Knossos in Knots

We were a bit disappointed at the Minoan ruins we visited in both Gortyna and Phaestos. I mean, who wouldn’t be? We had just returned from Egypt, land of the most incredible and complete ancient ruins anywhere in the world. OK, that is a bit superlative, but the magnificence of Egypt definitely colored our visits to theses sites as well as to Knossos. We’ve been spoiled!

Many see the Minoans as the beginning of the Greek civilization. People have lived here in Crete for a long time, as far back as 7000 BC as Neolithic communities. Minoan civilization is divided up into three periods of time, which roughly correlate with Egyptian kingdoms: Early (3000-2100 BC), Middle (2100-1500), and Late (1500-1100 BC). The ruins at Knossos, just south of Heraklion, contain elements of all three periods but the palace reconstruction here is based upon ruins from the Middle period, the height of Minoan art and culture. The name Minoan was given to this culture by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the mythological character King Minos of Crete. His was the city of the legendary palace and labyrinth designed by the architect Daedalus. In this labyrinth lived the Minotaur who was fed a dozen or so Athenian youth each year at the Spring Equinox as tribute to King Minos’ rule. One can ascertain by legend that Crete was a powerful place. At any rate, Evans named this culture after that story; we have no idea what these people really called themselves. Nor do we have any evidence to corroborate the story of Minos and the Minotaur, unless you look at the unruly mess of ruins as a maze of some sort. Maybe the story is based upon the ruins of the palace?

Knossos is the ancient capital of the Minoan civilization, if there ever really was such a thing as a capital for this culture. The trouble with studying Minoan culture is that we actually know very little about it. Everything we read at this site is listed with a qualifier. Around 1900, Sir Arthur Evans discovered this site at Knossos. It is a huge site covering over 20,000 square meters. He spent more than 30 years and 250,000 British Pounds uncovering and then restoring the site. The problem was, and still is, did he know enough about Knossos to accurately rebuild the palace? He used cement to reconstruct much of what we picture as Knossos. The reality is that the remains were a wreck. Some of the buildings here predate the great Pyramids of Giza, but unlike Egyptian antiquities, these have been subjected to millennia of weather - harsh weather. We have experienced a bit of the rain, wind and snow that this island receives. Yes, I said snow! The weathering and warring that Knossos underwent these past 4,500 years have left no stone unturned. The original stones that are still exposed to the elements are eroded beyond usefulness. So the big question is, what exactly did Evans rebuild? Many critics believe he had romanticized ideas about the Minoans. His reconstruction seems largely influenced by the way Roman villas were arranged, which may or not have been the way things actually were here. It sounds like he let his own cultural lens steer the way he rebuilt Knossos as opposed to allowing the culture to uncover itself. His rushed efforts have left us with a Knossos that may never have been, and because of the materials he used in its reconstruction, a Knossos we might never be able to know. The new and the old are tangled into a knot that may never be undone.

As I looked around the palace grounds I was constantly doubting the reconstruction; were these ruins an original foundation or a guestimated reconstruction? An idea of a column might be based upon a tiny fragment of marble at the base. Anything with original color, including all those famous frescoes, have been reconstructed and moved to the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio. Knossos is filled with replacements that are overly redone. Remember none of this was in one piece and many pieces are missing. It all seemed a bit misleading. But all the same very imaginative and interesting. We all agreed that you need a lot of imagination to make any sense of these ruins.

Something else that makes this culture so hard to get to know is the fact that there is a great deal of difficulty reading any of the early wrtings. There are three types of writing from the Minoan period. Linear B is an early Greek form that has been partially deciphered from tablets found at Knossos. From these we know a little about the inventory of supplies and trade related to palace life, but so far linguists have been unable to translate anything related to Minoan history of daily life. Linear A is an even older script from this culture that has not been translated. And then there’s the famous Phaestos disk with its mysterious undeciphered markings. So much unknown and so few clues.

In addition to weather and wars the island of Crete is regularly subjected to geologic activity. There is evidence that the palace at Knossos was destroyed by earthquakes, fires, and volcanic fall-out from Mt. Thera on the island of Santorini. And not just once but several times beginning in 1700 BC through the palaces’ apparent abandonment around 1400 BC. It just so happens that Crete lies at the intersection of three major continental plates: the Eurasian, African, and the Arabian. These three push against each other causing pressure to build and release in the form earthquakes and volcanoes. The region has seen more than 20,000 quakes in the past 40 years. In 1999 two devastating quakes rocked this region: one in Athens killing 139 and a huge 7.4 quake that hit Turkey killing 40,000.

