Monthly Archives: January 2013

Travellers of the senses

It is difficult to imagine what it must be like to be a blind tourist; to see a country through touch, sound and smell. Yet, this is exactly what a group of blind German tourists did, several years ago, travelling from Cairo to Fayoum, Wadi Natroun and Upper Egypt.

“We always use the word ‘see’ when we describe something,” explained Carla Arning, the group organizer, who is specialized in tourism for the blind and the visually impaired. The verb used in this way means to get an impression of things through the other senses,” she said.

Wherever the group went, they would all listen very carefully to what the tour guide had to say before having their hands guided to the object described so as to trace its outlines with their fingers. When the monuments were too large to gauge by touch, as in the case of the alabaster sphinx at Memphis for example, they were given small reproduction statues to explore its shape.

“The blind have a right to travel and enjoy life, like any other people,” said Arning. “They should not be kept in dark rooms because they are blind, and nor should they be kept in the dark about other cultures.”

Arning has devoted her life to working with the blind. She explained that she is not paid for her work, feeling that God gave her special gifts to communicate with others and that it gives her pleasure to use these gifts.

Judging from the reactions of the 20 member group, Arning’s work is a great success. The group enjoyed every place they went to and felt that they had absorbed a great deal about the culture of Egypt.

“I was fascinated by Sakkara- the wide area, the many tombs, and the ability of the workers in ancient times to build such fantastic tombs with such wonderful paintings,” said Doris.

“I loved the Pyramids and the quarry and the unfinished obelisk in Aswan,” said another. “It is the contrast between the green and the brown, i.e., between the desert and the fields in Upper Egypt which attracted me most,” said a third.

The group spent a week in Cairo where they visited the Citadel, the mosques of Mohamed Ali, Sultan Hassan and Ibn Tulun, as well as Khan El-Khalili. They also went to Giza, Memphis and Sakkara. In Fayoum, they went to Lake Qarun, and then to the monasteries at Wadi Natrun. Finally, they spent a week on a Nile cruiser in Upper Egypt, where they visited Luxor, Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna.

Mohamed Ali Mosquewww.art.com

Mohamed Ali Mosque
http://www.art.com

Sultan Hassan Mosque

Sultan Hassan Mosque

 

At Sakkara, the group visited all the places which are on the regular tours. They “saw” Zoser’s Step Pyramid, Unas’ pyramid, the tombs of Mereruka and Ptah- Hotep. Before entering the tomb of Unas, a king of the Vth dynasty, the tour guide, Ziad Anwar, read some of the pyramid texts inscribed on the walls of the burial chamber. They were believed to have magical powers and were written by the priests to ensure that the deceased would overcome all difficulties in the afterlife. Reading some parts of the text before entering the burial chamber prepared the visitors for the hieroglyphic inscription they are going to touch inside. Inside the tomb of Mereruka, they touched the reliefs which depicted life of ancient Egyptians: their clothes and their children’s games.

Zoser's step pyramid at Sakkarawww.treklens.com

Zoser’s step pyramid at Sakkara
http://www.treklens.com

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis-Sakkarawww.ghandoury.wordpress.com

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis-Sakkara
http://www.ghandoury.wordpress.com

The group was equally impressed by the Islamic monuments they visited. During their visit to the Mohamed Ali mosque, they admired the charming Turkish Baroque ablution fountain which, in its individual and collective features, they were able to compare with similar sabils of the Mohamed Ali dynasty around Cairo. They also touched the magnificent marble cenotaph which marks Mohamed Ali’s resting place as well as the minbars (pulpits) in the mosque, the larger one of wood decorated with gilt and the smaller one of alabaster, a gift from King Farouk in 1939.

Each blind visitor was accompanied by a sighted companion who helped him or her throughout the trip, sometimes explaining places where they passing on the way. These companions were sometimes relatives, friends or colleagues of the blind people and sometimes volunteers.

One companion described the experience: “It is very different from touring alone. I have to describe everything I see. The problem is not only to guide the blind but to try to describe things to them all of the time,” said Martin Roth, a student from Goettingen.

“The difficulty,” said another,” is that you have to be attentive all of the time. However, I think I gained considerable experience in describing things.”

Most of the visitors in the group not blind from birth- but later lost their site. This facilitates the task of the guide to some extent, as they are able to imagine the shape and the colors described.

Erika Knoop, a telephonist, has partial sight. “When I touch any monument I can imagine it,” she said. Petra, a teacher from East Berlin, also talked about the impression she can get of an object by touching it. She can tell the size of a statue from simply touching its foot or leg. “One or two touches are enough to imagine how big it is,” she said.

Some of the group was already well-travelled. Ortwin Eileors, a telephonist in Hildesheim, for example, has already been, among other places, to China and Florida.  “Every country is different from the next,” he said, “The taste, the smell and the noises are different.”

“From the sounds I could hear I would feel that Cairo is both crowded and noisy. However, I also get an impression that its people are very friendly,” said Doris.

Doris was accompanied by Gerd, who is partially sighted. “My problem is how I can lead the blind while I am partially sighted myself. But I think it is a bit easier in a group,” he said. “In a group I won’t get lost because there is always someone looking for us,” he added.

Most of the companions on the trip expressed their willingness to do the job again, especially with people they knew already. “I wouldn’t do it with just anybody because that would be extremely difficult,” one companion said.

These tours are obviously tailor-made for the blind. “We have a lot more colors and more detail in our explanations,” said Arning. “Our tours are not done in a hurry. We spend a longer time at each site than other groups.”

Ziad, the tour guide, mentioned the importance of measurements. “A blind person will not understand terms as ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘high’, ‘low’. Actual measurements have to be used instead.

According to Arning, sighted people, who often care about pictorial images, miss out on a lot that the blind pick up on.

A special trip was also made to the Kalabsha temple, which is rarely visited by tourists. They chose to go there because it is generally empty and gave the group the chance to touch as much as they liked. It also enabled them to get acquainted with the shape of the temples, the inner sanctuary and the open court yard. Kalabsha was a sort of an introduction in the explanation of other temples.

There were some problems which faced the group. The first was in the Egyptian Museum where the tourists were only allowed to touch statues made of granite and diorite. “It is always a problem in my trips and it is always frustrating,” said Arning. “We are allowed to touch everything in all of the museums in the world, including the Pharaonic monuments, but in the Egyptian Museum there are restrictions,” she said.

