Skip to main content

wadi elhammat

Wadi Hammamat is one of a great number of dry river beds that wind through the rugged mountains of Egypt’s Eastern Desert and the modern road that runs through it connects Qift (Greek Coptos) to the port of Qusieir on the Red Sea. The route was used for millennia as a trade route from the Coast to the Nile, but the area was also famed for its quarries and gold mines. Scores of ancient ruins line the route; remains of watchtowers, forts, wells and mines from various periods show much evidence of ancient quarrying and mining activity.  The wadi is perhaps best known however, for its hundreds of hieroglyphic and hieratic rock inscriptions which record the activities of expeditions sent by many kings to obtain the precious resources of bekhen-stone which were used for small-scale building projects, sarcophagi, statues and vessels during the Pharaonic Period.

Marsa Alam has lots of popular tourist attractions that are a must visit, once you're out of the deliciously cool sea. Make time for them along with diving and snorkeling and other water activities when you visit Marsa Alam. A fascinating tourist attraction of Marsa Alam is the ancient Wadi Hammamat which is sure to keep you riveted for hours.
Wadi Hammamat lies somewhere in the middle between Quesir and Qena. This road in the Nile trough is supposed to be the shortest between the Nile River and the Red Sea.
You'll love the numerous rock inscriptions dating back to the distant past all carved on the walls of the wadi. The walls are also full of intricate Egyptian hieroglyphics.There are even pictures here in relief showing Egyptian reed boats which are considered to go as far back as 4000 BC.
Besides these rock carvings, there's so much to explore along Wadi Hammamat in Marsa Alam! All along the wadi, you can see ruins of old time fortresses, watchtowers and even wells, mines and quarries.
In the ancient timesWadi Hammamat was part of the the world's most famous mining complex. Iron as well as various types of granites used to be mined from the quarries along Wadi Hammamat.
Among the many gold mines in exotic Egypt, Wadi Hammamat was one of the most famous. Bir Umm Fawakhir which is a part of the Wadi Hammamat as well as the entire stretch of the Wadi Hammamat yielded the yellow metal right up to the end of the 20th century.
But above all, it was the Bekheney stone mined from these quarries that made Wadi Hammamat a legend. This beautiful green decorative rock was considered sacred and used in making statues, bowls and sarcophagi right up to the Roman period in Egypt. The famed Bekheney stone was even used by the ancient Egyptian royalty inside their pyramids.
So come and be fascinated by the mysteries of the past at Wadi Hammamat in Marsa Alam!

There is evidence in the area of prehistoric man, desert dwellers and nomads who left crude petroglyphs bruised into the rocks in the form of curved reed boats, hunters and long-gone animals, including elephants and ostriches, suggesting that the desert was at that time a more hospitable place. This route through the mountains of the Eastern Desert was taken by travellers and expeditions from the Old Kingdom onwards, right through to the Romans who exploited the quarries and gold mines the most, and who built stone watchtowers on the tops of the hills to guard the road and the wells. Wadi Hammamat contains a variety of sandstone, greywacke and schist-type rocks which were all known as Bekhen-stone in ancient times. The colours of the rocks vary from a very dark basalt-like stone, through reds, pinks and greens and although this stone was usually too flawed for building large monuments it was highly prized for palettes, statues, sarcophagi and smaller shrines.

The Turin Papyrus mining map, thought to have been found by Drovetti at Deir el-Medina and now reconstructed in the Museo Egizio in Turin, is the oldest topographical and geological map known from Egypt. It was drawn by a scribe named Amennakhte, son of Ipuy, who was commissioned to make the map during an expedition of Rameses IV, the king who sent one of the largest recorded quarrying expeditions to the Wadi Hammamat. The map shows part of the route through the wadi and depicts identifying features, such as hills, together with distances between quarries and mines. The use of different colours and textures for the different features with a descriptive legend was very innovative.

The bekhen quarry on the northern side of the road still contains remains of workmens huts built from the dark schist stone and nestled in the lee of the cliff. Quarry marks can be seen everywhere and halfway up the cliff there is an abandoned sarcophagus which perhaps split or fractured during quarrying.  On the southern side of the road the cliffs are littered with inscriptions left by expedition members, many of which can be dated to the year of the reigning pharaoh, providing invaluable historical records of the activities of a long line of kings.