One aspect of Knossos’ destruction that I am particularly interested in came in the form of a tsunami tidal wave following the eruption of Santorini around 1440 BC. I have read estimates that this tidal surge may have been as high as 500 feet and surged deep into the heart of the northern coast of Crete up to the palace of Knossos. Minoan military strength would have been decimated since the majority of Crete’s power rested in the strength of its navy, which at this time was based along this same northern coast at Knossos. It is shortly after this date that Minoan culture fades from its position of power and influence over the region. Cool!

Gortyna and Phaestos

We spent most of the 14th trying to find the archaeological museum of Iraklio. We found it on the 15th only to discover it is closed long-term for renovations. Major bummer! This museum has every important find regarding the Minoan Civilization. I guess I’ll buy the book. So for the next day we set out for the south side of the island to Gortyna and Phaestos. These are Minoan settlements, smaller than Knossos and unrestored. We were hopeful to find something but unsure of just what it would be. We were familiar with Egyptian ruins and archaeology; everything was well preserved and tastefully restored. Today turned out to be an awkward awakening to what archaeology is like in the rest of the world.

After a very pleasant drive through vineyards and olive groves and then over a small mountain pass, we descended into the beautiful plain of Mesara to Gortyna. We were glad for the free admission and the kind woman (Evie) who gave us a brief tour of the site. We first stopped at the ruins of the 6th century church of Agias Titus (Saint Titus). All that remains are the front altar areas and a side room of the old church. Evie described how Christianity was brought to Crete by Saint Paul and Saint Titus around AD 49 and how the early Christians converted the “old temple” into this church which was, in turn, later destroyed by Turkish Muslims. In Roman times (2nd century AD) this site served as the residence (praetorium) for the local governor. There are ruins for an extensive home, court, and theater. Many Roman statues were found here. Most are Roman copies of Classical Greek art.

Two things immediately stood out to me. First, Evie never once mentioned the Minoans. Yes, the original structure here that became a Roman shrine, then a church and then the ruins we see today, was Minoan, but Evie seemed much more interested in preserving the memory of the Agia Titus. It is, after all, the most recent antiquity that was “ruined” on the site, but to not even mention the Minoans seemed a bit odd.

Second, these are real ruins. Egypt’s ruins looked new in comparison. Here, nothing original stood upright. Even substantial foundation blocks were pieces of rubble that had been painstakingly reconstructed. A few columns and two stone sarcophagi were the only recognizable items. It would take a lot of imagination to visualize this Minoan palace.

We drove down the road to Phaestos. Here we were rewarded with a view. This palace and city were second only to Knossos in size and importance. Very little of this area has been reconstructed, but preservation of the ruins continues. Here there is evidence of a central court surrounded by many smaller rooms. A royal residence sidles up next to this area. We also saw several huge pithoi. They are ceramic jars, some standing over six feet tall, used for storing oil, water, wine and grains. And while it was much easier here to make out rooms and hallways, we again needed a lot of imagination to fill in the balance of the picture of what once made up a grand palace. The rain started and we wove our way back home.

Today our apologies go out to Crete and the Minoan culture. There is a rich history here that, for us, remained a bit hidden due to a closed museum and the shadow of Egypt’s grandeur. It was refreshing though, to be the only visitors at each site and to enjoy it in the rain! Something that almost never happens in Egypt.

Welcome to Crete

We will be in Crete for a little more than a week. We had originally planned to be here only seven days, but it turns out that there is no ferry from Iraklio to Santorini during the winter months. (The guidebooks and travel agents we consulted failed to mention this. Oops!) As a result we had to cancel the Santorini leg of our trip (bummer) but get to stay in our little village of Fodele two extra days (Hooray!). In case you’re wondering, that first picture is of Iraklio harbor and the Venetian Fortress. Iraklio is the capital of the island of Crete and a veritable labyrinth of one-way streets and alleyways that all lead the way you don’t want to go. It was a lot of fun trying to find our way around town.

