and a Close Encounter with Bauval
By Alan Fildes
Special thanks to NEMES, an Egyptian Society located in the UK for this article.
The fascinating and rewarding journey South along Egypt's main artery to Maidum takes one hour& twenty minutes, passing at first the heavy industrial sites consuming the environs of the metropolitan City of Cairo. One finally arrives at Pharoanic Fayoumwhere thefields tended by rural farmers are surely little effected since the halcyon days of Nefermaat & Rahotep 4500 years ago.
On approaching the site you are stopped at a check point by the police, who curiously question my driver Sabry (why only him, who is he? the the questions flowed). They are eventually satisfied thank goodness. Although quite happy they insist on 4 tourist police packed in a Toyota corolla to accompany me. I am used to this by now, as theyare only there to protect tourists probably from themselves. We finally arrive at the ticket office. The cost is LE (Egyptian Pounds) 16.00 +LE 5.00 for the camera.
The sight of the Pharaoh'sPyramid from the desert road is majestic and unaffected by the world around, as it has been since its collapse millennia ago in the forgotten mists of time. The beneficiary of this strangely misshapen edifice and last resting place is believed to be King Huni the lastmonarch of Manetho's 3rd Dynasty. He would be followed on the throne of the two lands by the Great KingSneferu. the progenitor of the epoch of prodigious Pyramid construction. My aim this visit is clear.
I had previously entered and photographed Huni's ingeniously corbelled burial chamber which is the precursor of all Sneferu's work at Dahshur and also the enigmatic Mastaba no 17, the possessor of the oldest sarcophagus yet discovered (predating Khufu's by 50 years). This had left me with the thought provoking mystery of when and who among the robbers placed the wooden mallet under the pink granite sarcophaguslid4500 years ago.In doing he violated the defleshed burial of an heir to the throne.
Mastaba No. 17
This time I was determined to be allowed to walk the whole site and after some negotiation I was begrudgingly permitted to do so. I started my labors two or three hundred yards North of the Pyramid at the Tomb of Nefermaat & Itet (no 16), now sadly an amorphous mound of mud brick savaged by man and the ravages of time.Part of the Eastern Facade has been frugally restoredand that's about it. The paneled walls formerly 10 meters high must have been dazzling with there white plaster reflecting the Sun's rays. Now alas very little remains although scrutiny will be rewarded. Nefermaat held the highest official titles of the land, including:
- Chief Justice & Vizier
- Hereditary Prince
- Guardian of Nekhen
- Sealbearer of the King of Lower Egypt
- Kings Eldest Son
There are numerous works of Nefermaat's almost unique art form ( along with Hemiunu statue base ) in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, his artisansbeing the first to use sunken relief filled with pigment blended paste. Whoof us hasn't marveled at the artistic proportion of the so called Maidum Geese.
The next stop is the Tomb of Rahotep and Nefert (no 6 )around another 100 meters to the North. The sun is now relentlessly beating down and shade is non existent, but it is just a great feeling to be here where some of the greatest treasures of Old Kingdom history have been discovered. I stand above the place where the wonderful statuesof Rahotep and Nefertfirst saw thelight of day after 4500 years of slumber. They could never have known that thousands of people from every corner of the world would eventually reverently file past their life like effigies making them amongst the most recognizable of Ancient Nobility. Rahotep was also a Kings Son and Nefert a Kings Acquaintance.
To think the first official excavator of this important site in 1871, be it only for a day or so, was a Monsieur Vigne a merchant and amateur archaeologist from Alexandria.He discovered a piece of a limestone stele but as soon as the news spread his efforts were suspended pending investigation by the Authorities. But that's another story. Since Vigne some of the greats have excavated at Maidum, including Mariette in 1872, Petrie in 1891, Wainwright in 1909/1910/1911 andRowe in 1929/1932. Petrie and Wainwright dismantled and shipped the Nefermaat and Rahoteps chapels to Cairo in 1910. Luigi Vassali cut the Maidum Geese from the walls of the Itets chapel in 1872. Then the Rahotep and Neferts statueswhere discovered in 1871 by Mariette's Deputy, Albert Daninos. What an interesting and somewhat amusing tale that is. There are many Old KingdomRoyal Tombs here at Maidum including Ranofer and Nyhap, both Princes although it has to be said they are best visited in conjunction with a trip to the EgyptianMuseum in Cairo. At the Museum you can view the art treasures retrieved from the site over the last 130 years, but don't forgetting that the British Museum andManchester even have a relief or two.