Another problem was on the cruise in Upper Egypt, when the group complained about the music of the parties they attended. “The blind have sensitive ears and they could not stand the level of the noise,” says Arning.

Arning is on the opinion that it is better to have a small group, not exceeding 25, on such a special tour, because this gives the travellers a chance to enjoy themselves, and to take things at their own speed.

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Categories: Cairo, Egypt, Giza, Travelers with Special Needs, Uncategorized, Upper Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Luxor’s heydays

This article was published in February 1996 in Al Ahram Weekly newspaper.  I was in Luxor, in Upper Egypt, when I met with the owner of the oldest bookstore in Luxor, Abdallah Gaddis, who died two years after this interview. Gaddis has withstood the fluctuating tides of tourism from World War II to the post-Gulf War era and I decided to flip, with him, through the pages of history.

Gaddis bookstore at Winter Palace Hotel

Gaddis bookstore at Winter Palace Hotel

Abdallah Gaddis was barely one year old when Howard Carter discovered the treasures of Tutankhamun in 1921 but he can relay his father’s impression of the spectacular flux of tourists Luxor witnessed at the time. “It was the most successful year ever. Hundreds of the aristocrats and the members of the press flocked here to witness and cover the discovery,” says Gaddis, who runs the shop his father opened in 1907.

One of the historical photographs taken by Abdallah's father. Howard Carter unwrapping Tutankhamun's mummy

One of the historical photographs taken by Abdallah’s father. Howard Carter unwrapping Tutankhamun’s mummy

A seasoned member of the tourist industry, Gaddis has welcomed widely different customers during many seasons, eras and wars into the Gaddis bookstore that neighbors the legendary Winter Palace Hotel. He’s shared conversation and books with the European elite, the habitués of modern package-tours, with bargain-hunters and backpackers. And despite his versatility, he is definitely nostalgic about the “good old days.” “My clients were the world’s richest and most elegant aristocrats; the cream of the society,” recalls the 74-year old Gaddis.  “They toured the sites in their best clothing; women in furs and elegant dresses and the men in suits.”

Customers making purchases in the 1940s

  Customers making purchases in the 1940s

 

Customers in 1956

Customers in 1956

Early visitors preparing for a flight  over ancient monuments in Luxor

Early visitors preparing for a flight over ancient monuments in Luxor

 

But times were not always peachy. The wars Gaddis and his father witnessed often struck bad blows to the business. But his father did manage to expand the store during World War II, when the British and American tenants of the surrounding three shops did not return to Egypt for the tourist season. “The owner asked my father if he would like to rent all three premises. He agreed and paid a nominal price for them.”

His father once sold silver and gold ware, learning trade secrets from his friends in Cairo’s Khan Al-Khalili. He then turned the shops into one bookshop, specializing in books and photographs about Egypt, and particularly monuments. “My father was a pioneer in a field hitherto monopolized by Greeks and Jews, says Gaddis.

gaddis_shop_4

Books, post cards, souvenirs and photos are among the products sold by Gaddis bookstore

 

When Gaddis took over the bookshop in the later 1930s, he would often keep it open past midnight, long after the crowds of tourists had retreated to their hotels. “My clients could then quietly select their books and decide which photographs appealed to them. “ Not only was his bookstore frequented by the wealthy, but the wealthy were willing to spend heavily on his books, making LE1,000 or LE2,000 purchases,  “a fortune in those days,” says Gaddis.

He remembers that “only one Maltese officer and 25 Egyptian soldiers” guarded the monuments of Luxor, Karnak and the Nile’s west bank in the 1930s, and only 40 guides or torgomen, toured the sites with visitors. “They wore traditional caftan, tarboush or emma (turban)” he recalls. “They were cultured though not necessarily university graduates. They were enthusiastic readers of ancient history of which acquired profound knowledge. And they spoke English or French or both.”

He recalls that the Winter Palace Hotel would have the guides work in rotation. If a group of 50 tourists arrived, for example, four were allocated one tour guide at LE2 a day. “At the end of the trip the visitors usually give an envelope to the guide containing LE100 in appreciation of his efforts. That was a good income then. “But conditions for the torgomen changed in the 1960s when they became too old to work.

Winter Palace Hotel, one of the oldest in Luxor and Egypt www.sofitel.com

Winter Palace Hotel, one of the oldest in Luxor and Egypt
http://www.sofitel.com

Luxor also had a fixed tourist season at the time; from mid-December to the end of March, and the hotels would open only during those four months, recalls Gaddis. Egypt was still under the British occupation and Luxor was not heavily populated. During off-season, he says, “it was unusual to see a single pedestrian before noon. Only a few fruit, vegetable and clothing shops were open.”

This changed after President Gamal Abdel Nasser made a visit to Luxor in November of 1952. “He met with local businessmen,” Gaddis said, “and we told him that we wanted the hotels to stay open all year round. When Nasser asked us if we could guarantee tourists throughout the year, we suggested carrying out of a two-year experiment. It proved so successful that all the hotels opened in the summer and the winter.

A flying boat moored outside the Winter Palace

  A flying boat moored outside the Winter Palace Hotel

But business has never been good during wars, says Gaddis. A few years before the outbreak of World War II, a worldwide economic depression drastically affected tourist movement to Egypt, and consequently Luxor. “In place of wealthy tourists,” said Gaddis, “British soldiers were brought in in large numbers by Eastmar Travel to see the monuments of Upper Egypt.”

At that time as well, he says, Egyptians began to visit Luxor. “They would leave Cairo and Alexandria in the winter and spend at least two months at the Winter Palace.” While tourists from abroad only trickled to Luxor in the war years, it was only four years after the war that Germans, British and Americans came in large numbers. “The situation improved,” says Gaddis. “Tourism was at a peak at the time of the July 1952 Revolution.

Another peak, says Gaddis, was during the 1960s with the construction of the Aswan High Dam and following UNESCO’s decision to relocate the temples of Abu Simbel. “There was a tremendous influx of visitors for three years. They were anxious to take a last look at the temples at their original sites before they were dismantled and transported to other locations. Hotels were full.”