Our plan of course is to visit some of the Minoan sites and the archaeological museum here on Crete. But what did we spy in the distant mountains as we first drove into our village? Snow! The Psiloritis Mountains (Mt. Ida) were covered in snow. There is actually skiing here in the middle of the Mediterranean! I never would have guessed it. So we took advantage of our rental car and drove to the snow. It’s a long, narrow, steep, windy road. We now know that carsickness is international and affects all three of our kids and Leah. Well… we made it to the end of the road high in the mountains, froze our rear ends off, found a dead ram, made a snow-mud ram, threw snow balls, and made a hasty retreat into a warm café in the mountain village of Anogia for some hot chocolate and Nescafe. That’s right, glorified instant coffee. Sorry, I’m a bit of a coffee snob, and this is painful to admit, but I have been drinking Nescafe. “Then mu arési Nescafe!”

We are staying in the village of Fodele, about 25 minutes west of Iraklio and about one and a half miles up a canyon from the beach. We spent an afternoon lounging in the icy cold wind at this pretty little beach one afternoon. We were all alone of course since it is the middle of winter; no sane tourist visits the Greek islands in winter. It is a tiny, working, traditional Greek village. That means that it is not a Euro-tourist stop, but it is a Greek/Cretan tourist stop. Sunny weekends find the town and its park filled with families and couples dining in the cafes or picnicking along the creek. It is the home of renaissance painter El Greco, and there is a small museum where his childhood home stood. There is also a spooky looking 1000-year old Platano tree, small shops, a bakery (excellent bread here!), and several restaurants that dot the narrow street that parallels the creek. Our flat borders the walkway on the other side of the creek and a park. We have to walk over a bridge to get to our place; can’t drive here! From our flat it’s a two-minute walk to the nearest restaurant - four minutes to the bakery at the other end of the village. Did I mention that it’s a small village?

Our favorite hangout became Domenico’s. “Smoothie George” (or as Emma was fond of saying, “Soothie George”) is the front man to this café while his wife Eva and his mother-in-law Maria prepare the traditional Cretan meals. By the way, Cretan is not a derogatory title meaning barbarian; here it means great hospitality and excellent food. Where does that negative interpretation of the word Cretan come from anyways? Back to the food. We enjoyed the house specialty of pita gyros made with pork or chicken, tomatoes, onions, yogurt, and French fries all stuffed into a toasted pita pocket. They also make some excellent sheep-milk ice cream. Yummy! Megan and I decided to have a date on Valentine’s Day and left the kids to Leah (Thanks!). We let George know the day before and he had Eva and Maria prepare a traditional Lamb dinner for us. Amazing! George is also proud of his home distilled Raki; a grape liquor that tastes like it was made to strip paint from walls. George called it jet fuel. After dinner, true to Greek hospitality that cannot be denied upon pain of humiliation and anger by the offerer of said hospitality, George plunked down three shot glasses and sat with us to share some Raki. We talked long into the evening with George and a British couple who have transplanted here and manage our flat named Helen and Ken. Bravo! Ya mas! Greek hospitality is alive and well.

Farewell For Now to Egypt

I had no idea how attached we would become to the people and place of Egypt. I knew a bit about how captivating the history would be, and I had high hopes as to getting to know some of the locals here. But everything has exceeded my expectations. The monuments, temples, tombs, and museums were much more numerous, grand, mystifying, and overwhelming than I ever imagined. Our visit and studies have only whet our appetite for more. Likewise, the people here were more numerous, grand, mystifying, and overwhelming in addition to being warm and inviting. We’ve made many new friends along the way and hope that we will one day be able to return the hospitality shown to us. We will return again someday! Thank you Kerry & Marcus, Dan & Kathy, Ahmed & Mostafa (our taxi drivers), Jane Akshar, Mohammed Ismail, Egyptology News (for linking to our blog), and everyone else who helped us along the way.

There’s something to be said about reflecting in the moment, and it has been really good for us to process via regular blogs. But I also hope that reflecting on Egypt from a different cultural perspective (i.e. Greece, Rome, back home in America) may also be fruitful. I will write more about Egypt throughout our trip as I reflect on our experiences. We already miss this place.

Farewell Luxor

Valley of the Kings

This day found us jumping into the back of a service truck (picture a Toyota pick-up with a camper shell and bench seats in the back) and heading out to the Valley of the Kings. This site is also on the west bank of Luxor. It has a very remote feel even though it was only a fifteen-minute ride from our flat. The slightest tilt of the road up from the ancient floodplain and you have once again entered the moonscape of the desert. Nothing grows back here, not a shrub. My guess is that there wouldn’t even be flies if it weren’t for the humans who frequent the area. And while the temperature was really quite comfortable, I couldn’t help but imagine what this place would feel like at 120° F in the summer. The steep limestone walls soar vertical at the extremes. On the Valley floor there are only rocks and sand. It is a place of death.