One of the earliest pieces of evidence of the use or exploitation of the Wadi Hammamat may be a graffito containing a serekh of the Early Dynastic King Narmer, which is inscribed on a rock in the Wadi el-Qash, an offshoot of the Wadi Hammamat. The Wadi Hammamat was known to have been used during Dynasty VI and probably earlier, as a route to the Red Sea and from there to the East African coast and the Land of Punt. Texts that can be dated with accuracy point to possibly several expeditions sent by Pepi I (who is represented in around 80 inscriptions) to extract blocks of bekhen-stone for temple statuary. An undated graffito also shows the presence of an expedition of Merenre, the last Old Kingdom pharaoh to be featured here. Quarrying and military activities account for the majority of inscriptions from the Old Kingdom and the names of other kings briefly mentioned in graffiti include Khufu, Khafre, Djedefre, Menkaure, Sahure and Unas. Also thought to date from the Old Kingdom is a curious text of an official Zaty, named as ‘King’s Son’ and ‘General’ in the reign of an unknown king Imhotep.
The First Intermediate Period was a time of upheaval in the whole of Egypt with a decline in the state’s economy and political structure, though there are a couple of small graffiti mentioning Merykare and Ity, Herakleopolitan rulers of Dynasty X.
It seems to be Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty XI who re-opened the Wadi Hammamat route and possibly sent quarrying expeditions there at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom and a short hieroglyphic graffito most probably dates to his rule. His son, Sankhkare Mentuhotep III sent a large expedition of 3000 men in Year 8 of his reign, attested by a text of his Chief Steward Henenu. The purpose was to establish a trade contact with Punt, but they may also have done some quarrying. In the final recorded Dynasty XI journey, Nebtawyre Mentuhotep IV sent an even larger expedition in Year 2 of his reign, shown in four large rock-stelae. We are told by Vizier Amenemhat (probably the later Pharaoh Amenemhat I) how their mission was to quarry bekhen-stone for the King’s sarcophagus and how a gazelle gave birth on the block they had chosen, an auspicious omen which greatly encouraged the workforce of 10,000 men. Another of Vizier Amenemhat’s texts records the ‘wonder of rain’, a flash flood that produced a well of clear water.

 Most of the Middle Kingdom texts in the Wadi Hammamat are long and include dedications to the local god, Min of Coptos, his consort Isis and their son Horus, who are often depicted receiving offerings. A cartouche of the king is usually inscribed, along with the year of the reign and name of the expedition leader, often giving details of the mission. Dynasty XII begins with the Pharaoh Amenemhat I, who left a single undated rock-stela in the Wadi Hammamat. His son Senusret I sent missions there in reignal years 2, 26 and 38, the third of which was the largest ever to work in the wadi. A team of roughly 18,660 skilled and unskilled workers, including soldiers, hunters, brewers, bakers and of course the scribes, artisans and labourers, had the task of quarrying stone for 60 sphinxes and 150 statues. Two large rock-stelae date to this expedition and give names of personnel and even the rations that were issued. Later Middle Kingdom rulers attested here include Senusret II and III, each sending a single mission and Amenemhat III who sent at least four expeditions in years 2,3,19 and 20 of his reign.

First discovered in 1950 and thought to be an Old Kingdom text, but more likely dating to the Middle Kingdom, a brief, crudely-worked, but important graffito constitutes one of the earliest king-lists, written by a minor official which names Old Kingdom rulers Khufu, Djedefre and Khafre, written in cartouches. The author of this unusual inscription also includes the names of Princes Hordjedef and Bauefre in cartouches.

The chronology at the end of the Middle Kingdom into the Second Intermediate Period is difficult to ascertain, but the period is represented in the Wadi Hammamat by a stele of Sobekhotep IV Khaneferre, while there were possibly two or three graffito naming King Sobekemsaf I Sekhemre-wadjkhau.