The early days of Gaddis & Co

The early days of Gaddis & Co

Gaddis &Co in 2007, 100 years later

Gaddis &Co in 2007, 100 years later

 

But then there was the June 1967. “On the day the war broke out, there was not a single empty room. We had three bad months before tourism revived,” says Gaddis whose shop was exempted from rent for one year by the government.

Gaddis believes that the most severe slump came during the Gulf War, and to an extent not even seen during the wars with Israel. “When the Americans shot the first bullet in the Gulf, there was not a single tourist in Luxor. Conditions improved after the war but then terrorism followed and tourism dropped again.”

Today, books about Egypt in English, French, German and Arabic fill the shelves of the bookshop and potential buyers have a large choice of publications, from the famous Blue Guide and Insight Guides to specialized books, souvenir publications and coffee-table editions. Never before have the shelves of Gaddis  been so heavily stocked.

For more information about the history and products of this historical bookstore, visit http://www.gaddis-luxor.co.uk/gaddis_shop/index.htm

Categories: Egypt, Travel History, Uncategorized, Upper Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hanging Monastery in Assiut

The religious life is always one that is devoted to God, but for those who choose the monastic tradition, it is a life of seclusion. Keeping to themselves is hardly a problem at the remote monastery of Saint Mina Al-Agaiby (the miraculous), on the east bank of the Nile near Assiut, in Upper Egypt, where even the locals cannot give you directions.

You probably heard of the hanging church in Cairo, but have you heard of the suspended monastery? Better known as Deir El-Mualaq (literally, the suspended monastery), the monastery is nestled high up between two massive rocks in the mountain of Abu Foda, roughly 170 metres above ground level.

Deir El- Mualaq, 170 metres among ground level. Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

Deir El- Mualaq, 170 metres among ground level. Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

When we reached the foot of the mountain and I looked up at the monastery virtually hanging in the rock face, I thought for sure we would never reach it. The steep road that leads up to the monastery was not for cars that are weak at heart, and so, like the ancient pilgrims before us, we were forced to make the last part of our trek up to the monastery the old-fashioned way — on foot.

You can see the big contrast between the green fields and the desert from the top of the monastery. Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

You can see the big contrast between the green fields and the desert from the top of the monastery. Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

Getting to Abu Foda is in itself a trek. The village of El-Maabdna, which lies at the foot of the mountain, is situated on the outskirts of the city of Abnoub, roughly 35 kilometres northeast of Assiut. We had to cross the Nile by ferry and then hire a car to the monastery. Making your way across the Nile in this part of Upper Egypt is a mini-vacation through Egypt’s natural elements: the lush, green agricultural lands, the calm waters of the Nile and the desert beyond.

Once on the east bank of the Nile, we made our way along the narrow road, lined with palm trees, out to Abu Foda. We passed farms and small traditional homes and saw children playing. What we didn’t see were any signs telling us we were even remotely in the right place. There was no indication that Dier Al-Mualaq was in our midst, much less a scrap of an arrow pointing “this way.”

But I’ll say it now: the trip is worth it. From the monastery the view is breathtaking, and the ascent up the stairway that leads to the monastery is one you will probably make alone. We spotted the ruins of a small village, believed to be a Coptic community from the fifth century A.D. while making our way up to the ancient keep (tower).

Partly built of brick and partly rock-hewn, the keep is divided into three floors, the first mainly populated with cells for the monks. The second floor consists of three rooms used as a sacrificial hall in honour of the saint. The third floor leads to the top of the keep, where the two churches of the monastery are located, both carved into the rock.

The Church of Saint Mina is a modest place of worship, built into an ancient cave. No rich rugs, icons or chandeliers here; its significance is its age and location. The wooden gate of the presbytery bears Coptic inscriptions like those on the gates of El-Suryani (the so-called Monastery of the Syrians) at Wadi Al-Natrun. One of the monks accompanying me explained that the Arabic and Coptic inscriptions on the gate were the names of people who had financed some restorations inside the monastery some 300 years ago. The monastery’s other church was converted from a Pharaonic temple. Today it is the Church of the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael, but the ancient shrine is still evident in the Pharaonic inscriptions that remain.

The wooden gate of the presbytery bears Coptic inscriptions like those on the gates of El-Suryani.Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

The wooden gate of the presbytery bears Coptic inscriptions like those on the gates of El-Suryani.
Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

According to Bishop Lukas of Abnoub, the monastery is typical of the hermitages around Assiut from the fourth century, when monks used to live in different places, without a uniform style. “For example, Saint Yohanna El-Assiuti lived in a two-room cell with a window, through which he could see those who came to visit him,” Bishop Lukas explained. “Other monks lived in small monastic communities. Still others lived alone in caves, either at the edge of the agricultural land, or deep in the desert.”

At the time, the Nile attracted many monastic groups; echoing earlier Pharaonic traditions of making offerings and prayers to the river to ensure a good crop. “Some monks took on the responsibility of praying for a good flood,” Bishop Lukas said. “Saint Yohanna El-Assiuti had the reputation of knowing the unknown, and was able to predict the rise and fall of the flood, as well as anticipate the crops. For that reason, during the annual celebrations performed at the beginning of the flood season, he was asked to bless the water of the Nile instead of the pagan priest.”

The monastery itself has been renovated, with two new buildings constructed beside the ancient keep. One houses an icon of Saint Mina Al-Agaibi, the other is used as a storeroom for incense, candles, oil and flour for the sacred bread. New cells for monks were also set up, as well as a new receiving hall for visitors. I asked around to find out if the monastery had a steady flow of visitors, but it seems that it is mainly a place of pilgrimage for Egyptians, who tend to come in big numbers during the annual mulid, which takes place from 8 July to 8 August. Foreigners are few and far between.

But it is obvious that one need not be a Copt to appreciate both the beauty and serenity of Deir El-Mualaq. I wondered whether the monastery could develop into a tourist destination — and whether the monks would in fact want to play host to backpackers and holy route tourists veering off their itinerary. For now, Deir El-Mualaq is best left as it is.

Map of Assiut

Map of Assiut

Categories: Egypt, Uncategorized, Upper Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Journeys in silence

A group of deaf tourists from Germany might not have been able to hear about the wonders of Egypt, but with a little indulgence, a tour guide helped them out.

During the day, tour guide Ziad Anwar faced the sun. In closed areas and at night, he lit his mouth with a torch.

