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Week 3: 21–27 January

We kicked Sunday off with an amazing breakfast at our hotel. We had to wake up very early, so some of us were still a little sleepy. Nothing the magic of coffee couldn’t fix however. We first visited the newly opened Graeco-Roman Museum, which been closed for a long time due to restoration work. I found a statue of my favorite Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and we saw a mummified crocodile in the chapel of Sobek.

At the Graeco-Roman Museum

Afterwards we went to the Fortress of Qait Bey, on the location where once the Pharos of Alexandria stood. Now there is an Ottoman fort with a mosque in it. We had lunch at the Greek Club with an amazing view over the sea. With our stomachs full of Greek food we went to our last stop, the library of Alexandria. After a brief guided tour we visited several of the museums inside the library: one on Arabic manuscripts; one with the drawings of Egyptian movie director Shadi Abdelsalam; and of course the antiquities museum. Then we headed back to Cairo, and handed in our kashkuls for a checkup, which felt like handing over a piece of our soul.

Heading toward Qait Bey

On Monday no excursions were planned and some of us worked on our site presentations. In the afternoon at NVIC we prepared for our excursions in Minya and Luxor. Afterwards Marleen talked about the work at Dayr al-Barsha. The Leuven students were already somewhat familiar with the site due to reading the book Djehoetihotep: 100 jaar opgravingen in Egypte (highly recommended). The lecture was a good revision of everything we had learned during our classes.

On Tuesday we woke up early to exchange money for our visa renewal. Afterwards many of us went to the German Archaeological Institute to work on our site presentations. Laila, the assistant librarian, was very kind and showed us how everything worked in the library. Later in the afternoon we went back to the NVIC for a talk from Marleen about the history of the institute. Not only did she give us a brief overview of the history, she also talked about the different projects that NVIC has been part of.

A selection of kashkul art

Wednesday we had to wake up very early to go to Abbasiya in order to extend our visa. We met at NVIC at 7am and took an Uber to the passport office. When we arrived at Abbasiya we saw a huge crowd outside the building and many of us feared that this was the beginning of the line. Luckily, this was not the case and we went inside. None of us knew where we had to go and the place felt like a labyrinth, but luckily Shahdan was with us and she knew what to do. After some searching we found the correct window and waited for our turn. Marleen amused us with the story of the pregnant cat that was there last year, and some of us came prepared with a book or listened to music. After the ordeal was over we all agreed that we were in dire need of some breakfast (and coffee). In the afternoon Marleen talked some more about Dayr al-Barsha and gave us a valuable life lesson: everything in Egyptology is interesting, if you just put your time and effort into it.

Both Thursday and Friday were days off: Police Day on the 25th and a weekend day on the 26th. Our time was, for the majority of us, spent on preparing our site presentations since many of us are presenting in Minya or Luxor. This of course also involved printing handouts. On Thursday evening we watched Shady Abdelsalam’s The Night of Counting the Years (المومياء), heralded as one of the best Egyptian films of all time and my personal favourite. Since Annely had bought a book from the exhibition on Shady Abdelsalam at the Library of Alexandria, and we were about to travel to Luxor where the film is set, it seemed like a fitting choice. Even if some of us did not manage to watch the admittedly slow-paced film without falling asleep in the middle. 

On the road to Minya

Friday was spent preparing and packing for our trip south. With anticipation running high Saturday morning could not come soon enough for us. On Saturday we embarked on our trip to al-Minya and Luxor. We met at the NVIC in the morning with our luggage and boarded our coaster bus. We would finally be able to visit many iconic sites that we had studied in our classes, heard about in lectures and read about in a myriad of publications. When we drove out of Cairo it was raining but soon enough we found ourselves in the vast desert landscapes to the East of the river Nile. Driving through the rock formations was an impressive experience since the desert lends itself well to reflection. 

Omar’s site presentation in the tomb of Khnumhotep II

Our first stop was the nobles’ tombs of Beni Hasan. Before learning of the program, I had hoped that we could visit the tomb of Khnumhotep II, renowned for its depiction of a group of Asiatics. As luck would have it, I drew this exact tomb for my site presentation, becoming more intimately acquainted with the different scenes in the tomb, their coherence and what this must have meant for the owner of the tomb. In the tomb we could see the landscapes that we are traversing laid out before our eyes in the most lively way. We could see Khnumhotep hunting in the desert, receiving his cult offerings and officiating his estate. My favourite detail in the tomb might be the scene of the fishermen fighting or wrestling on their boats with one unlucky fellow falling in the water. 

Golden hour at the Fraser Tombs

After Beni Hasan, we made our way to the Fraser tombs. These are Old Kingdom tombs that bridge the gap between mastaba's and rock-cut tombs. We arrived a little bit late but after a short phone call with the inspector we were allowed to visit. As the sun was setting over the valley, the stones around us were bathing in golden hue. The rocks were larger than the ones we saw at Beni Hasan, as if giants had thrown them down from the top of the mountains. The cultivation was very close to us and this made for a panorama that we will not soon forget. Accompanying our group was a conscript who – even though he grew up next to another archaeological site – had never actually visited a tomb before. When he looked around in the first tomb, he exclaimed: ‘So all this talk turned out to be true!’ While we went on to the other tombs we got talking and we were joking about what we saw. It was a good reminder that Egyptology is not just an academic discipline. It deals with the heritage of many people who might not even know it themselves until they visit a monument for the first time. There, I think, lies a mission for us. 

How many students fit in one of the Fraser tombs?

Omar Ghaly & Simon De Ceuster

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