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Honoring Motherhood in Ancient Egypt

Temples and tombs from ancient Egypt offer many tributes to motherhood.  As of 2019, I’ve found one tomb at Saqqara with a madonna scene, and several temples along the Nile cruise route with motherhood-related images, including Luxor Temple, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Philae Temple.  Here’s a look at the ones I’ve discovered in my travels so far.

Saqqara

Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (Tomb of the Brothers)

At Saqqara, which is just outside of Cairo, the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, often known as the “tomb of the hairdressers” or the “tomb of the brothers” features two beautiful scenes of motherhood near its entrance.

These are the oldest images from ancient Egypt that I have found so far celebrating motherhood. Although scholars have not determined the tomb’s exact age, the current theory is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep served either Nyuserre Ini or Menkauhor Kaiu.  Assuming that theory is correct, this tomb would thus have been built in the latter part of the 25th century BCE, making it over 4,000 years old.

One of the images at this tomb shows a small child playing around his mother while she does her daily housework.

Tomb of the Brothers
This scene of a mother and her baby appears at the entrance of the Tomb of the Brothers (often called Tomb of the Hairdressers) at Saqqara. Photo taken March 31, 2019, copyright Jewel, all rights reserved.

The other shows the mother nursing the baby when it’s time to feed him. It’s really interesting to see this madonna-type image that was created about 2,500 years before the time of Christ.

This scene of a mother nursing her baby appears at the entrance of the Tomb of the Brothers (often called Tomb of the Hairdressers) at Saqqara. Photo taken March 31, 2019, copyright Jewel, all rights reserved.

Luxor

The birth room of the Luxor Temple tells how Queen Mutemwia became the mother of Amenhotep III. It offers a fascinating story of immaculate conception, annunciation, and birth about 1,300 years before the story of Jesus Christ. The bottom row shows the ram-headed creator god Khnum molding two children, one to be the physical body, and the other to be his ka (spirit version).  The story goes on to show the god Amun coming to her, the conception, the pregnancy, and the birth. The intent of the story is to justify Amenhotep III’s right to be revered as a god, just as the later story of Jesus used immaculate conception to justify his claim to be the Son of God.

In this segment of the wall, we see Queen Mutemwia (top right) sitting on the birth chair giving birth to her son s the deities Isis and Khnum rub her hands.

Birth Room in Luxor Temple
This scene in the birth room of the Luxor temple shows Queen Mutemwia giving birth to her son, Amenhotep III. The top row shows her seated on a stool during labor, as the deities Khnum and Isis rub her hands. Below that, she is giving birth to her baby.

This birth scene would have been commissioned by Queen Mutemwia’s son, Amenhotep III, to support his divine claim to the throne of Egypt. Scholars estimate that his 37-year reign begin in 1386 BCE or 1388 BCE, which places the age of this scene as being more than 1,000 years before the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae (mentioned below) were constructed.

Interestingly, I had visited the Luxor Temple approximately 8 times without ever seeing this birth story.  Finally, I visited the temple for about the 9th time in 2019, and this was the first time a guide showed me this scene.  It’s not something that every tour of the Luxor Temple includes.  If you want to see the birth room, you may need to insist that your guide include it in the tour.

Edfu

The Edfu temple honors Horus the Elder and his wife, Hathor.  Some of its walls feature scenes of Hathor nursing her infant, Horus the Younger.  Some of these scenes were damaged by early Christians during the Roman era, in an attempt to obliterate the earlier Pagan beliefs.

Near the entrance to the Edfu temple is a special room known as the mammisi, or “birth room”.  This is a small chapel located just outside and in front of the main pylons, and it celebrates the birth of “Horus, the Unifier of Two Lands”.  The mammisi features several images of Hathor playing musical instruments, including sistrum (rattle), frame drum, and lyre.

This scene of Hathor nursing her baby appears on a wall of the temple at Edfu, Egypt.

The Edfu temple that stands today is relatively young, but resides on the site of a much older shrine.  The structure that stands today was built after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, leading to the era of Greek Pharaohs that ended with Cleopatra. The first stone of today’s temple was laid in 237 BCE, and it was consecrated in 142 BCE. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt due to having been buried for centuries under sand and river silt deposited by the Nile inundations.

For another of my blog posts about Edfu Temple, see Dance Like an Egyptian!

Kom Ombo

The temple at Kom Ombo, Egypt is unique because it honors two different gods – Sobek (with a crocodile head) and Horus the Elder (with a falcon head).  It’s a fascinating temple to visit, with many interesting images on its walls.

These scenes of women in labor and surgical tools appear on a wall of the temple in Kom Ombo, Egypt.

A unique segment of wall that is popular with many of the tourists who visit Kom Ombo is the scene showing two women using birthing chairs to give birth.  The wall to the right of them features images of surgical tools.