We hit the Valley in between tour busses and had very little crowding. One fee allows you to visit three tombs in the Valley. For an extra fee you can also see King Tut’s Tomb. Based on the map we had, we were a bit concerned that the tombs were really spread out over this canyon. It turns out that the canyon is not all that large. You can walk the length of the areas where there are excavations in less than ten minutes.

Our first tomb was at the back of the canyon and required us to climb a series of metal stairs to the tomb entrance. This was the tomb of Tuthmosis III, the great warrior pharaoh. He started his rule in the shadow of Hatshepsut and expanded Egypt’s dominion as far north as southern Turkey. Since we had already visited several tombs of nobles and one other pharaonic tomb in the western Valley of the Kings (Ay), we had a pretty good idea of what to expect, or so we thought. The entrance was much longer than any of the tombs visited so far, barring those of Khufu and Khafre in Giza. But it wasn’t the length that surprised us. It was the style of decoration inside this tomb that really makes it unique. I expected more color and grand statements as to the accomplishments of this pharaoh. Instead we found simple, almost delicate line drawings. The only color was the plain plaster background adhered to the walls to make them smooth and the red or black brush strokes of the ancient prayers and magic spells needed to make the journey into the afterlife. There were no large, life-size pictures of Tuthmosis or anyone else for that matter. Our guidebook suggested that the simplicity of the artwork was by design and intended to mimic writing on papyrus. That could be. I had also heard that in tomb painting, artists began their work in red, had it corrected in black, and then painted in the colors. I couldn’t help but think that this tomb looked unfinished in regards to color.

We next visited the tomb of Ramses III, the man behind most of the temple Medinat Habu. This was more of what I thought we should find. This too had a long winding entryway, but unlike Tuthmosis III the decoration began immediately and was in full color. Life size paintings of Ramses and the gods abounded here in vivid color. It was really quite beautiful. Our favorite painting was of a snake with a human head and four legs. The end of the tomb was pretty ruined and inaccessible. Wild!

We then visited the tomb of Merneptah, the 13th son of Ramses II. Because Ramses II lived into his 80s, his first twelve male children died before they could become pharaoh and so Merneptah gained the throne. Unlike the first two tombs we visited, his entrance was long and straight. In the center of the room at the end of what feels like a long hallway is the lid of one of four sarcophagi that his mummy was placed inside. It was here that we were hijacked by the guardian of the tomb who grabbed me by the arm and requested us all to sit underneath the lid of this granite sarcophagus. Underneath was a beautiful carving. He then requested to take a picture of our family and pressured us for a healthy amount of baksheesh. We were the only ones in the tomb at the time and he held my camera, so we were at his mercy. To top it off, the pictures were horrible. It is an unfortunate example of the difficult situation in which these guardians work. They are guarding some of the world’s most valuable antiquities yet are paid peanuts (the equivalent of about $60 per month). This reduces some of them to pursuing extra income by less than honorable means. It’s a drag for everyone.

I had no high expectations for the next tomb, but who can say they visited the Valley of the Kings and not visit King Tut’s tomb? Megan stayed out with Emma, but Sam and Sarah Jane were dancing with excitement. My expectations were low because I already knew that it was small, and we had already visited Ay’s tomb, almost identical to Tut’s in design (probably the same tomb designer/decorator for both). Yes it was small, and it did look a lot like Ay’s tomb, but we were still very awed by this special place. We were particularly lucky here; there was only one other person in the tomb. We practically had the place to ourselves for about fifteen minutes. Sam and Sarah Jane loved the simplicity of it. The other tombs had so much writing and were so large that it was almost too much for them to take in. This was something they could look at and understand. They also liked the fact that Tut’s mummy laid inside the sarcophagus. Unlike Ay’s tomb the tomb paintings are complete and not defaced, but did I detect mildew on the walls? These tombs are so overly visited that moisture from human breath is beginning to take its toll. It’s high time efforts are taken to preserve these sites from the very people that are lovingly visiting them. Access to the sites is hugely important and I believe should not be limited to the few who officially study them or can afford exorbitant prices (I’m sure that raising the prices on sites like Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens and Tut’s tomb have motives to both make money as well as limit traffic). Rotation of tombs is already in practice and should be continued to give them a chance to clear the air between visitors. Aren’t there ways to control humidity within the tombs? Should tomb walls be protected with some sort of coating and or be cleaned? I would hate to see these sites closed almost as much as I would hate to see them disintegrate.