There are surprisingly few texts from New Kingdom Pharaohs among the rock-inscriptions in Wadi Hammamat, perhaps because a more northerly route may also have been used to cross the Eastern Desert at this time. Names and titles have recently been found representing Ahmose I and Amenhotep II, but the two brief texts of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) found there are more interesting historically as they both mention a high priest of Amun who was sent to collect bekhen-stone. Presumably this was from the king’s early reign while the Theban priesthood were still in favour. Though the wadi was likely to have continued to be used during Dynasty XVIII, no evidence of other rulers have been found. In Dynasty XIX, Seti I usurped a relief of Amenhotep IV, showing the king kneeling with two vases before Amun-re and two more images of Seti I have been found offering Ma’at and flowers to Amun-re. Seti II is also represented in a relief and a stela by the Vizier Paraemheb in which the king is in the presence of Min, Horus and Isis.

While the long reign of Rameses II is represented by only one set of cartouches in Wadi Hammamat, the most prolific New Kingdom Pharaoh was undoubtedly Rameses IV Hekamaatre Setepenamun of Dynasty XX, whose inscriptions have been firmly dated to four missions during the first three years of his reign, describing expeditions sent to procure stone for his Theban monuments. Stelae inscribed by several priests and officials describe the expeditions of Rameses IV and there are many minor graffiti dating to the reign. A text of Turu, high priest of Montu, dates to Year 1 and depicts the king in the presence of many deities, while a stela dating to Year 2 mentions the extracting of bekhen-stone for the ‘Place of Eternity’. The largest mission was in Year 3, when Ramesesnakht, high priest of Amun, was sent with a large workforce to quarry stone for the ‘Place of Truth’ (the Theban necropolis), which he recorded on two stelae. This was the expedition that produced the Wadi Hammamat mining map.

The only Third Intermediate Period ruler to be mentioned here is the Theban High Priest Menkheperre of Dynasty XXI. This was another period of economic decline and political disruption in Egypt and expeditions were not documented again until Dynasty XXV and XXVI. A text by a quarryman, Psenuenkhons, is recorded from the time of the Divine Adoratrice Amenirdis I, Year 12 of King Shabaqo. Cartouches and graffiti relating to  Taharqa, Psamtek I, Necho II and Psamtek II have also been found.
Graffiti dating to the First Persian Period occupation are particularly numerous and seem to represent a new level of activity in the Wadi Hammamat. With the exception of Darius II, all of the major Persian kings are represented here. One very important graffito from this time was inscribed high on the sloping cliff-face by Khnemibre, ‘Superintendent of Works in Upper and Lower Egypt’, whose name is written in a double-plumed cartouche. Khnemibre was a Royal Architect who held office during the reigns of Amasis and Darius I. This inscription is written as a genealogy dating backwards from Khnemibre’s father, Ahmose-saneit, over 22 generations of Royal Architects to Rahotep, a Vizier of Rameses II. Khnemibre himself is depicted standing before the goddess Hathor and the text is dated Year 26 of Darius. David Rohl and other revisionists have used this inscription to illustrate their arguments for the shortening of the Third Intermediate Period which challenges the bases of the traditional Egyptian chronological framework.

The latest hieroglyphic inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat date to the reign of Nectanebo II of the Dynasty XXX but there are also many demotic or Greek texts from the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. The Romans brought renewed interest in the wadi, especially as a trading route, building watchtowers and signal posts, forts and a fortified well at Bir Hammamat. In the bekhen-stone quarries, a temple containing several side-chambers has been dated to the time of Tiberius by an inscribed naos. Graffiti in the wadi record activity under Emperors Augustus, Nero, Titus, Domitian, Antoninus and Maximinus.