The throne-shaped object on the head of the lower woman is a nod to the goddess Isis and her role as a patron of fertility and motherhood.

One of the tour guides I’ve worked with, Abdul Aly, has proudly pointed out that ancient Egyptians have known about the benefits of delivering babies while sitting up in birthing chairs for at least 2,000 years. In contrast, modern Western medicine only started to embrace birthing chairs and the upright posture since about the 1980’s.

Like Edfu, Kom Ombo was built during the period of the Greek Pharaohs, on top of an older temple site dating from the New Kingdom.  Construction lasted from 180 BCE to 47 BCE.  In addition to the birthing chair scene, I was very fond of the on-site museum featuring crocodile mummies. Unfortunately, the Crocodile Museum at the temple does not allow visitors to take photos.  Another of my blog posts shows the Nilometer at this temple.

Philae

Philae Island at Aswan hosts the beautiful Nubian temple of Isis.  Construction began around 690 BCE, on a site that had hosted an older structure, with most of the temple that remains today being built during the reign of Nectanebo I, ranging from 380-362.  In the 1960’s, the island was flooded by the rising waters of the Nile caused by the Aswan High Dam, and Philae was one of the temples moved to a new site on higher ground funded by UNESCO.

Isis nurses Horus in this scene at the temple on Philae Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2015, all rights reserved.

There are several images of Isis nursing the baby Horus in this temple.  These resemble the madonna-style images of Hathor with Horus at Edfu. There is some overlap of the stories regarding Hathor (which were earlier) and Isis (who came later.)  Unfortunately, many of the images of Isis with Horus at Philae were vandalized during the Roman era by early Christians who were trying to obliterate the earlier Pagan religion.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve featured highlights of how ancient Egypt honored motherhood by selecting several must-see images to watch for that are easy to find if taking a Nile cruise or a Luxor-to-Aswan tour or touring Saqqara near Cairo.  These are ones I’ve personally noticed so far on my travels to Egypt, but I’m sure there are many I have not yet found.  I’ll keep looking, and if I find more, I’ll add them to this blog post.

I encourage you, too, to keep looking on your own. You’re sure to discover more of these images in statues (in museums), tombs, and other temples.

Beverages to Enjoy in Egypt

When traveling, I enjoy sampling local food and drink.  Egypt has a few beverages that I always try to make a point of enjoying during my visits.  Some of these are available in the United States, but many people aren’t aware of them.

Yansoun (Anise Tea)

Yansoun (pronounced yan-SOON) is a tea made from anise seeds, served hot.  I never eat anise-flavored food when I’m home in the U.S., but when I go to Egypt I frequently order yansoun with my meals.  The higher-end hotels and restaurants don’t offer it, because they associate it with the lower classes.  But it should be easy to find in cafes, koshary restaurants, and other Egyptian “comfort food” places.

My Egyptian friends have told me that it’s common for singers to sip yansoun before performing, and even to keep a cup on stage with them, because it soothes the throat and eases any hoarseness.  I find that I like drinking it in the evening, because it helps me sleep.

Restaurants typically serve yansoun with a bit of sugar on the side, but I find I like the flavor of the tea just fine even without the sugar.

Karkaday (Hibiscus Tea)

Karkaday is made from the dried petals of hibiscus flowers, and is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. On a hot day, I enjoy drinking it as an iced tea, but near bedtime I like to drink it hot.  Most cafes and restaurants that I’ve been to in Egypt offer karkaday both hot and as an iced tea. It’s a beautiful red color. Restaurants often serve it with sugar to add, but I personally like drinking it without.

Mango Juice

In North America, it’s possible to order mango juice at Indian restaurants, but in Egypt it’s available at almost every place that offers beverages. Mango juice is reasonably safe to drink because mangos are a fruit that requires peeling.  The vivid orange color looks very appetizing, and mangos are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and vitamin B.  I always ask for mine to be served without ice, since ice is normally made from tap water and may contain bacteria.

Juice drinks made from fresh fruit offer a highlight of Egyptian cuisine. This photo taken in February 2017 shows a glass of strawberry juice and a glass of mango juice. Photo copyright by Jewel, 2017, all rights reserved.

Asir Farola (Strawberry Juice)

This consists of pureed strawberries, perhaps with a small amount of water added.  The vibrant red color looks beautiful in the glass!  I always try to drink some while in Egypt, but I recommend exercising some caution – some restaurants don’t adequately wash the strawberries before making the beverage. Even those that wash the strawberries may use tap water to do it, so there is some risk of bacteria.  I enjoy strawberry juice very much, and am happy to drink it despite the risks. The vitamin C content will give your immune system a boost.