The tourists asked him to shave off his moustache. They would then be able to read his lips with ease. He did.

This was Anwar’s first such experience. “Dealing with any handicapped tourist is difficult,” he says. “It requires a lot of preparation and a special way of dealing.”

Twenty-five deaf German tourists spent two weeks travelling through Cairo, Giza, Luxor, Aswan and Sinai and Ziad Anwar was their guide.  Organized by a German association for the deaf, the group was made up of people who had once been able to hear.

Knowing that he wouldn’t be easily understood, Anwar printed a booklet describing the monuments and places they would visit, and distributed it on the first day of their trip. “I also had to talk slowly in German, clearly and in simple language,” he says.

But he wasn’t on his own. The group’s tour leader from Germany assisted Anwar in his task, translating his words into sign language, and some of the tourists wore hearing aids.

In the mornings, Anwar and the tour leader would go door-to-door, with the help of master keys, “because they could not hear the wake-up call,” he says.

Crowds also presented a problem. Once, some of the tourists got dispersed; “They couldn’t hear me so I ran after them and tapped them on their shoulders,” he recalls, and he directed them to the rest of the group.

During the group’s climb up Mount Sinai, Anwar hired someone to walk at the front while he remained behind, making sure the group stuck together.

These are among the preparations made by Anwar who had once before hosted a group of blind tourists. They, in turn, had taught him about the importance of using vivid, detailed, verbal descriptions of each site. “Patience is the keyword when dealing with handicapped people,” he stresses.

Anwar was not entirely savvy with the group of deaf tourists, however, and had some myths of his own to break. On the group’s Luxor-Aswan cruise, he thought they wouldn’t enjoy the galabiya party because they wouldn’t be able to hear the music. But they danced from the beginning to end, moving to the vibrations their bodies felt as loudspeakers blared the music.

Travellers enjoying a camel ride at Giza Plateau (by Festival Tours)

Travellers enjoying a camel ride at Giza Plateau (by Festival Tours)

And then there were some misunderstandings that were just laughed off: When the group stood at the gates of Medinet Habu on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor, Anwar said the word “Habu.” Someone responded, “Oh, we’ll have some,” referring rather to “hamburgers.”

But he does feel that he’s developed a certain knack with tourists who require a different type of tour and has noticed some surprising differences. On the normal tour, he says, the bus is always quiet and the guide does the talking. In the case of the deaf group, he says, “The guide doesn’t talk at all and the tourists chat with one another (by moving their lips and uttering sounds in the process). They speak in very loud voices and the bus starts to resemble a marketplace.”

Tourism for the disabled is not yet developed in Egypt but Anwar feels that it has a great potential. He suggests that specially trained tour guides, documentary films, photos, video tapes and other aides be made available to tour guides like himself.

Now, if there are any disabled people in groups, he feels “an affinity towards them” and tries to make their trip even more enjoyable than might be expected.

Categories: Cairo, Egypt, Giza, Sina, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enter Qusseir

Qusseir, the oldest city on the Red Sea coast, is now being developed into an exclusive tourist resort.

Qusseir owes its importance to Muslim pilgrims, who for centuries used it as a departure point to the Arabian Peninsula. It is located 140km south of Hurghada on the Red Sea and 650 km southeast of Cairo and is famous for its picturesque landscape and historic harbor. Only in the last few years has Qusseir started to become known as a tourist resort with some deluxe tourist villages. Its attractions are similar to other Red Sea resorts: virgin beaches, coral reefs and untouched marine life. However, unlike other cities on the Red Sea, this one is not quite completely involved in tourism.

When touring Qusseir, the visitor sees a number of coffee shops, native clothing stores, a single supermarket and a small number of tourist bazaars selling imitation Pharaonic statuettes, scarves, glabbiyas and some gold items– a far cry from the Red Sea resort of Hurghada which is awash with tourist- related activities.

“At first people here have had no concept of tourism and we found it difficult to recruit workers for our tourist village,” said Safwat Badr, general manager of the Mövenpick Resort El Quseir, a five star hotel in Qusseir. “Now it is different. People have begun to understand that tourism is beneficial and among other things, will result in employment for a lot of people. Now we recruit 65 percent of our workers from Qusseir. The rest come from other governorates,” he explained.

Movenpick Resort El Qusseir, built on the traditional Nubia style

Movenpick Resort El Qusseir, built on the traditional Nubia style

Swimming facilities at Movenpick Resort El Quseir

Swimming facilities at Movenpick Resort El Quseir

The interiors of the resort

The interiors of the resort

Besides providing accommodation, the resort offers diverse recreational activities to its guests. One of these are shuttle tours of the old city.

One of the sites in the old city is the now restored Ottoman fortress, which has an interesting Visitors’ Center with displays of local history, archaeology and culture. Initially built to protect Ottoman land, it also housed Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers during the French Expedition whose task as to prevent supplies sent from the Arabian Peninsula from reaching the Mamelukes. A visitor can see the towers and the many tunnels used by the soldiers to hide from their enemies. “You know this tunnel ends in Luxor,” said a seven-year-old child playing inside the castle. “This is a widely-held myth, that these tunnels can lead you to places as far away as Luxor, Safaga and even Cairo,” said a passer-by who overheard the child.

A canon at the ancient Ottoman fortress

A canon at the ancient Ottoman fortress

Entrance to the fortress

Entrance to the fortress

Other interesting sites open to the public are the Farran Mosque, with its famous Ottoman minaret, and the police station, which was visited by Mohamed Ali Pasha on his trip to Qusseir in 1805. The police station is now the central police station in Qusseir.

The hotel also offers excursions to surrounding areas with experienced guides using jeeps, horses, camels and bicycles.

The land surrounding the hotel is picturesque: high mountains with different coloured strata, where fossil shells mingle with sand and rocks. Lakes and the phosphate mines can be visited, where ruins attest to the large community that once inhabited the area.

These phosphate mines were used by Italians in 1920, and it was they who built the settlement which included schools. Blackboards, as well as the villas of administrators and small worker houses beside the wells, can be seen by visitors. The railway lines, once used to transport phosphate, run through the hills and mountains.

