Akhenaten (the first Moses?) and the Resurrection of his Fallen Sun Cathedral

 Apr 19, 2019 11:00 PM
by Laura Ranieri

By Laura Ranieri-Roy

As the world still weeps following the terrible disaster at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris (a place dear to my heart), it occurs to me how lucky we are that the Egyptians built so many great works in stone and mudbrick. That said, who is to say what wondrous wood creations from antiquity have been lost through fire? More than we know, I am certain. One great work that was lost --not through fire but through dismantling by man -- was Akhenaten’s Great Temple of Aten, a strange roofless cathedral of built during a bizarre period of Egypt’s history.


As history’s first monotheist (more accurately ‘henotheist’, as he allowed minor household gods) the heretic king Akhenaten has been called the inspiration for Moses. As such, what an interesting figure to consider during this season of Easter and Passover. Freud actually called Akhenaten “the first idealist” while his contemporaries called him “The criminal”. People either love him or hate him. Akhenaten elevated the status of the Sun god “Aten” to be the ‘one god’ of Egypt -- worshipped strictly through him. He briefly changed the entire religion, capital, art and culture of the country, so no surprise his rule of 17 years ends mysteriously -- and his ‘cathedral’ to the Aten was ruthlessly destroyed, along with his “sun city” by successive kings to obliterate his memory. His son was the famous boy king Tut – who under the strong arm of elder advisors, restored Egypt to traditional ways.

Excavating at the first pylon – a dream come true

On my very first trip to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Akhenaten’s elongated and strange but alluring appearance in colossal statues mesmerized me – I was under his spell and thunderstruck with a passion for ancient Egypt and the Amarna age. Fast forward to 2013 when I had the honour of working aside the legendary Barry Kemp CBE, the director of the Amarna project for a few weeks – in the initial stages of the re-excavation and rebuild of his Great Aten Temple. It was a dream come true. I fondly remember breathlessly sifting sand in the spoil heap in front of the first pylon searching for lost treasures in the early light of morning—being careful to not damage the fragile mud brick. Eating ‘second breakfasts’ of foole sandwiches and hot black tea in a pitched tent. Learning snippets of Arabic from the friendly, brown-teethed workmen - like the word for spade, bucket and brush (‘for-sha’)… and dreamy evenings watching pink skies fade to black as the Aten sank in the west; those sunset G&Ts on the roof of the 100 year-old dig house in Middle Egypt with the small convivial team of archaeologists.

Exciting news on sixth dig season

The Amarna Project is about to start its 6th season at the Great Aten Temple, with excellent progress already made on preserving the original mud brick floors and rebuilding many pylons, ramps and columns. I just received exciting news on the excavation – personally from the archaeologists Anna Hodgkinson and Miriam Bertram… including some thrilling updates on an opportunity for people to have their name etched for eternity at the rebuilt temple…

A place to satiate a hungry god – and feed the common people?

The Great Aten Temple is unlike any other temple in Egypt, for countless reasons, too many to mention here. First it is largely roofless, which makes sense: the god worshipped here is the actual sun above, so no need for a dark shrine to conceal a golden statue. Another striking feature is the staggering number of offering tables within and outside the main temple where fresh food was piled up for morning and evening rituals. Close to 2000 at current count. One can only imagine the enormous slaughter of animals required to provision these tables– and the dreadful stench of meat left to rot all day under the hot sun. We surmise (and hope) that once ‘the Aten’ symbolically feasted on the victuals, the people of Amarna flocked to the court to partake of the food themselves. Another curious feature is a grouping of rectangular basins in the court (I actually got to assist a little in clearing them in 2013). Based on their length and shape (along with other factors), Barry Kemp suggests they may have been used for laying out human bodies. Could people have actually brought their dead relatives into the temple grounds to join them in rituals -- and a good meal? Ewww! When it comes to Akhenaten, there is an abundance of strangeness to ignite debate, fascination and occasional disgust.