Dom (Sometimes Spelled Doum)

The dom palm tree grows primarily in southern Egypt and Sudan. Its botanical name is hyphaene thebaica.  Dom fruits have been found in some tombs from ancient Egypt.

I think of this fruit and the beverage made from it particularly as being associated with Nubian culture.  The fist-sized brown nuts are soaked, then pureed with sugar and water to make a delicious beverage.  I’ve also seen dom nuts used on strings of beads for decorating doorways in homes. The leaves of the palm tree are often used in making baskets.

The dom fruits grow on palm trees such as this one in Kom Ombo, Egypt. Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

This photo shows a dom tree whose fruit hasn’t ripened yet. The fruit will turn brown when ripe.

I usually drink dom when I go to Aswan.  It’s a little sweet, but not too much.  Some places in Luxor and Kom Ombo will also serve it, but I don’t think I’ve ever found it in Cairo.

Sahlab

Sahlab is a thickened sweet drink, served hot.  Historically, sahlab was made from orchid roots, but today you’re more likely to find it made with cornstarch, arrowroot, or other thickener.  The ingredients include milk, the thickener, and sugar. It is served garnished with chopped pistachios and cinnamon.  I like to use it as a dessert drink.

Sugar Cane Juice

Sugar cane is one of the crops that many Egyptian farmers grow.  If riding in a bus or train from Luxor to Aswan, you’re likely to see many fields of sugar cane along the way.  So it’s only natural that sugar cane juice would be readily available throughout Egypt. There are small storefronts in many neighborhoods of Cairo where you can watch the vendor squeeze the sap out of the sugar cane for you, while you wait.

The juice is a light green color, and of course it tastes very sweet.  It is usually served at room temperature.  I always try to enjoy at least one glass of it when I’m visiting Egypt.

One time when a friend and I were riding in a taxi in Cairo, the driver pulled off to the side of the street before arriving at our destination.  He got out of the car, and went up to one of these sugar cane storefronts in a residential neighborhood.  It seemed odd at first that a taxi would stop en route to its destination while the passengers were still inside.  When I realized the driver was heading for the sugar cane juice vendor, I thought, “Well, I suppose it’s only fair that taxi drivers might get thirsty while working.”  We waited what seemed like a much longer time than I would have expected for him to get his glass of asir (juice). To our surprise, when he returned to the cab, he had not only a paper cup of it for himself, but also a cup for each of us!  We so much appreciated his kindness!

Erk Sous

I’m kind of amazed that in all my trips to Egypt, I haven’t yet tried erk sous. Maybe I’ll have to try some next time.  It is a sweet licorice syrup made from anise.

Legendary Egyptian dancer/choreographer Mahmoud Reda wears a costume of an erk sous (licorice syrup) vendor.

Erk sous is typically sold by street vendors carrying an urn on their backs, similar to the one in this photo.  The photo shows legendary dancer/choreographer Mahmoud Reda wearing an erk sous vendor costume for one of the skits performed by Reda Troupe. The very first Reda Troupe show in 1959 featured such a character in one of its skits.

Lemon Juice, With or Without Mint

Lemon with Mint
As you can see in this photo, lemon with mint has a slight greenish tint to its color. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

In Egypt, the lemon juice is delicious, made from fully ripened lemons, with some water and sugar added.  I like ordering a variation of it, which is lemon juice with mint, as shown in the photo.  Both are refreshing.

Beer

The primary two brands of beer that you’re likely to find in Egypt are Stella and Sakara Gold. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Many restaurants in Egypt don’t serve alcoholic beverages, which makes sense when you consider the fact that it’s a Muslim country.  In Egypt, the craft of brewing beer dates back to Pharaonic times.  The religious prohibition came later, with the Arab conquest and conversion to Islam.

If you’re a connoisseur of craft beers, leave your beer-tasting mind set at home when you visit Egypt.   It’s not the place to explore IPA’s, porters, stouts, red ales, bocks, or other malty brews.  That said, places that do a large amount of business with foreigners often offer alcoholic beverages, and there are some local beers you can try.

Today, the two dominant brands of beer you’re likely to find in Egypt are Stella (no relationship to Stella Artois) and Sakara Gold.  Both are lagers, and both are manufactured by Al Ahram Beverages Company.  Other brand names exist in Egypt, but they don’t have the market share that these two do.

Why I Haven’t Posted New Entries Lately

You might be wondering why I haven’t posted any new blog entries lately. It’s because I broke my wrist on November 16, 2018. Ice was involved.

I had to cancel the trip to Egypt I had planned for December 1-17.  It’s disappointing, I’d planned to include some adventures in that trip that would have been new to me, such as visiting the Siwa Oasis.

It hasn’t been easy to type in my current condition, therefore I haven’t been creating new blog entries.  Expect something new from me soon, once I have healed a little more.