The remenants of Italian influence add a romantic flavour to downtown Qusseir Photo: Pierre Loza

The remenants of Italian influence add a romantic flavour to downtown Qusseir Photo: Pierre Loza

A traditional gate of Qusseir houses

A traditional gate of Qusseir houses

Movenpick Resort El Quseir consists of spacious bungalows constructed in the traditional Nubian style, with facades of rough natural stone—a style intended to be followed by future tourist villages built here, to give the city a special character. “We are going to use local stone only because it is convenient and will give the area a special aura,” said Abuel Haggag Abdel Rehim, head of Qusseir’s City Council.

How to get there:

By air: Hurghada airport (120 kms north of Qusseir) or Luxor airport (220 kms west of Qusseir) or Marsa Alam airport (65 km south of Qusseir).

Accommodation:

Movenpick Resort El Quseir, http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com/en/africa/egypt/el-quseir/resort-el-quseir/overview/

Radisson Blu Resort El Quseir http://www.radissonblu.com/resort-elquseir

Flamenco Beach and Resort El Quseir http://www.flamencohotels.com/new/home.php

Akassia Swiss Hotel El Quseir http://www.akassia.com/

Fanadir Resort El Quseir http://www.fanadir-hotel.com/eng/index.htm

Categories: Egypt, Red Sea, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ancient tombs unearthed in Egyptian city of Luxor

Ancient tombs unearthed in Egyptian city of Luxor

Italian archaeologists have unearthed tombs in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor that are more than 3,000 years old.

Egypt’s antiquities ministry says the tombs were found under the mortuary temple of the Pharoah Amenhotep II, who reigned from 1427 BC to 1401 BC.

The temple is located on the western bank of the River Nile.

The ministry said remains of wooden sarcophaguses and human bones were found inside the tombs.

Jars used to preserve the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines of the deceased were also found, decorated with images of the four sons of the god Horus.

The figures – which have the heads of a human, a baboon, a jackal and a falcon – were believed to help the soul find its way to heaven.

Wafaa Elsaddik, a professor of Egyptology, told the BBC the find was significant because it showed that temples were not just used for worship, but for burial as well.

She said the jars were of very good quality which suggested that the tombs had belonged to wealthy people.

Categories: Egypt, Upper Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First cancer case in ancient Egyptian mummy suggests genetical reasons

Recent radiological findings by an international team of experts may potentially dispel the long held-belief that cancer is a man-made, modern-day disease. With the diagnosis of the first real case of prostate cancer in a mummy, researchers say the causes of cancer may be more genetic than was originally thought.

The study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology and conducted in Lisbon’s National Archaeology Museum, initially examined three mummies through the use of X-rays and advanced computerized tomography scans. Those of M1, a male Ptolemaic Egyptian mummy, were particularly of interest as they revealed several dense bone lesions located mainly on the spine, pelvis and proximal limbs, leading to the diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.

For long, researchers have identified poor lifestyle choices and carcinogens as the main culprits behind this insidious disease. However, M1’s case suggests that investigators may have undermined the role of genetics in developing cancer. “We’re starting to see that the causes of cancer seem to be less environmental, more genetic,” said Salima Ikram, member of the research team and chair of the Egyptology department at AUC. “Living conditions in ancient times were very different. There were no pollutants or modified foods, which leads us to believe that the disease is not necessarily only linked to industrial factors.”
Ikram added, “Cancer is such a hot topic these days. Experts are constantly trying to probe in hopes of answering one question: When and how did the ailment really evolve?”

M1’s case is the oldest proven case of cancer in ancient Egypt and the second oldest in the world. In 2007, a study published by Schultz et al. in the International Journal of Cancer reported paleopathological evidence of prostate cancer in a Scythian king in Russia. Experts said that the clinical characteristics of this king, who was in his fifth decade of age, bore resemblance to those exhibited by modern-day patients. Similar to M1, cancerous lesions were also identified through microscopic observation.

Earlier archaeological findings suggest that ancient Egyptians were not oblivious to the existence of malignant tumors. Early reports of carcinoma were documented in 1500 B.C., when the Edwin Smith Papyrus detailed an initial case of breast cancer in a female. The manuscript spoke of unsuccessful attempts to surgically excise eight tumors through cauterization.

The human body replenishes itself through the production of new cells that replace old ones. This is accomplished through cell division – a process by which the body duplicates genetic material. Aberrations in this process lead to cell mutations, which may cause cancer if they occur in a critical part of the gene and persist over time. As a consequence, cancer is more frequently observed in older people.

“We’re likely seeing more cancer-led deaths today simply because people are living longer,” explained Ikram. “Life expectancy in ancient Egyptian societies ranged from 30 to 40 years, meaning that those afflicted with the disease were probably dying from reasons other than its progression.”

But why are these findings only recently reported when antiquities have been accessible to investigators for many years? The answer is simple: the advent of technology. M1’s cancer was found with the aid of highly sophisticated multi-detector computerized tomography scanners, which make the detection of the smallest tumors quickly possible.

The use of these advanced diagnostic tools is not only helpful in uncovering paleopathological evidence, but can provide a wealth of information on attributes such as age of death, lifestyle and even body composition.

In Carl Sagan’s own words, the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. “The discovery is an interesting note in the history of the disease and that of ancient Egypt,” said Ikram. “Findings such as these bring us one step closer to finding the cause of cancer, and, ultimately, the cure to a disease that has besieged mankind for so long.”

Categories: Egypt, Pharaonic Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Early bird breakfast

Ein El- Sukhna (Arabic name for water spring) in Suez governorate, 120 km east of Cairo, is one of my favourite destinations in Egypt. Lying on the western shore of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez, El-Sukhna is known for its wonderful stretched beaches and turquoise sea.  It is an attraction for travellers who can spend an over day or an overnight on its beaches and also for Egyptians who prefer to spend their weekend in a lovely place that is close to Cairo.

In my recent visit, I discovered another attraction, namely, El-Sukhna fauna. The moment the resort’s guests finished their breakfast at the terrace, a flock of birds landed on the tables and started to consume all the food. The scene was amazing as some of the birds were cutting the bread and others were helping in transportation. The waiters were just watching, as if they were expecting the arrival of the two- winged guests. Bon appetite!