Bir Hammamat was a Roman fort and major watering station for travellers through the wadi. The stone walls can still be seen, built to protect the well, 34m deep, which had a winding staircase to the bottom. This is a great feat of Roman engineering and impresses on the visitor the vital importance of water in this arid landscape.
The first European descriptions of the Wadi Hammamat were from the Scottish traveller James Bruce in 1769, though he made no mention of the inscriptions. Sir John Gardner Wilkinson and Lepsius visited the wadi during the 19th century and the Russian Egyptologist Vladimir Golenishchev led the first modern study of the inscriptions in 1884-1885 but it was not until the early part of the 20th century that more interest was shown in the site by Arthur Weigall in 1909. In 1912 a thorough survey was undertaken and published by Couyat and Motet. In the 1930s the German pioneer Hans Winkler thoroughly explored the area by camel before world war II interrupted his work of recording the desert boats, which was never completed before his death. Wendorf and Schild explored the Eastern Desert regions, publishing their results in 1980. Susan and Donald Redford, Gerlad Fuchs, David Rohl who conducted the Eastern Desert Survey and Mike and Maggie Morrow who published RATS (Rock Art Topographical Survey) are just some of the latter-day explorers of Wadi Hammamat.
How to get there
The distance between Qift and Quseir is 180km and the ancient road beginning at the Roman watering station at Laghieta is about 50km from the turnoff south of Qift. After 83km, there is a narrow defile just as the road begins to pass between the higher mountains and where the scenery gets more spectacular with every kilometre. A little way past an ancient well known as Bir Hammamat to the northern side of the road, the road narrows into a rocky gorge between high, dark, jagged mountains towards Bir Umm Fawakir and this is where the concentration of a large number of  rock inscriptions can be found. There is a  small gafir’s hut opposite the inscriptions. At the entrance to Wadi Fawakir (108km) there is a coffee shop where travellers can stop for refreshments. A special permit is now required from the SCA to stop at the site of the graffiti and all photography is banned.

 This site is home to 200 hieroglyphic tablets that adorn the cliffs, in addition to hundreds of magnificent rock inscriptions, some of which date back to 4000 BC. It is renowned for the production of the Bekheni stone, a stunning green ornamental rock, which is considered sacred. The stone was actively quarried from Pharaonic until Roman times to make bowls, statues and sarcophagi, many of which have been found in the Pyramids, graves and temples of those periods.

Hammamat Inscriptions

Old Kingdom

The inscription of the chief architect of Pepi I

Year after //// //// ////
Royal commission which the chief of all works of the king, sole companion, master-builder of the king, attached to the Double House, Merire-meriptah-onekh, carried out.
Overseer of the administration of the divine offering, attached to the Double House, first under the king, judge, inferior scribe, Sesi.
Scribe of the king's records, Khenu.
Judge attached to Nekhen, Khui.
Treasurer of the god, Ihu.
Treasurer of the god Ikhi.

Reign of Pepi I
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, § 299

First Intermediate Period

-   Nekhen: Hierakonpolis in the 3rd nome of Upper Egypt
  The titles seem not necessarily to have had any bearing on the role the officials performed. If a master-builder visited a quarry he probably did so in order to choose the rock he wanted for his building. The roles of a judge or a treasurer of the god are less clear. A ship captain may have organized the transportation of the quarried rock, both overland where the efforts of men pulling at ropes had to be coordinated and on the water.
    Year of the first occurrence (of the numbering), fourth month of the first season, day 2.
//// Ihy; Khufu; commander of the army //// Yakhetirni.
Came the ship captain, Ipi, and Nekuptah to do the work on the pyramid (called): "Fame-of-Ity"; together with 200 soldiers and 200 workmen, making 200.

Reign of Ity
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, § 387


The inscription of Kenofer

  first occurrence (of the numbering): a nation-wide cattle count was held annually or bi-annually
  the ship captain, Ipy: Ipy was probably responsible for transport, though ancient Egyptian leaders had to be prepared to tackle any task.
  Ity: Nebkaure, 21st century BCE
  200 soldiers and 200 workmen, making 200: Scribal mistakes of this kind occurred not infrequently.
    Commission which the eldest king's son, the treasurer of the god, commander of the army, Zaty, called Kenofer, executed.
I was at the front of the people in the day of battle, I controlled the going in the day of attack, by my counsel. I was exalted above multitudes, I made this work of Imhotep with 1000 men of the palace, 100 quarrymen, 1200 [soldiers] and 50 [////]. His majesty sent this numerous troop from the court. I made this work while [////] in every [////], while his majesty gave 50 oxen and 200 asses every day.
Palace-overseer, Intef.
Scribe of the marine, Mereri.

