Middle Egypt – home of Akhenaton and the bust of Nefertiti

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Street in Minya by night

Next to the Horus Resort, an ugly concrete fountain greets nearly non-existent visitors. Whenever we walk the streets of Minya, people wave at us, crying „Welcome to Minya“ and “How are you”. For many years, the pleasant university town of Minya in Middle Egypt has been a difficult and rare destination for independent travellers, and very few groups went there. Security measures were high since the violent clashes between government security forces and Islamists during the 1990s, and usually a police escort was required when moving around.

We find a room in a small Coptic hotel (Beach Hotel / Funduk Sharta) near the Corniche, where a policeman is always sitting in the lobby. Every time we pass him, he inquires about our sightseeing plans and means of transport, and makes telephone calls to inform all the other security staff in Middle Egypt at the checkpoints and sightseeing spots about our coming; but otherwise he leaves us alone.

The ruins of Beni Hassan

On the first day we visit the fantastic rock tombs at Beni Hassan about 20 km south of Minya. Most of the 39 tombs belonged to governors of the Middle kingdom, and four are open to visitors. The walls are covered with scenes from everyday life, like wine-making, dancing and hunting. Not so long after the (3rd millennium BC) civil war, wrestling and martial arts training for policemen also feature extensively.

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The ruins of Al Ashmunein

The next day we go by taxi to more sights in Middle Egypt: Al Ashmunein, Tuna El Gebel, and finally to the capital of Pharaoh Akhenaton and Nefertiti, Tell el Amarna. In El Ashmunein (ancient Hermopolis), a vast overgrown site with some stone pillars, capitals and relics of houses lying around, one can feel like the 19th century explorers stumbling through pharaonic monuments. In Tuna El Gebel – a burial site in the desert –groups of youngsters a partying in the sand dunes, taking advantage of their day off on Fridays.

The ruins of Tell el Amarna

Getting to Tell El-Amarna proves somewhat time-consuming: Although a bridge near Mallawi has recently been opened, for some reason our driver insists on the ferry. When we arrive it is already around 3 pm, and the staff, not used to having visitors at all, make it clear that they want to leave work by 4:30 pm. Escorted by yet another armed police guard we are rushed through the Northern tombs to the tomb of Akhenaton, then – as we insist – over to the Southern tombs, and on the way out we are allowed just a quick look at the Small Aton Temple in the old town

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Atontempel at Tell El Amarna

The roads are very bad and every few kilometres there are bumps in the surface to slow down traffic, presumably a relic from the 1990s security measures. After the 10 hour taxi ride (with sightseeing breaks) we feel really sick.

Leaving Minya the next day, we would prefer the train. The policeman in the lobby sends for a young security guy to escort us to the station and make sure we leave the region (and the responsibility of Minya police!). At 10 am, the 9:30 train has not passed yet, but it may well take another one or two hours to arrive. The security guy suggests a bus. “This one is good,” he urges us onto the next microbus and confirms that we buy a ticket and leave town. The bus, it turns out, is extremely slow, taking in every traffic-slowing bump, every village and every fish-vendor going to market.

How to get to the pharaonic sites in Middle Egypt

Public transport may be available to Beni Hassan, but you would definitely need a taxi to see the other sites. We paid 30 LE per hour without bargaining. The driver was not very familiar with the area (let alone the tourist sites), but found his way around by asking several people.

A very good site on Tell-el-Amarna with detailed descriptions and background: www.amarnaproject.com

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