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Categories: Egypt, Red Sea | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Eight million dog mummies discovered at Saqqara in Giza

In the first full excavation of the dog catacombs at Saqqara, Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo (AUC), along with an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, has estimated that approximately 8 million animal mummies are present at the burial site and is working to establish whether different breeds are represented there. “We are recording the animal bones and the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals,” said Ikram. “In doing so, we hope to identify the dog breeds present at the site. Thus far, our bone measurements indicate that there are different breeds that were mummified there.” The mummified animals at Saqqara are not limited to canines. “There are cat and mongoose remains in the deposit,” explained Ikram. “We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated.”

For Ikram, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in the field of mummification with a specialization in archaeozoology, the study of animal mummies offers deep insights into ancient Egyptian culture. “Animal mummies are really manifestations of daily life –– pets, food, death, religion and technology. They cover everything the Egyptians were concerned with,” said Ikram, adding that when Egyptology was becoming established as an academic discipline in the 19th century, archaeologists pushed past hundreds of thousands of animal mummies in their haste to uncover the human ones and, more significantly, their grave goods.

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Salima Ikram on site at Saqqara

The dog catacombs research at Saqqara, funded by National Geographic, is one of several archaeological field projects in which Ikram is involved. She directed the Animal Mummy Project at the Egyptian Museum, resurrecting a neglected exhibition that first caught her attention when she visited the museum as a child. In addition, in Project Djehuty, directed by Jose Galan and which focuses on the excavation and restoration of tombs T11 and T12 in the Dra’ Abu el-Naga necropolis in Thebes, Ikram sees great potential for her work with animal mummies, combined with the efforts of other specialists, to yield revelations about ancient Egyptian life. “This project is the first time that an area like this has been examined so holistically,” she said. “While I study the animal mummies, there are others in the group studying the texts written on the walls by the same people who embalmed them. By studying everything from textiles to text to animal remains, we can elucidate quite a bit about what these people thought, their religion and the economic effects of mummifying hundreds of thousands of animals.”

Discoveries have shown that there are four main reasons ancient Egyptians mummified animals. “They were mummified as sacred creatures that were representative of the gods, as beloved pets, as gifts to the gods and as food for the afterlife,” said Ikram, explaining that these varying motives reveal much about the behavioral patterns of the ancient Egyptians. She added, “Using DNA testing of mummified ibis remains found in geographically different locations, we hope to establish isolated breeding groups. An abundance of recessive genes showing, for example, would indicate interbreeding of animals in captivity. This also signifies something of an economy of breeding animals for mummification.”

For Egyptologists, mummies reflect everything, from the sacred to the suspicious. “Animal mummies were a very visceral and organic way for people to communicate with the gods,” Ikram said. “At the same time, they were also a business, and many of the mummies I’ve studied are ancient false mummies -– a fragment of an animal wrapped as if it were a whole one, or an interior containing nothing but mud. Maybe the Egyptians thought that the intention was sufficient for divine communication.”

Whether it is dogs in Saqqara or ibises in Thebes, Ikram sees familiar human motives at the heart of animal mummification. “You look at these animals, and suddenly you say, Oh, King so-and-so had a pet. I have a pet. And instead of being at a distance of 5,000-plus years, the ancient Egyptians become people,” she said.

Categories: Egypt, Giza, Pharaonic Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rediscovering a lost world

A plethora of little-known wonders of Egypt are revealed in a knowledgeable new guidebook that will place even the most seasoned traveller in awe.

Never ceasing to amaze, Egypt is once again seen in a fresh light as a new book exposes unfamiliar and exciting destinations brimming with history to be visited in the land of wonders. In Egypt Rediscovered, author Mohamed El-Hebeishy goes completely off the mainstream, offering us a compilation of unique photographs of sites in Egypt that many never knew existed and telling us the tales behind them.

Veteran travellers and first-time visitors alike — there is something for everyone in the little over 100-page book, and sites to suit all tastes.

Overlooking the Mediterranean in Baltim, the mosque of Sidi El-Kheshoey is completely, but for its minaret, buried underneath a Goliath sand dune. A chapel inside St Anthony’s Cave is cunningly concealed by its location in the midst of the Red Sea Mountains. Photographs depict fierce crocodiles basking in the blistering sun of Lake Nasser, gazelles constantly on the move in the Eastern Desert, the Temple of Dush, located at the junction of five desert routes, among which are the infamous slave-trade route of Darb Al-Arabain, as well as the route of Darb Al-Dush, which connects the desert oases to the Nile Valley, and the petrified palm trees in the midst of the Great Sand Sea.

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El- Kheshoey Minaret Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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Nile Crocodiles busking in the sun at Lake Nasser Photo: Mohamed El- Hebeishy

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Moses Bath or Hammam Moussa in Sinai Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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Camel Market in Shalateen, south Egypt Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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Al-Khalawati Mosque in Cairo Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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Local Ababda tribesman in warrior posture with traditional sword and shield

Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

One of the most adventurous expeditions detailed in the book was that of Al-Gilf Al-Kebir, in Egypt’s most isolated south-western corner. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Al-Gilf Al-Kebir thrived with life. Hunter-gatherers roamed its vegetation-rich valleys and resided by its river banks. Today, standing desolate and barren, it offers a well-kept secret: a type of prehistoric rock art created by ancient ancestors living in the area 8,000 to 10,000 years ago who recorded representations of their lives, habits and surroundings by etching them on stone. The discovery was made by Count Almasy, a Hungarian aristocrat renowned as one of the early explorers of Al-Gilf Al-Kebir. Almasy was the first modern day man to set eyes on the drawings of cattle, human figures and swimmers in an abandoned cave in Wadi Sora (Picture Valley), one of the plateau’s valleys.

The most recent discovery was made in May 2002, when ex-military colonel Ahmed El-Mestekawy discovered the largest rock art site in the area, now known as the Mestekawy Cave. It is notable both for the number of depictions it contains and its assortment of paintings and engravings. The depictions come in a wide variety of forms and shapes, ranging from handprints to hunting scenes, human figures to wild game, such as giraffe, barbary sheep, scimitar oryx and gazelle.

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Rock-art paintings Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

Modern history devotees will appreciate sites at Al-Gilf Al-Kebir that house a few relics of the Sudan Defence Force (SDF) which, during World War II, contributed to the British Eighth Army’s North Africa victory and provided the French troops with logistical support. The SDF maintained a garrison in the Libyan oasis of Kufra, north-west of Sudan, which was later captured by Italian troops.