Sunsets and More on a Caribbean Cruise

I always keep an eye out for moments of beauty in nature when I travel. Here are some I appreciated on my 2018 Caribbean cruise.

The first night at sea, October 28, 2018, we enjoyed this beautiful sunset.

On October 29, 2018, the sunset offered a very different mood, but was still very beautiful:

The next day, October 30, 2018, I found it very peaceful to look out over the water, and enjoyed the sun’s reflection:

On October 31, the coast of Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras offered a scenic view:

The island of Roatan, Honduras, looked beautiful when viewed from our cruise ship. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

The sunset on Halloween evening offered a spectacular display of color, reflected by the sea:

Other Posts on My Blog with Sunset Photos

Caribbean Cruise: A New Adventure for Me

In October 2018, I did something I’d wanted to do my whole life: I went on a Caribbean cruise!  One of my friends invited me to join her and share a stateroom with her, and I jumped at the chance!

We booked our trip through Susan Strong of Sanborn’s Travel in Corpus Christie.  Susan was a pleasure to do business with, and I would gladly recommend her to others.  She also came with us on this cruise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her a bit.

This was a one-week adventure, with three stops and shore excursions. Our cruise ship held about 6,000 people:  4,000 were passengers, and 2,000 were staff. It’s amazing to think of the ship as holding more than 4 times as many people as there were in the rural community where I grew up!

On this trip, I was able to do the following things that have been on my bucket list for most of my life:

  1. Go on a Caribbean cruise
  2. Swim with dolphins
  3. Visit Mayan ruins

Before the cruise, I was very frustrated with Royal Caribbean because of the many struggles I had dealing with their buggy web site. Royal Caribbean’s telephone support people were polite, but would put me on hold for 20 minutes at a time, only to come back saying they were unable to solve the problem.  Fortunately, once I boarded the cruise, things went smoothly, and I was able to have a great time with my friends!

Exploring Liberty of the Seas

Our ship for this cruise was called Liberty of the Seas, and it was operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

This floating city featured a large informal dining room with buffet that was open all day, several sit-down dining rooms, bars, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a spa, and more.  It featured a variety of entertainment on board, including bands playing music for dancing, movies, game shows, and other acts.

Each day, the carpets on the floors of the elevators on the ship told us what day of the week it was. I found it somewhat fascinating to think there are people whose job it was to change the elevator sign every day.

On the top deck, there were two swimming pools: one for children, and one for adults.  The children’s pool also featured a water slide.  I kept intending to try it out, but somehow my time filled up with other activities and I didn’t get to it.

Near the children’s pool is a dispenser of soft serve ice cream (shown above) called Sprinkles.  The ice cream cones are free, and I enjoyed several of them during the cruise!

The promenade deck was the level that featured many shops, bars, and restaurants.  During the week of the cruise, a number of events were held there, including a Halloween party for adults.  I particularly enjoyed the jellyfish sculpture that hung from the ceiling!

I enjoyed several treatments at the spa on board the ship, including three massages, a salt scrub, and a facial.  Word soon got out in our group that I was doing this, and the final night of the cruise our organizer Susan gave me a certificate proclaiming me “the Spa Queen”!

The Views

There were many gorgeous views to enjoy while on board the ship.  I found it very peaceful to stand at the side and look out over the intense blue of water and sky.

Our first two days of cruising, we were out in the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

We saw several beautiful sunsets during the cruise.  This photo shows the one that greeted us our first evening on board.

The Shore Excursions

The ship made 3 stops during the week:  Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico.  We had the option of either purchasing an excursion package, going into town to shop and explore, or staying on the ship and enjoying the many facilities it offered.

The number of options for each stop was amazing. It was so hard to choose what to do!

Closing Thoughts

I enjoyed the cruise very much, and would going on another in the future, especially if I had a friend to go with.  Although Royal Caribbean’s online check-in process was extremely cumbersome due to a poorly designed web site, once I was on board the ship I was able to relax and enjoy the cruise.  I took over 500 pictures throughout the week.

As I make additional posts about the cruise, you’ll be able to find them at this link:

https://roaming-jewel.com/caribbean/

 

Snorkeling with Dolphins at Roatan, Honduras

I was excited when I saw that one of the shore excursions that our cruise ship offered on my 2018 Caribbean cruise was “Dolphin Encounter and Snorkeling”.  Swimming with dolphins has been on my wish list for many, many years, and I was so happy to see there was finally an opportunity! For $154 U.S. dollars, the tour offered:

“Experience what it would be like to be a part of the pod in the wild as you interact with curious and friendly dolphins on this unique dolphin swim and snorkel tour.”

