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Week 2: 14–20 January

The second week started with our penultimate Arabic class. Although our teacher Khawla was going very fast we were making progress! Sunday’s lesson focused on food (fruits, vegetables...) and phrases to say at the market, really useful topic for the coming weeks.

After the Arabic lesson, we finished our tour of the main research institutes. Our last stop was the Swiss Institute, and as Marleen said, when you walk in, it's like going back in time. Director Cornelius Von Pilgrim was waiting for us and told us about the history of the villas and the institute. He gave us a tour of the library and archives after which we got to the fabulous Nile view garden where a real hunt started for "the granite". No one was able to find it, however! Fortunately, the Director came to our rescue. In the evening, some of us headed to the IFAO lecture and afterwards the most indefatigable went to a coffee shop for the long-awaited Afcon game between Egypt and Mozambique...go Egypt!

At the Swiss Institute archive room with Cornelius Von Pilgrim

On Monday, our visits to the major sites in the area continued. We went to Dahshur and, after an explanation by Marleen, a real Indiana Jones adventure began. Humming the notes of the famous saga, we entered the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. What can I say? All the tamiya eaten over the past few days was quickly digested. Between very narrow corridors downhill and uphill, a short passage to crawl through and finally a wooden scaffold, it was a real test of stamina and breath. After a tour around the Bent Pyramid, we were also able to enter in the southern satellite pyramid (not built for the queen but perhaps had similar functions to the south tomb of the Djoser complex) and were able to see the chamber still bearing traces of red lines. After a short stop at the outer chapel and the causeway leading to the statue temple, we headed to the Red Pyramid which some of us entered. The view from the entrance is spectacular and you can also see the pyramids of Giza and the Djoser complex. On a side note, the effects of the physical exertion were also felt the following days with aches in every muscle!

Inside and outside the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

On Tuesday our Arabic lessons unfortunately came to an end with one last useful topic: restaurants and coffee shops. We will certainly be practising our 'fluent' Arabic a lot on our next trips. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday passed very 'quietly'. We mainly devoted them to working on our museum assignment, site presentation and of course the very interesting lectures including one by Marleen dedicated to the history and life of one of the pioneers in the study of Predynastic iconography, Henri Asselberghs. During this week we started to get a taste of life as a researcher/student in Cairo.

Working on assignments in the NVIC library
Lecture by Marleen on Henri Asselberghs in memory of Stan Hendrickx

After a well-deserved break, on Saturday we were ready to set off on our first two-day trip... destination? Alexandria! After a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we arrived at the first site of the day, Kom el-Shuqafa. We entered the Roman catacombs and saw the beautiful reliefs and painted decorations that unite the different cultures present in Alexandria: Greek, Roman and of course Egyptian.

Exploring the catacombs of Kom el-Shuqafa

With the end of the week, the site presentations officially began! The first round was Johannes who introduced us to the Serapeum of Alexandria, where also the so-called 'Column of Pompey' can be seen. Then it was the turn of Eva de Smet who guided us around the Roman site of Kom el-Dikka. The mosaics are truly extraordinary and there, in addition to seeing the auditoria complex, we saw the well-preserved Roman theatre. We tested the 'superpowers' of the circular stone that is used to indicate the exact spot for the best acoustics. Spoiler... it's just a stone.

Site presentations of Johannes (Serapeum) and Eva (Kom el-Dikka)

After this last visit we went to the hotel... and what a hotel! The old building was amazing and, after settling into our rooms, we headed to Happy Hour. It was so plentiful that in the end we didn't have dinner but went for a drink in one of the cafes on the streets of Alexandria. The week ended with a visit to the hotel’s rooftop with a breathtaking view over the bay of Alexandria.

Giulia Magnani

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