Wednesday 10 February 2010

Egypt photos

A couple of people have asked me to post somewhere (like here) a few photos of my work in Egypt. I of course took thousands (actually literally) of them, most of them in and around Deir El-Bahari and the Temple of Hatshepsut in particular. Where they show any unpublished part of a site for which somebody else has the concession however, publishing these here would require the agreement of the Mission director (and possibly now under new rules maybe somebody from the SCA), and I have not applied for (and cannot be bothered to apply for) such permission. I could of course flaunt that requirement, but am not inclined to.

But here's one that should be OK. The notice says you cannot photo the Temple of Hatshepsut at the end of the road from afar without having a ticket... the ticket office is of course far in the distance... by the temple (duh). Note the big black police car speeding towards me as I take the photo (OK, carefully chosen moment, I knew what time the afternoon shift goes home and waited). Now, while I understand the attitude that the SCA feel they need to control the availability of photos of iconic monuments (English Heritage debated the same thing with monuments like Stonehenge a few years back), this is obviously futile and counter-productive.

Worse still, you can no longer take photos in the Valley of Kings, no not just in the royal tombs, but in the Valley itself outside them. You are now supposed to surrender your camera at the entrance. This was because so many tourists ignored the ban on damaging and distracting photography in the tombs (scil. the gaffirs guarding the tombs were not stopping tourists from doing this, just garnering "bakshish" to allow them to). If I want to show you a photo of me standing in my pith helmet and jodphurs in front of the entrance to KV62 I cannot (well, I can, because have one from last time I was there two years ago). This is just nuts. More to the point, nowhere can one buy - even a extortionate tourist rate prices - ANY decent photos produced by the SCA of any of the tombs - inside or out. Unless of course you buy one of Zahi Hawass's latest lavishly illustrated books and rip the pages out. Anyhow here's the best I could do for a photo taken by me of the Valley of Kings this year (its the distant trampled-white valley behind and below the human scale). That's illegal too as you are not supposed to be in the hills above it either - despite all the guidebooks telling you what a wonderful walk it is (recommended is Ken Weeks' "Luxor"). My guess is that the more the Egyptians try to stop people doing things while on holday (walking around, taking photos) the more people are going to go off Egypt as a holiday destination, which would be a shame.

I may have mentioned that in the middle of my stay in Egypt, my camera succumbed to the dust and could not be revived. I got a new one in January, far more complicated than I need and took it to the "Ramesseum Rest House" (that's a bar which is one of the three places you can - sometimes - get alcohol on the West Bank) and played with its various functions. I used to go there quite often after a hard day's work and watch the sun go down over the Ramesseum. As a kid, I was never into poetry but we had to read a lot of it at my school. The one that did fascinate me however was Shelley's "Ozymandias". Then I could only dream that one day I might be sitting every day watching the sun go down over the place it describes. Well, here's the photo that documents it, one of a series where played with the colours. This is the way the Ramesseum looks best, I found the actual place a vast disappointment, added to which the current site guardians are very intrusive and demanding. Don't go there. I recommend Seti I (and please give the guards there a couple of quid as nobody goes there) and Medinet Habu (Ramsses III), and of course Hatshepsut. If you like Ptolemaic (I don't) then Deir El-Medina is near.

Talking of temples, what about this one just down the road? A disregarded heap of stones today, it is all that remains of the Temple of Ay and Horemheb, but then (like Ay's tomb, KV/WV23) the thing was probably begun for his predecessor, Tutankhamun. It is due to a total lack of imagination on the side of the local authorities that this site is not taken in hand and properly conserved and displayed (it is right behind the ticket office for all the monuments of the region with a access road and everything). Add a parking area (plenty of room) and some decent explanatory noticeboards like the ones that are so conspicuously lacking from every single monument in the area (with the exception of Seti I and two tombs at Deir El-Bahari) and there is another tourist attraction just waiting to be made good use of - especially as it is close to where the more decent hotels of the area are. While they are at it they might do something about the state of Malkata. Again a site that could be made a lot of, given the will and resources.

Resources? Well, there is a mystery. The temple of Hatshepsut gets an average 8000 visitors a day, paying it seems 30 or 50 Egyptian pounds (say 10$) a head to get in. 8000 x 10 green ones is 80 000 dollars a day generated by this one site alone. The SCA has some sixty gaffirs around the necropolis, some thirty inspectors and other staff on the West bank. Each of them earns around about 500 Egyptian pounds (so ten entry fees to one site) a month. This by the way is when our mission was budgeting 27Egyptian ponds a day for each member's food. So the salaries of the SCA staff do not exactly eat up the funds, the monthly salary for them all can be covered by just one day's entrance fee takings. In our case the restoration was being done by conservators paid by the Egyptians (at a rate which was much less than two entrance fees a day) but often bringing their own tools and materials from abroad. The Egyptians working alongside them get far less. So... where does the money go? I was very surprised to find that the inspectors themselves were unable to answer that question, but they were suggesting it was not coming to the SCA for the needs of ongoing work of looking after and presenting the monuments.

Photos: 1,2, 4, 5 -copyright Polish-Egyptian Mission/SCA,  Photo 3 - P. Barford


dicksluxor said...

We have visited Egypt for the 29th time, my wife and I like to walk in the hills and take many photos but after the many restriction this time we are seriously considering if we will visit Egypt again.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, I think the part of Egypt where I was is concentrating on the mass tourism, the "back to the bus in twenty minutes" type, while failing totally to cater for the individual tourist who wants to explore and enquire. It is of course encouraging the latter which is more likely to spread the wealth among the population as a whole (and not the people who take the entrance fees to the "sights" and the owner of the alabaster factory in cahoots with a particular tour company). Of course do we really want the Theban hills trampled to smithereens? I'll perhaps be doing a post later on what the tourists up there are doing to the rocks with ancient graffiti which really distressed me.... mind you what the tourist police in their outposts in the mountains are doing up there is another matter best not to get me started on.

Kate Phizackerley said...

I'd also be more sympathetic if the SCA maintaiined high quality databases like the Theban Mapping project with up to date high quality photos (and video). In practice the SCA web site has effectively died. It must be the only major conservation body in the world without a current web site - it's a very poor advert for the SCA.

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