Logistics

When we got off the cruise ship, we were met by a representative from Anthony’s Key Resort, which was the local tour operator that was offering this excursion.  They took us via bus to the cove where the dolphins lived.  There were changing rooms for us to change into our swimsuits, and lockers we could use to store our belongings until we were done.  We each received a set of swim fins and snorkel mask, and then they led us down to the water. They said we could bring cameras and phones to take photos.

Jewel receives a kiss from Callie.

Meeting Callie

The trainers separated us into two groups.  Each group would work with one trainer and one dolphin.  Our trainer instructed us to wade into waist-level water, standing side-by-side.  He called over a dolphin named Callie.  He used whistles and hand signals to give requests to Callie.  After she performed each task, he rewarded her with fish. Some of the things Callie did for us included:

  1. Swimming past our line so we could pet her as she passed.  Her skin was very soft.
  2. Swimming with her belly pointing up to the sky.
  3. Jumping up out of the water.
  4. Going to look for objects buried in the sand, then bringing them back to us.  The trainer told us that dolphins have excellent built-in sonar, and they can use it to identify where items are buried.
  5. Flapping her tail on the water to make a big splash.
  6. Going for a “tail walk”, which meant rearing up vertically out of the water, and then “walking” across the surface of the water with her tail.  This was my favorite part!
  7. Posing for photos with each of us in turn.

The following video shows Callie going for her “tail walk”.

For part of the above activities, we had an opportunity to use our phones and cameras to take photos.  For the photos where we posed with Callie, a professional photographer snapped photos of each of us, and naturally we were given an opportunity to purchase those at the end of the tour.  As an individual (i.e., not part of a couple or family), I was able to purchase a package with all of the photos with me in them for $45.

The above “dolphin encounter” activity took about 30 minutes.

Snorkeling

After the “dolphin encounter” part of our tour, we set our phones and cameras aside and put on the snorkeling gear.  We swam out into the cove.  As we swam, the dolphins would come along to swim with us.  They often chased each other, passing underneath us close enough to touch.  Sometimes they surfaced and swam next to us.

This video shows Callie and Allie leaping together during the initial 30-minute dolphin encounter:

The bottom of the cove was not as spectacular as what I saw when snorkeling at Maui.  The fish were not brightly colored, they were simply a silvery color.  There were some coral formations, rocks, and seaweed to look at, but the colors tended to be neutrals.  I was happy with it, though, because the dolphins were so much fun!

This too lasted about 30 minutes.  It felt like the right length of time. At the end, the staff called us to the shore, collected our snorkeling equipment from us, loaded us onto the bus, and took us back to our cruise ship.  I went to bed that night happy, dreaming of dolphins!

About the Dolphins’ Lifestyle

Some people have asked me whether the dolphins seemed to be captives or abused. Based on watching them, I got the impression the dolphins are comfortable in their habitat, and staying there by choice.

According to the trainer we worked with, the dolphins who live in the cove were born there.  They consider it their home, just as your pet dog would consider your house his/her home.  The dolphin behavior I witnessed seemed consistent with that. The dolphins were not restrained, and had enough freedom in a large area that they could have opted to swim away from us and stay away.

Callie accepts a fish from her trainer as a reward for indulging the tourists.

The cove at Anthony’s Key is fenced off from the open Gulf of Mexico.  At times, the trainers will open the gate to allow the dolphins to play freely in the open water.  The dolphins voluntarily return to their home afterward.  A dog might run joyously around when taken to a dog park, but will choose to return home where his food and his social group live afterward, and the same is true of dolphins.

If I Were Going to Do It Again…

I would take:

  1. Dry clothes to change into after snorkeling.
  2. Swimsuit.  (I’d wait until I get there to put it 0n.)
  3. Something to photograph the dolphins underneath me while snorkeling.  This could include:
    1. Either a zip-top bag on a neck lanyard to put my cell phone inside, or
    2. A waterproof camera.
  4. Sunglasses
  5. Sunscreen, maybe also a hat.

I’m glad I removed my contact lenses before leaving my room.  It’s all too easy for water to get into the snorkel mask and wash a contact lens out of the eye.

I did take my prescription eyeglasses, and I wish I would have left them in my locker with my dry clothes when I changed clothes at the cove.  I took the sunglasses off when we got into the water, and they became an extra thing to remember to grab and take with me when it was over.

The island of Roatan, Honduras, looked beautiful when viewed from our cruise ship. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

Cairo, Egypt: The Street of the Khayamiya (Tentmakers)

There’s an historic street in Cairo’s Khan al Khalili district known as the Sharia al-Khayamiya (Tentmaker’s Street). Along this street, vendors sell a uniquely Egyptian handcrafted textile known as khayamiya. You might also see it spelled as “khayamia”, “khyamiya”, “khayameya”, and other variations of that. The word is derived from Khayma, which is the Arabic word for “tent” You may have heard of Omar Khayyam, whose name means “Omar the Tent Maker”.

