it was interesting to see that the British built one (1898-1902) abruptly ends as a new channel has been built to its east to enable two locks to operate simultaneously. The town is a natural pinch point as both banks swing towards the river. Apparently the town’s name means ‘guardian’, presumably from its position at a safe crossing point.

 

A little further north the eastern escarpment almost reaches the water with towering cliffs above the ship. We passed an amazing site of, what we think is, the St Theodor Coptic Orthodox Church across the river from Manflout. We are engaged in further research about this.

We continued northwards to dock at Tel Al Amarna overnight in readiness for tomorrow’s explorations.

Monday 14th October

We left Nag Hammadi during the early hours and by 05:30 a.m. had arrived at the Abu Homar Barrages. The British built one had an open lock to allow the Nile to flow unhindered up to the new barrage. The road across the barrage crossed the lock by swing bridge. This was opened by the ship’s crew using a capstan, the arms of which were stored in a nearby room opened by the bridge master, who arrived by motorbike. As with the other British built barrages there are signs that this place has seen busier and better days.

Sailing through, we waited at the new barrage for its 8:00 a.m. opening. After dropping about 4 metres we continued northwards to Al Balyana.

Arrival time was 10:00 a.m. and shortly after we transferred to the historical site at Abydos. Our coach squeezed through the narrow shop-lined streets thronged with people all waving ‘Hello’. This visit of ours is so rare that there was a unified show of welcome.

The major attraction at Abydos is the Temple of Seti I (1294 – 1279 BC). It is a limestone structure with lots of colourful reliefs and an unusual ‘L’ shape. The temple is entered through a destroyed pylon and two open courtyards in front of the main entrance with 7 doorways. Now only the central doorway is in use.

Inside is the first hypostyle hall completed by Seti’s son, Ramses II. The second hypostyle hall was the last part of the structure to be decorated by Seti, because these temples were started at the end and finished at the beginning. The colours of the reliefs are brilliant. In a side corridor is the Gallery of the Kings. It is a list of all of the Pharaohs with five omissions including Tutankhamun and Hatshepsut.

The afternoon was used to make progress to Sohag where we stayed the night.

Sunday 13th October 2019

We left Luxor at 7:30 a.m. this morning and slipped past the Luxor and Karnak temples as the East and West Banks were waking up. We sailed northwards to Qena. This is an important location in the events that lead to the formation of the modern Nile river system. Around 6 million years ago the climate of the Mediterranean region changed, rainfall ceased and the ancient Mediterranean Sea dried up. There was already a short river known to geologists as the Eonile River flowing northwards from the edge of the Red Sea Mountains on the east of today’s river. Earth movements along the Red Sea fault line had lifted the mountains and tilted the land to their west and northwest. Heavy rains persisted for a long time over the mountains which fed the Eonile and encouraged erosion in its upper course. Much of the water of the Eonile evaporated before reaching the dried up sea. At this time there was a river flowing south from the area around Qena. As the north flowing Eonile eroded backwards it captured the Qena river system at the latter’s first big meander. This turned the flow of the Qena River northwards and all of its tributaries became part of the Eonile and with the increased volume and a wetter climate in the Mediterranean region the Nile of today came into existence. Geographers call such a bend and change of course on a river ‘the elbow of capture’. The evidence for all of this is in the rocks and the shape of the landscape.

 

By lunchtime we were approaching Qena. The town sits on the huge bend referred to above and at the intersection of the Nile Valley roads and the one to the desert, Red Sea Mountains, the port of Safaga and the resort of Hurghada. Minerals, including phosphates, are extracted from the mountains and transported by rail via Qena to other parts of Egypt. We will pass under the phosphate railway bridge later today but before docking the captain took the ship up to the road bridge and checked the height of the top deck and the amount of clearance needed. The smokestack and other deck furniture had to be removed in readiness for our departure.

In the meantime we visited the nearby ancient site and temple at Dendera. This was an important administrative and religious centre around 2320 BC. It is largely intact and built at the end of the Pharaonic Period but with many Ptolemaic and Graeco-Roman additions. It was dedicated to the goddess Hathor who had medicinal skills and provided cures for the ill in the adjacent sanatorium. There is evidence of people living in the abandoned temple i.e. smoke on the roof and upper parts of pillars in the hypostyle hall.
This is the only monument in Egypt where Cleopatra is depicted albeit on an outside wall and round the back!

Departure from Qena was uneventful though the high levels of river water made it a very tight squeeze under the bridge.

We continued northwards as the sunset to dock at Nag Hammadi for part of the night. This is the only crossing point of the Nile by railway and a swing bridge parallels a road swing bridge here. We have crossed the Nile here by train on previous visits and tonight passed the railway on the Misr. Before that happened our evening meal was a barbecue on the top deck where everything had been reassembled.

 

Saturday 12th October 2019

We were eating breakfast just after 5:00 a.m. in order to beat the heat (40C) and any crowds on the West Bank. Tour buses from the Red Sea resorts generally arrive by 11:00 a.m. and ones from Luxor even earlier. Our mission was to avoid the crush. We did!! We have never seen empty coach parks on the West Bank.