Valley of the Kings

Temples, Temples, and More Temples

I’m sure that I’ve written something like this before, but it bears repeating. The sheer number and size of the temples in this area of Egypt is mind-boggling. I have already written about the temples of Sety I. Luxor, and Karnak, each one successively larger and more grandiose than the other. More recently we also visited the temples of Ramses II, Hatshepsut, and Medinat Habu. We revisited Karnak as well just because it is too much to comprehend in one day (not that going back for another visit helped us comprehend it much more). Now add to this list the dozen or so other temples in the area that we didn’t visit. Keep in mind that the smallest of these temple compounds covers more ground-space than any football stadium. And here’s the real kicker, they were all up and functioning at the same time. By the end of the 19th dynasty in the New Kingdom there must have been hundreds of thousands of people employed by the priesthood in Egypt. Aside from agriculture, the construction, maintenance and daily operations of these temples must have been the only game in town.

The Temple of Ramses II, also known as the Rameseum, is a huge complex built by Ramses the Great (1279-1213 BC) primarily commemorating his many military conquests. Like most of the temples we have visited, the entire compound is arranged in a large rectangle. At one of the narrower ends there stands the remains of an enormous wall referred to as a pylon. This pylon stands about 50 feet tall, 200 feet across, and about 20 feet thick at the base. It gives the temple a fortress-like appearance except for the fact that the pylon only sits at the front of the temple. More reasonable walls of maybe 20 feet tall surround the rest of the complex. So what’s the deal with the pylon? It almost looks as if it were constructed to break a large wave. It does face towards the Nile. I mention this only because the pylon is a common feature of many of the temples of this era. Ramses’ temple, like the others, contains several smaller pylons that function to separate the complex into sub-sections. At any rate, the first pylon is very impressive. There are writings about this temple where Ramses declares his magnificence and powers over life and death. It is covered with scenes depicting Ramses with an upraised war club in one hand while in the other he holds his enemies by their hair. Scenes of him riding his chariot while shooting bow and arrow abound. All larger than life. He seemed quite fond of these two poses as they are found on every temple and monument that he touched. Also, it is here where the 60 foot tall colossal of Ramses once stood. All that remains of this statue are his feet, shoulders, and a deeply disfigured face in ruins on the ground. The English poet Shelley wrote about Ramses in his poem titled “Ozymandias.” The poem makes light of Ramses’ claims to eternal glory by noting the ruins of this temple. Ramses did appear to have an overactive ego. But I have to disagree with Shelly, and I’m sure Ramses would disagree as well. There are just too many references to this great pharaoh to just write him off as being an egomaniac: this temple along with his other temples, the inscriptions written by and about him everywhere in Egypt, his mummy in its place of honor in the Cairo Museum, the very fact that we still talk about him today all testify to his greatness in history even if his monuments are a bit ruined. I wonder who will speak of Shelley 3,220 years after his death?

I could spend days describing Hatshepsut’s Deir al-Bahri Temple. Hatshepsut, the first official female pharaoh, ruled as queen alongside Tuthmosis II and alone as pharaoh from 1492-1458 BC. Her temple is so different from any of the other temples. It is built right into the base of the cliffs below the symbolic, pyramid shaped mountain Al Qurn (the horn). Her temple sits deep back in a valley but holds a commanding view across the Theban plain and the river to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The lines of her temple are totally different from the pharaohs both before and after her. The lines are angular; gone are the rounded bundles of papyrus characterizing the columns of other temples. The majority of her columns are either square or 13 sided. Gone are the hypostyle hall features. There are many reliefs on the walls of each of the terraces of her temple. On the lowest terrace there is an amazing scene recording the shipping of her two obelisks (see Karnak: Supersize Me!). It shows a huge ship with both obelisks lengthwise end-to-end tied down onto the deck. This had to have been one gigantic vessel! On the central terraces there are intricate scenes recounting Hatshepsut’s expedition into the Land of Punt, Sudan along the Red Sea coast. There are pictures of birds, fish, animal, trees, plants, and flowers that were brought back from this adventure. Because of the detail of these pictures biologists are able to pinpoint her trip based upon where these native birds and plants grew. It’s amazing. Hatshepsut has an amazing story that I will write more about in the future.