Although it’s possible to purchase khayamiya in parts of Cairo other than this street, you’ll find the best selection here. I find it captivating to explore the shops and admire the many tapestries available there. I’ve always found the vendors to be very welcoming and willing to talk about their art.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

What Is Khayamiya?

Khayamiya artisans create the pieces using applique techniques to make designs. The fabric is a type of canvas. Historically in the Middle East, such appliques were used to decorate the interior of tents.  As the photo at the top of this article shows, some khayamiya pieces are small enough to be used as a cover for a throw pillow, while others are large enough to cover a large section of a wall, similar to the sizes often used in the U.S. for quilted wall hangings.  As a textile artist myself, I’m very fond of the khayamiya technique, and it’s always a treat when I go to Cairo to visit the Sharia al-Khayamiya.

In 2012, the quilt shows presented by the American Quilter’s Society featured a khayamiya artist from Egypt touring throughout the U.S.

Types of Designs

The majority of khayamiya designs that I’ve seen fit into these categories:

  1. Geometric designs similar to those typical of Islamic art
  2. Images inspired by Pharaonic art from tombs and temple walls, especially birds
  3. Scenes depicting Egyptian life, such as Saidi musicians or men playing the tahtib martial art. See the photo below showing two different views of Saidi musicians, one in which the musicians wear burgundy galabeyat, and the other in which the musicians wear navy blue.
  4. Words written in Arabic calligraphy. Most of these that I’ve seen translate into Allah’s name, or praises to him.
  5. Playful designs intended to appeal to tourists, such as the Mickey Mouse photo shown below.
These two khayamiya pieces show Saidi musicians playing traditional Egyptian musical instruments. The image on the left shows men playing a mizmar (similar to an oboe), a rebaba (stringed instrument), and a deff (frame drum). The one on the right shows two mizmar players and a deff player.

The photo below shows several khayamiya pieces displayed on the wall of one of the shops on Sharia el-Khayamiya.  The owners of the shops I visited gave me permission to take the photos in this blog post.

Egypt’s Red Sea area is world-renowned for its beautiful underwater scenery, and enjoys a reputation as one of the best places in the world to go scuba diving and snorkeling.  This khayameya design is reminiscent of the underwater view:

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

As I mentioned above, some of the designs are fun and playful, intended to appeal to tourists who may be looking for gifts to take home to their families.  In this khayameya piece, a mouse wears a traditional red tarboosh (hat) on his head, and a blue men’s gallabiya (long floor-length shirt).  He’s playing a rebaba, which is a traditional Egyptian musical instrument.

A khayamiya piece shows a mouse playing the rebaba! Photo taken in 2018.

About the Khayamiya Street

Sharia el-Khayamiya is one of the last Medieval covered streets remaining in Cairo, and is worth a visit just to take in the history it represents. The street lies immediately south of the historic city gate known as Bab Zuweyla.  It was built in the 1600’s.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

Historically, when Egypt was the hub of the Islamic world, every year the artisans of the Tentmakers’ Street would craft a massive tapestry to cover the kaaba stone in Mecca for the annual hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). When the time came to transport the tapestry to Mecca, it would be carried through the Bab Zuweyla and placed on the camel caravan that would transport it there.  The departure of the caravan to Mecca was occasion for the people of Cairo to celebrate.

This 1917 photo shows the Kiswah (the cloth that is used to cover the Kaaba in Mecca during the annual pilgrimage) loaded on camels for its journey. The kiswah used to be made by the artisans of the Khayameya Street.

In recent decades, since the discovery of oil on the Arabian peninsula, the Saudis purchase their tapestry for the annual hajj from other sources.  Egypt no longer provides it.

This khayameya artisan displays one of his works, an image of a fellaha (peasant woman).  Peasant women are a very common theme in all forms of Egyptian visual arts.  I’ve written a separate blog entry about some of the fellaha depictions I’ve seen throughout Egypt.

A khayamiya artisan holds up a piece showing a fellaha (village woman) with a pot. Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

If you stand outside a shop in Sharia el-Khayamiya, you may need to dodge cars and motorcycles, since it still is a functional street.  I find it best to quickly move inside a shop displaying designs that appeal to me, rather than linger out in the street area.

There is an article on the Aramco World web site that provides a large amount of interesting detail about this historic Cairo neighborhood.

Buying Khayamiya Pieces

The khayamiya textiles come in many sizes.  Prices vary according to the size of the piece and the intricacy of the design. Sometimes when I visit these shops, I sit down on a bench, pick up a large pile of textiles, and start looking through it in search of something to catch my eye.  For me, it is a pleasure even just to look through them. The vendors are always very willing to help me find specific pieces if I tell them what sort of design or size I’m looking for.