The first port of call at 06:30 was the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut (Deir Al Bahri). The site is dominated by very dramatic towering limestone cliffs that rise some 300 m above the desert. The monument is extraordinary for it has a modern, almost 1960s look about it. It is the limestone, which is strongest in blocks of the same size that results in the design of the building. For the most part it is a reconstruction.

Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh and this temple was to be a clear record of her initiatives in a male world. The detailed reliefs of the expedition to the Land of Punt (Eritrea and possibly the Horn of Africa) was to collect myrrh trees needed for the incense used regularly in her country. She also obtained strange (to the Egyptians) donkeys and sea fish, for example, along with exotic food plants, architectural ideas and a record of the facial features of ‘foreign people’.

 

  

Unfortunately vandalism by rival pharaohs has led to her name being removed and additional damage caused by early Christians to what they called Pagan reliefs.

Still on the West Bank we moved to the Valley of the Kings. This area directly across the river from Luxor has been the royal burial site since 2100 BC, but the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom around 1550 BC chose this isolated limestone gorge surrounded by mountains for the 63 magnificent royal tombs. The entrance ticket allows a visit to three tombs which are rotated in order to preserve them. Large numbers of visitors increase the humidity and can destroy the paintings. Today we visited one tomb we had not seen before. The disappointing element was the fact that our cameras could not be used even outside in the valley. A guide said that a certain nationality broke all the rules regarding photography so except for mobile phones all photography has stopped. Our photographs taken nearby give an impression of the area.

On the edge of the West Bank site are two statues representing Pharaoh Amenhotep III standing 18 m above the flood plain. They were damaged in an earthquake in 27 BC and, until recently, stood isolated as a photo stop en route to or from the West Bank. Excavations are currently taking place and more of the site is being revealed. They are known as the Colossi of Memnon and were a tourist attraction during Roman times. Both the Greeks and Romans considered it good luck to hear a whistling sound emitted by one of the statues at sunrise. They believed it to be the cry of Memnon but was probably sand resonating inside the cracks of the statue.

Later this afternoon we visited the massive complex at Karnak dominated by the Temple of Amun-Ra with a spectacular hypostyle hall which is like being in a stone forest of giant papyrus and lotus flower-shaped columns.

Recent finds here include the Quay of Amun where large boats carrying the statues and obelisks unloaded. On our last visit here in 2010 the quay had just started to be investigated.

The site is more than just a temple as it is a complex collection of sanctuaries, pylons, and a sacred lake which to us looks very similar to a tank used as water storage in settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation at the same time. Amazing!!

 

Friday 11th October 2019

We had an early start today to visit the Edfu Temple. We awoke as the sun was rising over the Nile.

This early visit enabled us to see the temple in its best light and empty of visitors. It is excellently preserved and construction started in 237 BC and took two centuries to complete. Again, it is a new temple and has escaped destruction from Nile floods because it is built on a rise above the broad river valley. Its well preserved reliefs have yielded much information about the temple and the gods to which it is dedicated. Two hundred years ago the temple was buried by sand and in the late 19th century was visited by the Scottish painter, David Roberts, who witnessed Bedouin people living on the sand in the shelter of the temple and smoke from their cooking fires still covers the roof.

After the visit at about 9:30 a.m. we departed northwards towards Luxor.

On this journey the Nile is in places confined to a narrow channel as the desert escarpments close in. This is going to be a feature of the valley all the way to Cairo.

The lush fields, papyrus and palm tree lined river banks are punctuated with small farming communities and we witness daily life as we pass by. Often the village can be heard before being seen as there is little noise except for our ship’s engines. At Gebil Silsila the gorge, sacred to the Egyptians, is where stone was extracted for the temples at Luxor.

Lunchtime saw us arrive at Esna, an important stop on camel caravan routes between Sudan and Cairo.

We used the open lock of the British built barrage to gain access to the locks of the newer barrier. Here we dropped about 6 m and followed a larger cruise ship into the lock. Whilst waiting, local traders rowed out and attempted to sell clothing, tablecloths and towels which were thrown up to the top deck for inspection. The barrages control the flow of water at the cataract and therefore do away with a waterfall but ensure that water is distributed fairly.

Soon we arrived in Luxor for an evening visit to the Luxor Temple. Most of this was built by Amenhotep III in around 1390 BC and added to by Ramses II in around 1279 BC. It is in the heart of the town, close to the Nile and linked to the Karnak Temple by the Avenue of Sphinxes. More of this is being exposed as archaeologists excavate along its route through the suburbs of Luxor. In the temple it is interesting to note that the former entrance to the Mosque of Abu Al Haggag (14th century AD) was built at the then level of the land. This was in fact the sand filling and covering the temple remains. The reconstruction and renovation of the temple followed after the sand was removed leaving the doorway high above peoples’ heads. Today a new entrance is provide from a nearby road.