Reign of Imhotep
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, § 389f

Middle Kingdom

The inscription of Henu

  king's son: Royal princes were often put at the head of expeditions, military or economic
  soldiers: draftees.
    Year 8, first month of the third season (ninth month), day 3; his real favorite servant, who does all that he praises every day, wearer of the royal seal, [sole] com[panion], //// overseer of that which is and that which is not, overseer of the temples, overseer of the granary and White House, overseer of horn and hoof, chief of the six courts of justice, high-voiced in proclaiming the name of the king on the day of his warding off [////] who judges the prisoner according to his deserts //////////////////// (omitted lines containing titles) Satisfying the heart of the king as Keeper of the Door of the South; over the administration of the nomes of the South, chief treasurer ////////////. who quells the Haunebu, to whom the Two Lands come bowing down, to whom every office reports; wearer of the royal seal, sole companion, the steward, Henu says:
    [My lord, life prosperity], health! sent me to dispatch a ship to Punt to bring for him fresh myrrh from the sheiks over the Red Land, by reason of the fear of him in the highlands. Then I went forth from Coptos upon the road, which his majesty commanded me. There was with me an army of the South from //// of the Oxyrhyncus nome, the beginning thereof as far as Gebelen; the end thereof as far as [////], every office of the king's house, those who were in town and field, united, came after me. The army [////] cleared the way before, overthrowing those hostile toward the king, the hunters and the children of the highlands were posted as the protection of my limbs. Every official body of his majesty was placed under my authority. They reported messengers to me, as one alone commanding, to whom many hearken.
    I went forth with an army of 3,000 men. I made the road a river, and the Red Land (desert) a stretch of field, for I gave a leathern bottle, a carrying pole, 2 jars of water and 20 loaves to each one among them every day. The asses were laden with sandals [//// //// //// ////].
    Now, I made 12 wells in the bush, and two wells in Idehet, 20 square cubits in one, and 31 [square] cubits in the other. I made another in Iheteb, 20 by 20 cubits on each side [//// //// //// ////].
    Then I reached the [Red] Sea; then I made this ship, and I dispatched it with everything, when I had made for it a great oblation of cattle, bulls and ibexes.
    Now, after my return from the (Red) Sea, I executed the command of his majesty, and I brought for him all the gifts, which I had found in the region of God's Land. I returned through the [valley] of Hammamat, I brought for him august blocks for statues belonging to the temple. Never was brought down the like thereof for the king's court; never was done the like of this by any king's confidant sent out since the time of the god. I did this for the majesty of my lord because he so much loved me ////////////////////////..

Reign of Mentuhotep II
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, § 428f