Some of the khayameya pieces are very large, big enough to cover a large section of a wall. Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Although some of the vendors don’t speak much English, they can typically recruit someone nearby to translate. I’ve never had a communication problem, and I enjoy seeing their faces show their pride in their work as they answer my questions about certain items.

I have purchased many khayamiya pieces to use as gifts for friends and family members.

Closing Thoughts

It can be a challenge figuring out what gifts to buy when visiting Egypt.  I have given several pieces to people in my life who appreciate handcrafted textiles.  The diverse selection of color combinations and designs offers options that could appeal to a variety of tastes.

I also have several pieces for my own home, and when I look at them, they bring back memories of my visits to Egypt.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved. The khayamiya piece in the upper left corner shows the legendary singer Oum Kalthoum. The center shows a man smoking shisha (a water pipe). On the right is a group of folkloric musicians.

Luxor, Egypt: The Pyramids of Deir el-Medina (Valley of the Workers)

Nearly everybody has heard of the 3 great Pyramids of Giza. In fact, the Great Pyramid of Giza was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  Many have also heard about the pyramids just south of Giza: the Bent Pyramid, the Step Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid. But comparatively few have heard of the pyramids in Deir el-Medina, the Valley of the Workers. There are 3 there, each marking a tomb.  In the past, there were more such pyramids, but they have not survived through the ages.

Deir el-Medina is near Luxor, on the West Bank near the Valley of the Kings. Some people call it the Workers Village, the Valley of the Workers,  or the Valley of the Artisans.  Archaeologists estimate that this community was active between 1550 and 1080 BCE.

Deir el-Medina, an ancient village  near Luxor, Egypt, offers an opportunity to explore a unique archaeological site – a place that teaches us what everyday life was like  in Pharaonic times.  Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

After seeing the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings and the temples, Deir el-Medina offers an entirely different perspective on life in Pharaonic times because of the insight it gives into how regular people lived, as opposed to the kings and nobles. It is unique in that there is no other archaeological site that provides such extensive information to scholars about the daily life of ancient society, including living conditions, social interactions, and community life.

Deir el-Medina was a village where the people who built the famous tombs and temples on Luxor’s West Bank lived.  These were the people who carved the great columns out of rock, created the bas-relief art work on temple walls, painted the tomb ceilings and walls, carved the alabaster canopic jars and other treasures for the tombs, and more. Many historians believe that Deir el-Medina was founded by the Pharaoh Amenhotep I and his mother, Ahmose-Nefertari.  Today, the village has been awarded status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A pyramid marks a tomb at Deir el-Medina near Luxor, Egypt. Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Today, it is possible to visit the site and see what remains of the homes. An experienced guide can point out which room was probably the kitchen (based on remains of cooking fires and food found there), which was probably the toilet, etc.

These pyramids are small, maybe about 10 feet tall, at most. It is possible to walk up close to them, but not to go inside.

How I Learned About Valley of the Workers

I originally discovered the Valley of the Workers in 2004.  Our tour guide, Mohamed, had just taken us through the Valley of the Kings, and we had been impressed with the magnificence of the tombs there.  He then gave us a choice:  whether to see Valley of the Queens (which was the activity that had been pre-planned for us), or whether to make a change and visit Valley of the Workers.

Mohamed explained that the only tomb at Valley of the Queens which approached the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings we’d already seen was that of Nefertari, and that one was closed to the public due to its fragile condition.  He said that the tombs at Valley of the Queens that were open to the public were all smaller, less elaborate versions of what we had seen at Valley of the Kings.

A pyramid marks a tomb at Deir el-Medina near Luxor, Egypt. Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Our group decided to make the change he suggested, and go to Valley of the Workers.  I’m glad we did, because it was entirely different from Valley of the Kings, and gave us fascinating insight into the lives of the people who built the temples and tombs.

 

Essaouira, Morocco: A Day Trip from Marrakech

In 2015, I vacationed in Morocco with some friends.  First, we spent a week in Marrakech, then we went on to Casablanca for a dance camp.  On August 31, we took a day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira, a historic port city on the Atlantic Ocean.

The tour agency that organized the day tour from Marrakech promised a tour of the city, plus a stop en route to see goats in trees. Along the way, we came upon an argan tree that was growing close to the roadway.  Our van pulled over, and we got out to see the goats.  It was obvious that the tour company had made arrangements with the goats’ herders to drive them up into this particular tree just for us, to coincide with the time we would be arriving.  But I didn’t care, I loved seeing the tree goats up close, and took several photographs.  See my separate blog post about the tree goats.

The name of the city is pronounced “ess uh WEAR uh”.  It is a French spelling, where the “ou” represents the same sound as the English “w”.

Part of the original fortress walls of Essaouira are still standing. This photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

The historic fortress is what gave the city its modern name, which means “small fortress” in Moroccan Arabic. Today, part of the walls that once surrounded the old city are still standing.