Standing on thetop of Nefermaat,s Tomb looking South I now review with excitement and anticipation my next objective which is to walk the environs of the Pyramid and Mastaba (no 1 ) at my leisure. The silence is such that it adds to my contemplative state. After I have completed my task and what a joy it has been even in extreme heat, I walk over to thelarge granite torso which might be Sneferu or Huni and see a largesarcophagus nearby. It is certainly not Old Kingdom, but I take pictures of it in order to decipher them when I return home.
In the distance I see another car approaching. If this meana I have to share the site with someone else I'm aggrieved. As the vehicle pulls up I realize it's Robert Bauval of "The Orion Mystery"fame accompanied by a Television Producer who turns out to be a very niceSouth Africanlady. I introduce myself and ask if he isn't Bauval. "Yes", he answers and we then proceeded to have a very interesting and for me informative 30 minute conversation. I for one came away very impressed with him as a man if not agreeing with his philosophy. He is a friendly sincere man unaffected by his fame, I did find outwe are both awestruck by Alexander the Great and of course the Pyramids and surely that's not a bad start to any friendship. He's Egyptian born, and you guessed it, from Alexandria.
With a certain amount of sadness I left the amazing site of Maidum for Lisht. It has to be said that the local route from Maidum to Lisht is quite the most stunningly beautiful drive with lush green vegetation in stark contrast to the dazzling heat of the desert not half a miledistant. Our police escort has now left us and we stop by the side of the Bahrel Libeini to photograph the Pyramid across the farmland. I hope my endeavors do the scene justice as surely this is as close as one can get to Pharoanic Egypt.
On arrival at the village of Lisht we need assistance as no one could find their way through the narrow alley's without help. Out of nowhere a young man named Mohammed appeared, who gracious assisted us as Egyptian's are known to do. The short but interesting journey through uneven mud packed back streets, some ending in blind alley's, could have been tricky.We finally arrive at the desert edge to be confronted by a large Moslem Cemetery that we had to cross as there is no way around it. Ahead of us is the 12th Dynasty Pyramid of Amenemhet1st (1985/1955BC) who founded of a new, powerful Dynasty. He was a reformer who moved the Capital of Egypt to a new site (locationundiscovered to this day ) naming his residence Ititawi which means "the seizer of the twolands". As I walk around the Pyramid Complex I can't help pondering whether Sinuhe the Egyptian actuallytread where I am now treading millennia ago.
The heat is now becoming oppressive. The site is covered with wind blown sand but this doesn't detract or lessen the sites magnetism. One must be careful as there are many open shafts. I thrust a 10.00 LE note in Mohammed's hand, which delights him, and then I point to the Pyramid of Senwosret 1st approximately 2km South. We return to the car and off we go . If I thought Amenemhet was difficult to get to this would be impossible without help. Back we return via chickens, cattle, donkeys, stagnant canals and young kids running in front of us. The alleys become so narrower that we can only just pass. Eventually we arrive at the desert edge after skirting another Moslem Cemetery and a refuse dump. We drive as far as we can into the inhospitable desert but to our chagrin we have to walk the rest of the way. Senwosret 1st son and coregent of Amenemhet 1st reigned between 1965 and 1920 BC. His Pyramid Complex offers more discernable remains though no hieroglyphs remain. However, I managed to uncover a relief of Hapy the Nile God on the South Side of the Pyramid.
The heat is now totally unbearable so we will have to call it a day Itt seems an endless walk back across the sand dunes to the car. We are both glad to reach the air-conditioning and cool down. I give Mohammed another 10.00 LE and he is now overjoyed. He is a smashing young man I wonder if we will ever meet again ? I thinkit's unlikely.
"Sabry ( my driver ) back to the Sheraton El Gezirah please I need a stella".