Sunday, 9 October 2011

In search of the Egyptian Cat Goddess

House guests this weekend so no expedition ( other to Hobbycraft - see the sister blog!). The weather isn't so great either with strong winds and occasional rain so I don't mind being indoors in front of a blazing fire.

I was contacted this week by the author of a book I've just finished and reviewed on Amazon and as the subject was Ancient Egypt  I thought I'd post some pictures taken around a year ago on a trip to the Egyptian Delta.

This was part of a 2 week exhaustive archaeological tour. Exhaustive was the word, I came back worn out but I wouldn't have missed it for the world and luckily we were able to go before the recent political unrest.

We'd picked this tour because it visited sites that most tours don't - in this case Bubastis in the Delta area. Dedicated to the cat goddess Bast ( Bastet) the red granite temple was originally documented by Herodotus in the 5th century.
"When the Egyptians travel to Bubastis they do so in the following manner. Men and women sail together, and in each boat there are many persons of both sexes. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, and some of the men play pipes during the whole journey, while the other men and women sing and clap their hands. When they come to a town on the way, they lay to, and some of the women land and shout and mock the women of the place, while others dance and get up to mischief. They do this at every town lying on the Nile; but when they come to Bubastis they begin the festival with great offerings and sacrifices, during which more wine is consumed than during the whole of the rest of the year. The Egyptians say that some 700,000 men and women make this pilgrimage every year."

The site is rarely visited by tourists which is a shame as they have a swanky new reception centre, and a newly landscaped display area for some of the major finds. What they don't have are visitors and we were easily out numbered by our armed guard  and the staff on the site. No other visitors there  at all! To have a vast ruined city more or less to yourself is an amazing feeling especially when taking into account just how crowded the more well known sites can be.

Did I mention the armed guard? The 10 of us had a fully armed chap on the minibus and an escort of three land rovers full of fully armed soldiers under the command of a 2* general as well as two motorcycle outriders with flashing lights and sirens. Talk about making us conspicuous! The cavalcade rolled into Bubastis to be greeted by MORE armed guards. The old city is crowded by the modern city of Zagazig and is believed to extend well under the new buildings so much will have been lost or destroyed. There is however still plenty to see.

Of the hundreds of photographs taken, here are just a few.

This is the "show site". Note the extensive areas of white concrete which is appealing under the baking Egyptian sun. In the foreground is a nice representation of Sekhmet, the lion headed goddess who is one of the aspects of Bastet.

Away from the show site  it is much more chaotic- the ruins are in a fabulous jumble, looking as if they still lie where they fell.

 A view down over the site showing Zagazig in the background.

A more close up view showing a nice example of a cobra frieze which is a recurring motif - we saw more examples at Saqqara.

We were able to wander freely amongst the ruins, trying not to step on fragments of 3000 year old pottery, all of which would be treasured exhibits in western museums but here lie unheeded in countless piles   Even taking great care it was impossible to avoid crushing them. Our guide was happy to translate any fragments of hieroglyphs we came across and the morning passed much too quickly.

As well as the ceremonial areas, housing and burial tombs have also survived and have been excavated and some conservation work has been carried out.

Here is a typical scene, you can see the huge visitors centre in the background.

Our exit via Zagazig was as discreet as our arrival. The motorcycle outriders brought the local traffic to a halt and we were subject to much attention by the local population who must have wondered who on earth we were. I was happy to return safely to Cairo is sink back into quiet anonymity.  VIP treatment? No not for me!
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