It is possible to go up to the top of the fortress and enjoy the view.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

In Roman times, Essaouira was known as a source of purple dye. The dye was manufactured from purpura shells. Today, some remnants of Phoenician and Roman civilizations remain in the area.

I enjoyed visiting Essaouira’s busy market, where people can purchase fresh produce, spices, clothing, and household goods. It was fun to wander through and admire the historic architecture.

Copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

Some of the buildings inside the market area feature murals on their walls. Of course, I felt compelled to take a photo of this mural of a cat!

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

When walking through a market area, it can be tempting to focus your attention on the merchandise. However, I recommend looking up, because there is much beautiful architecture to admire.  If you don’t look up, you’ll miss it!

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

I returned to Essaouira for a visit in 2017, once again enjoying the coastal climate, the delicious seafood, and the vibrant market. The below photo shows sunset at Essaouira on September 10, 2017.

The sun sets over Essaouira, Morocco, on September 10, 2017.

I have enjoyed both of my visits to Essaouira.  Would I go back?  Possibly. It’s a beautiful city, and there are a number of local sights I haven’t yet explored!

Images of Birds in the Tombs at Saqqara, Egypt

Many of my friends love birds, so I thought it might be fun to share photos I took of bird artwork on the walls inside the tombs at Saqqara near Cairo, Egypt.

When visiting these tombs, it is possible for tourists to purchase a camera permit allowing them to take photos inside. However, even with a camera permit, flash photography is prohibited, so it’s necessary to take either a camera that excels in low-light conditions, or a flashlight to illuminate the images while taking the pictures.

Inside the Tomb of Irukaptah

The tomb of Irukaptah dates back to approximately 2400 BCE, making this tomb over 4,400 years old.  It is also known as the Tomb of the Butchers because Irukaptah was the head of the butchers at the royal palace, and therefore his tomb contains some scenes on the walls inside that depict cattle being butchered.  Just inside the entrance, there is a row of statues set into the wall.  So far as I know, Irukaptah’s tomb is the only one at Saqqara that contains such statues.  A row of birds sits on a panel just above the heads of the statues.

Below is a closeup of the birds on the panel above the statues’ heads:

Inside the Tomb of Ty

Archaeologists estimate that the tomb of Ty was build circa 2494-2345 BCE, which would make it over 4,000 years old.  An entire wall inside the tomb of Ty is covered with images of birds.  This is a wide angle view of the wall.  If bird lovers have time to visit only one of the tombs at Saqqara, this one could be a good choice.

Here is a close-up showing the scene of the wading birds in the tomb of Ty in more detail.

This closeup from the tomb of Ty shows the geese in more detail:

Inside the Tomb of Ka-Gemni

Ka-Gemni was the Pharaoh’s son-in-law, and therefore was able to afford an elaborate tomb. The sign on the entrance to the tomb says that it was built approximately 2340, making it over 4,000 years old.  It is one of my favorites because it contains a scene on one of its walls showing a chorus line of dancers.  But there is other art on its walls that’s also worth seeing.  This beautiful marsh scene inside the tomb of Ka-Gemni shows several different types of birds.

Inside the Tomb of Ptahhotep

A scene inside the tomb of Ptahhotep shows several kinds of birds together.  It was built approximately 2350 BCE, over 4,000 years ago.

This drawing of birds appears inside the tomb of Ptahhotep at Saqqara, Egypt. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2019, all rights reserved.

Princess Idut

Idut’s tomb dates from the 5th dynasty, approximately 2360 BCE. These bas-reliefs still show some of the original color. Something that makes this scene different from many others is the fact each bird is a different type, and there is a butterfly in the middle!

This image of birds appears inside the tomb of Idut at Saqqara, Egypt. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Mehu

I saw the tomb of Mehu for the first time in April 2019.  Before that, it had been closed to the public, finally opening in September 2018, 80 years after archaeologists discovered it.

Mehu lived around 2300 BCE, during the time of the sixth dynasty.  His title was Chief Justice and Vizier, and was married to the king’s daughter, Iku.

The tomb of Mehu is dated around 2300 BCE It contains many images of birds. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Closing Thoughts

These are the only photos I’ve taken so far of birds on the tomb walls of Saqqara, but I hope to return in the future and take more!

I have visited the necropolis at Saqqara about 6 times.  It’s always a pleasure to go back, because every time I go, I see something new.  Even when I return to tombs I’ve seen before, I’ll often notice something that I missed on previous visits.

Also, only some of the tombs at Saqqara are open for the public to go inside. On my trips to Egypt in February 2017, April 2018, and March 2019, I engaged a guide to take me inside every tomb that was open at the time.  However, occasionally, Egypt will open another to attract tourists, so there’s often something new to see.