At the time, the forces journeyed for days on end, battling the blistering desert sun during the day and the freezing coldness of the winter nights. They left behind relics depicting their strenuous lifestyle that ranged from petrol and empty food tins to wrecked trucks and vehicles.

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SDF Ford truck abandoned in the middle of the desert in Al-Gilf Al-Kebir Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

Nature lovers will have a chance, on a trip to Al-Gilf Al-Kebir, to see the Barbary Sheep or waddan, as the Saharans call it, the only big mammal found in the area. Originally found only in North Africa, Barbary Sheep formerly inhabited the mountainous regions of the Sahara. They are present throughout the recorded history of various Saharan cultures, including the very old records of rock art paintings, which portray the elegant creature in hunting scenes.

Unfortunately this beautiful animal, which once roamed all the major mountains of the Sahara, is now confined to fragmented pockets of isolated mountainous desert in its homeland. Even in Al-Gilf Al-Kebir, that is believed to be one of the remaining strongholds of the Barbary Sheep population in Egypt, you can rarely see one in the wild. El-Hebeishy mentioned that during his last visit to the plateau in 2005, the only one he could see was a carcass.

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Carcass of the mountain king, the Barbery Sheep Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

The trip to Al-Gilf Al-Kebir should preferably be organised by a travel agency, according to El-Hebeishy. “It is very risky to do it alone.The weather is extremely hot during daytime and below zero degrees at night, so travellers should pack both light and warm clothing.”

One professional travel companies specialising in organising such trips, according to the book, is Zarzora Expeditions. It offers a 13-day trip to the area that focuses on the Egyptian Sahara’s recently discovered rock-art sites. For more information log on to http://www.zarzora.com

Many foreign and Egyptian travellers are acquainted with the Western Desert oases, such as Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra and Siwa. However, few people know there are other smaller oases of equal significance and charm. The area south of Baris Oasis, one of these marvellous unknown sites, is home to the Pharaonic temple of Dush. The city once pulsed with life, with craftsmen and merchants, markets and inns. A stroll around will allow you to see a wide array of shattered pottery and artefacts, such as coins, jewellery and letters. Between 96 and 81 BC, a sandstone temple was erected there in honour of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of regeneration. The temple was built to the order of the Roman Emperor Domitian and was enlarged twice in the first and second centuries AD during the reign of fellow Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

Another of the great adventures suggested by El-Hebeishy is a trip to the Great Sand Sea, which lies almost entirely in Egypt’s Western Desert, with a small fringe protruding into Libya. The number one attraction in the area are the ever-changing sand dunes. “In the pre-civilisation era, this place was not as desolate as it seems today,” El-Hebeishy said. “Rivers zigzagged between trees growing on their banks and grazing animals foraged for food. Though all of these long-forgotten memories have faded, the traces are still there; look for the site of the petrified palm trees along with fossilised sea shells amidst an endlessly captivating sea of sand.”

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Petrified palm tree in the midst of the Great Sand Sea Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

The Great Sand Sea travellers can also witness a unique natural formation that has puzzled mankind since its discovery — silica glass. The glass comes in different degrees of clarity, ranging from cloudy to fully transparent, and its colours range from light grey to pale green. Its weight varies from a few grammes to several kilogrammes; the biggest whole piece that has ever been found is a 27- kilogramme chunk.

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Silica glass at the Great Sand Sea Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

Again, the Great Sand Sea expedition should preferably be undertaken through a travel agency that possesses the equipment and the expertise to navigate the area.

Many of us know Wadi Al-Natrun, a desert depression nearly 60 kilometres long located in the Western Desert near the delta about 90 kilometres north-west of Cairo. It is chiefly known for its four Coptic monasteries: the Monastery of the Romans (Deir Al-Baramus), Anba Bishoi’s Monastery, the Monastery of the Syrians (Deir Al-Surian) and the Monastery of Saint Macarious (Deir Abu Makar).

Many do not know that Wadi Al-Natrun houses a water spring called Al-Hamra, which is said to be the exact spot where the Virgin Mary took a drink to quench her thirst during the flight of the holy family in Egypt. In Al-Hamra you can swim, enjoy nature, breathe fresh air, have a nice meal and reside in cosy accommodations.

The deep red colour of the highly saline water is the result of its distinctive mineral component, a pink-coloured natural mineral that is categorised as a type of salt called natron. Natron is found in abundance throughout the area, which is how Wadi Al-Natrun (Natron Valley) acquired its name. During summer, and due to high temperatures, the water of the spring starts to evaporate, unveiling piles and piles of the precious mineral.

Due to its proximity to Cairo, this trip could be done in a day, although there are good accommodations at either the Fishermen’s Village, a guest house type of resort equipped with two artificial lakes, where fishing fans can while away from their time enjoy the hobby, or in the Hamra Ecolodge, which offers inimitable lodgings in a cosy, family-like atmosphere.

Then there is the Fayoum Depression, only a two-hour drive south-west of Cairo, known for its picturesque scenery of Lake Qaroun and its famous water wheels, as well as its history. Besides the known sites of Fayoum, El-Hebeishy suggests Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Whales Valley) for those interested in geology. Fourty million years ago, vast areas of the northern part of the Egyptian Western Desert, including all of Fayoum, were under water as part of the Tethys Sea. It is said that Wadi Al-Hitan was a bay where the gigantic whales used to harbour. When the Tethys Sea started to recede, some Zeuglodons (the famous Fayoum whales) were trapped in small water pools, in which they eventually died. These mass whale graves contain more than 240 skeletons of the extinct species. The significance of these whales is that their fossils provide crucial information on the transition of whales from land to marine mammals.

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Whale fossils in Wadi El-Hitan

Wandering around Wadi Al-Hitan, you will see big fossils, seashells, shark teeth and mangrove roots, as well as entire hills of fossilised corals. Trails are available to take you to Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate and a normal sedan will do.

Another off-the-beaten track site in Fayoum is Qasr Al-Sagha (the Golden Fortress), which thousands of years ago stood flourishing with life on the fertile shores of ancient Lake Moeris. After the lake shrunk, Qasr Al-Sagha remained stranded in the middle of nowhere. So far, scholars cannot decide whether the edifice belonging to the Middle Kingdom was meant as a temple or a palace.