“As soon as we are back at work, we will continue to remove the spoil heaps to the south of the main temple building to see if there are any structures, says Miriam Bertram, a lead archaeologist on the project. “Then, we’ll remove more rubble in the front of the temple. “In the past, it revealed very interesting material, like a big fragment of a statue of Nefertiti and a gypsum head of Akhenaten – and huge amounts of pot sherds and stamped mud jar sealings that I am working on right now. We’re also reconstructing a ramp that led to a big platform in between the first stone pylons”

Just $5 Euros to be a part of The Great Aten Temple

To define the temple boundaries and protect it from encroachment from the nearby village, the Amarna team is also marking the main outlines of the temple in new limestone blocks. This project has sparked a creative and what I think is a brilliant fundraising campaign. For a nominal donation – as little as 5 euros - you can have your name inscribed on one of those Tura limestone blocks – to be part of the Great Aten Temple in perpetuity! Your funds will be used to support the Amarna project in all its efforts to partially rebuild and preserve this important temple. Sound like a great cause and opportunity? Buy one block for 5 Euros and help us reconstruct the Great Aten Temple! Visit the fundraising site now.

Akhenaten’s Great Aten Temple and his sun city have no equal in Egypt – nor in any ancient civilization. His is one of the most remarkable stories in Egyptian history. I would add too that the archaeology being conducted at this rare urban site – a site occupied just once for a period of only 12 years - is one of the most significant and detailed excavations underway in Egypt. Learn more about the Amarna Project and Great Aten Temple here.


GEM - Another Wonder at Giza, Egypt

 Feb 19, 2019 12:00 PM
by Laura Ranieri

Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) – Set to Open near Egyptian Pyramids by January 2020

By Laura Ranieri

It’s bigger than Khufu – and just one year away from opening….The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), set to be the world’s largest archaeological museum costing $1 billion dollars will “open” in Giza, January 2020. Really, it’s true – though you perhaps have heard it before, and so have I. This time I have it on trusted words from our tour agents in Egypt that there will be an unveiling (at least) of its star attraction – roughly 5400 objects from Tuts tomb -- by early next year. As monumental and innovative an undertaking as the building of the Great pyramid itself, GEM is 85% complete now – the hard work, passion and genius of 5000 labourers, architects and scientists --100 curators and 100 conservators -- working around the clock, on this milestone project began in earnest more than a decade ago. As with the Great Pyramid project that Khufu began over 4 centuries ago, ambitions are great to build a monumental structure to exceed all previous works of man --  a true wonder of modern architecture that surpasses the grandeur of any other world museum in existence today. Imagine: 490,000 square feet of galleries with 28 shops, 10 restaurants, a children’s museum and vast gardens on the edge of the plateau? When you comprehend the enormous scope of this undertaking, it becomes easier to understand why it is taking so long to finish. Even if the GEM is not fully complete by early 2020 (and it won’t be), those travelers who plan to visit Cairo in early 2020 will be among the lucky few to enter inside this modern wonder for the first time and view its initial collections.

World-class labs now in operation:

Currently, foreign ambassadors, leading scientists and top museum directors from Japan, France, India and beyond are flocking to Giza to witness GEM’s 19 state-of-the-art conservation/restoration laboratories and leading-edge technologies capable of bringing the past back to life as never before. Below, Dr. Tarek Tawfik, the museum's director, presents the lab to the Japanese Ambassador and his officials.

A portal to the past – like none other:

The museum – located in view of (just 2 kilometres from) the ancient wonders of the Giza Pyramids – aims to revolutionize the display of ancient Egyptian artefacts, underscoring the social, political and religious contexts in which they were made. 7000 years of Egyptian history (from pre-history to Roman times) will be presented chronologically through 50,000 stunningly displayed objects (half of the total collection). Another 20,000 items will be those never shown in museums before, including recent discoveries and monumental pieces too enormous even for the old Egyptian Museum in Tahrir – but easily accommodated in GEM’s palatial galleries with ceilings up to 20 metres high.


Be immersed in Tut’s life and death:

And when it comes to Tutankhamun, visitors will not only be able to marvel at his mask and dazzling treasures, but be totally immersed in his court, his lifestyle and funeral, according to museum director Tarek Tawfik, through galleries telling the whole detailed story of the young king’s life and mysterious death.