The inscriptions of Amenemhet

  Henu: also Hennu, Henenu etc.
  the Door of the South: Elephantine
  dispatch a ship to Punt: In the absence of a canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea via the Bitter Lakes, the Wadi Hammamat route of less than 200 km was the shortest way to reach the Red Sea coast.
  Red Land: The desert regions, as opposed to the fertile Black Land
  Oxyrhyncus nome: 19th nome of Upper Egypt
  Gebelen: Per-hathor in the 4th nome of Upper Egypt
  overthrowing those hostile toward the king: The Egyptian control over the desert regions was often tenuous and had to be reasserted by military means.
  2 jars of water and 20 loaves: No supplies of fresh vegetables are mentioned. Such a diet over a prolonged period would result in the occurrence of deficiency diseases such as scurvy, known to the ancient Egyptians and described in the Ebers Papyrus. Such effects would probably have been rare as most quarrying expeditions were of short duration and mining in desert regions often seasonal, according to the present documents generally occurring during the first season or late in the third.
Under Khufu, when building operations went on for years seemingly uninterrupted, the supply of vegetables, radishes and onions and leeks according to Herodotus, is specifically mentioned.
  sandals: The Egyptians were generally barefoot, but in the rocky wadis of the Eastern desert sandals were a necessity.
  20 by 20 cubits: About ten by ten metres. Cisterns and wells had stairs leading down to the water level.
  leathern bottle: Leather bottles and animal skins, being much lighter than clay pots, were often employed for transporting water in desert regions. The most famous instance of such use of animal skins was during the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses.
  God's Land: Here God's Land refers to a region south of Egypt, at other times it designates a land somewhere in western Asia.
  blocks for statues: The Hammamat region was important for its mines and quarries as well as for its passage to the Red Sea.
    Year 2, second month of the first season, day 15. Royal commission, executed by the hereditary prince, count, governor of the city, chief judge, favorite of the king, chief of works, distinguished in his office, great in his rank, with advanced place in the house of his lord, commanding the official body, chief of the six courts of justice, judging the people and the inhabitants, and hearing [causes], to whom the great come bowing down, and the whole land, prone upon the belly, whose offices his lord advanced; his favorite as keeper of the Door of the South; conducting for him millions of the inhabitants to do for him the desire of his heart toward his monuments, enduring on earth; magnate of the King of Upper Egypt, great one of the King of Lower Egypt, conductor of the palace, [//// ////] in stretching the measuring-cord; judging without partiality, governor of the whole South, to whom is reported that which is and that which is not; conducting the administration of the Lord of the Two Lands; [zealous] of heart upon a royal commission; commander of those that command, conductor of overseers; the vizier of the king, at his audiences, Amenemhet, says: 
  chief of the six courts of justice: There was no separation between judicial and executive offices (cf. Law and Order)
  stretching the measuring-cord: The initial, mostly symbolic, act of construction (cf. Building).


Popular posts from this blog

How ancient Egyptians Were cutting the Obelisk from the Granite quarry?

Today, quarrymen cut and carve granite using saws with diamond-edged blades and steel chisels.

But ancient Egyptian quarrymen and stonemasons didn't have these modern tools. How, then, did they quarry and cut such clean lines in their obelisks and other monumental statuary?
To find out how ancient Egyptians quarried huge pieces of granite for their obelisks, i traveled to an ancient quarry in Aswan, located 500 miles south of Cairo. This is where the ancient Egyptians found many of the huge granite stones they used for their monuments and statues.

One of the most famous stones left behind is the Unfinished Obelisk, more than twice the size of any known obelisk ever raised. Quarrymen apparently abandoned the obelisk when fractures appeared in its sides. However, the stone, still attached to bedrock, gives important clues to how the ancients quarried granite.

Archeologist Mark Lehner, a key member of nova expedition, crouches in a granite trench that abuts one side of…

Hesi-re, the first Dentist, in ancient Egypt and in the world

Hesire was a high official who lived during the reign of Netjerikhet (Dosjer) 2686 BC to 2613 BC . His tutelary informs us of the many offices he had held during his life. Thus he was the 'overseer of the royal scribes', at the head of the royal administration of Djoser. His most spectacular title, however, was that of the 'greatest (or chief ?)of physicians and dentists'. It is not entirely clear whether this title infers that Hesire himself was honored as the greatest of physicians and dentists, or rather that he was merely responsible for the administration of physicians and dentists. But whatever the case, the distinction between 'physicians' and 'dentists' in his tutelary does show a high degree of medical specialization at this early stage of the history of Ancient Egypt..

Das Tal der Koenige

Die geographische Lage
Das Gebiet bei Theben lieferte ein vorzügliches Gebiet für das Anlegen einer königlichen Nekropole. Vom Westufer des Nils erstreckt sich eine flache Ebene zu einer Bergkette mit zahlreichen abgeschiedenen Tälern, die sich zwischen hohen Klippen und weichem Gestein durchschlängeln. Die Ebene eignete sich ideal für das Errichten der königlichen Totentempel. Die Täler hingegen boten genügend Platz, um viele kunstvoll in den Fels gehauene Gräber anzulegen. Auch aus symbolischen Gründen wählten die Alten Ägypter diesen Platz für das Errichten einer Nekropole. Blickt man von der Stadt Theben über den Nil auf das thebanische Bergmassiv, dann ähnelt es in der Gestalt einer riesigen Version der Hieroglyphe für "Horizont". Es ist das ägyptische Symbol für das Gebiet der auf- und untergehenden Sonne. Im Neuen…