Qasr Al-Sagha contains a number of small rooms, as well as a blind room with no entrance. The whole building is bare; there is not a single inscription or decoration to be found on any of its walls. Its unique construction technique is one of the most interesting attractions, as the edifice is built of large limestone chunks fitted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Qasr Al-Sagha is only 25 kilometres away from the rural village of Kom Ushim in Fayoum. A 4X4 wheeler is essential on that trip, in addition to a GPS unit and a guide.

Besides the sea, sun, sand, coloured fish and coral reefs, South Sinai offers history lovers a number of ancient sites among which is the Pharaonic temple of Serabit Al-Khadem, the only Pharaonic relic left by the ancient Egyptians in South Sinai.

Archaeologists have found that the earliest known settlers in Sinai, about 8,000 years ago, were miners. Drawn by the region’s abundant copper and turquoise deposits, these groups slowly worked their way southward, hopping from one deposit to the next. By 3500 BC, the great turquoise veins of Serabit Al-Khadem had been discovered.

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Serabit Al-Khadem cave

Dedicated to Hathor, the patron goddess of copper and turquoise miners, the temple is located 1,100 metres above sea level. It was first built during the reign of Sosostris I of the Middle Kingdom; and partly reconstructed during the New Kingdom.

Serabit Al-Khadem is the largest of Sinai’s mining sites dating back to the time of the Pharaohs, but it is not the only one. Other sites like the one in Gebel Maghara are also worth mentioning. The mountain is full of caves in which ancient Egyptians mined for turquoise and copper. Atop the mountain, there is a small collection of rock carvings adorning the site.

Today, it is not difficult to reach the Serabit Al-Khadem area, though the trip must be made by jeep. There are no paved roads to the base of the mountain. From a parking area, one takes a well- marked path that has an elevation gain of over 2,600 feet above sea level and is somewhat rigorous.

If you are adventurous, you can go on a three-day trek to the notorious Gebel Abbas, infamous for the palace built on its top which belonged to Abbas Helmi Pasha, Mohamed Ali’s grandson and Egypt’s viceroy between 1849 and 1854. The palace was built as a health retreat for the reclusive pasha. Ascending the mountain will give you a superb panoramic view of the Sinai desert and will lead you to the ruins of the palace, which was never completed because of the assassination of Abbas Pasha.

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Mount Abbas with the ruins of the Palace of Abbas on top

If you fancy a less exerting hike, you can target the Nabatean Village, an archaeological site where Nabateans once resided. Nabateans were clever merchants who exploited their position at the nexus of several trade routes, though they didn’t maintain clear-cut boundaries with their neighbours. Nabateans are believed to have occupied the border area between Syria and Saudi Arabia, including current-day Jordan, and which extended to cover the Sinai Peninsula. Trade routes and the origin of goods were considered a matter of national security; revealing any was an act of high treason. Along their secretive trade routes they maintained garrisons and stations to rest and replenish with food and water supplies, one of which is the archaeological site known as the “Nabatean Village”.

The Nabatean civilisation reached its zenith with the carving of the elusive city of Petra in Jordan around the first century BC. But civilisations have all been characterised by rises and falls and the Nabateans’ was no different. Roman Emperor Trajan waged a ruthless war that ended with annexing the Nabatean Kingdom as part of the greater Roman Empire. The splendorous city of Petra was reduced to the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.

The Eastern Desert also has its priceless treasures; the Emerald City, or Mons Smaragdus as the Romans called it, being one of them. Thousands of years ago, it was the only site throughout the vast Roman Empire that yielded emeralds. Covering an area of about 180 square kilometres, Mons Smaragdus boasted at least nine separate mountain communities, the largest and most well-preserved of which is the Emerald City of Wadi Sekeit.

Mons Smaragdus was a buzzing community in the midst of the Eastern Desert, located between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast. During its heyday, the journey from the Emerald City to the Nile took an average of seven days. It was first mentioned in the Ptolemic era, reaching its zenith during the Roman one. After the Arab conquest in 641 AD, the Emerald City’s mining activities continued, albeit on a smaller scale.

Many excavations have taken place at the site, and each time they yield new clues as to its techniques and functions. Many inscriptions have been deciphered, but unfortunately, 19th century explorers who came to the area left their own graffiti; many of the original inscriptions have been replaced, partially destroyed or even completely removed.

Wadi El-Gemal island off the Red Sea Coast, 50km south of the town of Marsa Alam, offers nature lovers an unforgettable experience. This small, stretched out coralline island, along with Hamata Archipelago, forms the marine part of Wadi Al-Gemal-Hamata National Park. Covering a total area of two square kilometres, Wadi Al-Gemal Island is home to a rich diversity of eco-systems including marine life, avifauna, flora and fauna. The valley is the third largest in the Eastern Desert draining into the Red Sea. On an early morning stroll, you might catch gazelle (Gazella Dorcas ) nibbling on the rich vegetation on the hillsides, or perhaps the “King of the Mountains”, officially known as the Nubian Ibex ( Capra Nubiana ), making an appearance, descending a rocky trail looking for small waterholes, as it must do at least once every 24 hours to drink. If you are lucky, you may be rewarded with a relatively close encounter with a Rèppell’s Sand Fox ( Vulpes Rueppelli ). Though foxes are nocturnal creatures, they sometimes appear in the early morning hours. As the sun ascends, you’ll likely pass rock-dwelling lizards such as the Fan-footed Gecko ( Ptyodactylus Hasselquistii ), Spiny Agama ( Agama Spinosa ) and Jan’s Cliff Racer ( Coluber Rhoderhachis ). To spot them, look carefully at the nearby rocks, for they have a remarkable ability for camouflage.

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A bird in Hamata Photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

There are countless other sites mentioned in El-Hebeishy’s Egypt Rediscovered that will inspire awe and are worth visiting, such as Hamata, 100 kilometres from Marsa Alam, Shalateen and Elba, on the Egyptian-Sudanese border.

Besides the essays and valuable information, the reader is offered more than 50 unique shots of picturesque sceneries, extinct fauna and flora and unrecognised archaeological sites. Egypt Rediscovered ‘s main strength lies in the fact that it is a personal account of El-Hebeishy’s two years of extensive travelling experience and adventures, in which he was searching for a different Egypt. It is an unusual guidebook not only of sites and relics, but of peoples and communities, their rise and fall and the tales behind them.

Categories: Cairo, Desert, Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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