The full and complete opening of GEM is fittingly scheduled for 2022 – the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter.

Interested in seeing GEM – and traveling to Egypt in 2020 or 2021 with a small cultural Your Journey Travel group led by Egyptologists Laura Ranieri and Ramy Darwish? Two spots remain for Pyramids and Temples Alive with Abu Simbel tour 2020 -- and 2021 tour has just opened for booking.. If you are interested in grabbing the last seats or joining our 2021 tour – please email Anna ASAP.



Caleche ride to Edfu temple

 Dec 2, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

Considered the best preserved temple in Egypt, Edfu is traditionally reached off the cruise ship - via caleche (horse and carriage). It's an experience in itself traveling through Edfu town. The temple to Horus built in Ptolemaic times features two levels, some magnificent Horus statues - and a replica of a barque shrine in the inner sanctum. Take a look at the ride there.



VLOG 10: Inside a 4000 year old tomb in Aswan

 Nov 29, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

After riding camels across the escarpment we came to the great burial ground of Qubbet el Hawa. Here is a glimpse inside the tomb of Sabni and Mekhu from the 6th dynasty...



VLOG 9: Relaxing Aswan - beautiful morning view from balcony

 Nov 28, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

From the Movenpick on Elephantine Island you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Nile - and the Old and Middle Kingdom tombs across on the west bank. The day before, we had taken an exhilarating camel ride across the escarpment to see the tombs. This is one of the most peaceful and idyllic places in Egypt - Take a look:



VLOG 8 - Feeding a Camel on Aswan's West Bank

 Nov 28, 2017 8:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

A true highlight of any off the beaten path Egypt tour is a camel ride to San Simeon monastery - up in the hills of West bank Aswan. We started our trek in the morning and gave the camels a little sustenance to start the journey. From San Simeon - we even rode the camels 1/2 hour across the hill to Qubbet el Hawa - ancient tombs of officials and Nomarchs from the Old and Middle Kingdom... an intrepid desert adventure! Special thanks to our band of female camels: Coraline, Lolo, Cinderella, King, Lolita, Concorde and a few other fine girls... Yasmina the camel (featured here eating our apples) refused to stand up to take the journey and I had to switch to Coraline. (Perhaps one too many apples!)



VLOG 7: Djoser's Step Pyramid - The Grand Entrance

 Nov 27, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

November 26, 2017 - A few days ago we enjoyed a marvelous trip to Sakkara - Ancient Egypt's immense necropolis of the North - from the 2nd Dynasty onwards... Djoser's Step Pyramid is one of the great highlights of Egypt - the first stone structure ever built in the world around 2630 BCE. And its enclosure has buildings equally impressive - that strive to preserve the perishable world (logs, wood, reeds) in imperishable stone. The enclosure was brilliantly restored by French architect Jean Philippe Lauer - Join me for a walk inside!



VLOG 5 - New Tut Treasure Found at Egyptian Museum - with Ramy Darwish

 Nov 26, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

It's discovery time all over again at the Egyptian Museum. Since many objects (including one of the great funerary beds) have moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza (slated to open - perhaps- next year) more things have been found in storage. These include at least 55 pieces of fabric decorated with gold from Tutankhamun's tomb discovered by Carter in 1922 - and this extraordinary piece. Join Ramy Darwish and me to take a closer look...



VLOG #4 November Day at the Pyramids

 Nov 24, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

Bustling activity, lots of camels, vendors, horses, -- an electrifying buzz in the air. Life has returned to the foot of Khufu's Great Pyramid!



Inside Cairo's Newest Museum - A Sneak Peak

 Nov 23, 2017 9:00 AM
by Laura Ranieri

The National Museum of Civilization just opened this year. But it was a pretty "soft" opening. While the building itself is a magnificent edifice in Fustat - and inside an architectural wonder of clean lines and elegance -- only one hall of an intended 20 is open. Here is what it looks like (This one's a  bit longer  (5 min) and imperfectly shot folks... excuse the squeaky running shoes on the shiny new floor! - but coolest stuff towards the end)


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