The last temple that we visited was Medinat Habu, second only in size to the Karnak complex of temples; that means that this place is huge as well. This temple site was first built upon by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III and later added to by Ramses III (1184-1153 BC) whose structures make up the majority of the construction. Ramses III, like his father Ramses the Great at the Ramesseum, managed to dominate this complex with his exploits. There are numerous scenes of him leading away captives and slaves from the lands he conquered. He also seems to have been quite impressed with the image of himself with war club in one hand while the other grasps several enemies by their hair as they beg for mercy. There is a great deal of color remaining on the ceilings and high walls of this temple beyond the reach of vandals and weather. And nowhere in Egypt have I seen engravings so deep into the walls. Some of the hieroglyphs were easily eight inches deep into the stone. His writing was not going to be easily erased by time. On and outside wall of his temple there is an unusual scene of Ramses hunting bulls and donkeys. He stands in his chariot, reigns tied around his waist, shooting arrows at these animals as he single-handedly (actually hands-free!) drives the chariot. Impressive driving, but hunting bulls and donkeys?

Service Truck Ride to Medinat Habu

Hike with Mohammed

We hired our new friend Mohammed to give us a walking tour of the hills around his home and the Valley of the Nobles. What a privilege to be able to be shown around by a “local.” We walked among tombs, homes, neighbors, baby goats and donkeys. Our first stop was the tomb of Menna. This tomb is one of literally hundreds of tombs in these hills that were used for simpler (than the kings and queens) burials for nobles, officials and people with the means to buy some real estate for the afterlife. We all enjoyed some really interesting scenes from daily life in Menna’s tomb. There are many paintings of people harvesting and threshing their wheat crop. In the midst, two young girls can be found fighting or wrestling with each other, just like Emma and Sarah Jane! We saw beautiful paintings of wildlife, especially birds, and even a butterfly. There are paintings of people making a boat trip pilgrimage to Abydos with one individual reaching over the side of the boat to scoop up a drink of water. We are impressed by the individuality of each tomb and each scene and then each person represented in each scene.

We continued on up and around the hillside from this tomb to a beautiful vista of The Temple of Hatshepsut (Deir al-Bahri). After some photos and water, we scrambled along behind and then up the hill some more, arriving at the high point in these hills and the station of the guardian of this area. This small square building is like a mini mosque/mausoleum, but I’m sure that’s not the best way to describe it. It felt like a peaceful place of meditation, and you do have to remove your shoes before entering. In the center of the room there was a coffin that contained the body of the one time sheik of this area.

After some fun with the guardian of this area and his prayer beads (he enjoyed having all the kids wear them), we went on, with him, to scramble down past some closed tombs and gaping holes in the ground and then back up to the tomb of Senmut. Senmut was Hatshepsut’s architect, close friend and very likely, her lover. There is an interesting statue here of Senmut, Hatshepsut and “their” daughter. This could make for some great soap opera drama if played out.

We said good-bye to the guardian and then hoofed it back up over his mountaintop and down the backside. It felt like we were walking through a moonscape. It’s not only the geology of the area; we were the only people to be seen. And it was so quiet! We came down into the next valley and climbed a short way up the opposite side to a cleft in the next mountain. This is where the famous cache of royal mummies was found in 1881. These mummies had been moved out of their tombs in the 21st dynasty for fear of them being robbed. By this time in Egypt’s history, the priests knew that almost no tomb was robber-proof. This was an effort to protect the mummies of some of Egypt’s most well known pharaohs, including Ramses the Great and Tuthmosis I, II, and III. We were able to stand there and gaze down the 30+meter shaft (when we weren’t panicking over Emma’s attempts to see) and marvel at what it must have been like to have made this find.

As we headed back down to the valley, Mohammed pointed out several fossils to us. He found several clam fossils that were intact. We all had a great time looking for fossils and “color rocks” because now we were in the “Valley of the Colors.” This is believed to be the place where the ancient Egyptians came to get the pigments needed for their beautiful paintings on tomb and temple walls. The rocks here do not look colorful at first glance. But, if you stop and break one open, you may find a dark red or orange, purplish or even green or yellow crumbly center. We all had a great time doing some face and body painting simply by rubbing the powder onto our skin.

We followed this valley along toward Deir al-Medina (ruins of the workmen’s village) and then back around the hillside to Mohammed’s home. When it was all said and done, we had made a great loop around and behind the hills of Old Gurna and Mohammed’s home. His wife was just taking bread out of their earthen oven as we returned and so they invited us in for some fresh bread and shai. It was amazing!

When in Luxor you should hire Mohammed for a walking tour. He knows everything about the area and will take you anywhere. His phone number is 0106825726. We highly recommend his services.