The city of Sohag, 115km south of Asyut, is one of the major Coptic Christian areas of Upper Egypt. Although there are few sights in the city, the nearby White and Red Monasteries, and the town of Akhmin across the river, are all of interest. It may be better to visit Sohag as a day trip from Luxor.
After more than 25 years, Sohag’s National Museum is ready to welcome tourists with open arms in the city of Sohag, in Upper Egypt.
The museum is set to be a landmark that celebrates the great extensive era of the Pharaohs with an exclusive collection of antiquities. It is also the first museum in the governorate.
Originally due to open in the mid 1990s, the construction of the museum was halted for several reasons including lack of funding.
Embodying the shape of classical Pharaonic temples, the landmark overlooks the Nile and is strategically designed as an experience rather than an exhibit.
The Sohag National Museum does not only display the history of Egypt as a country, but also reveals the history of the ancient cities of Sohag, Abydos and Akhmim, home of one of Egypt’s greatest ancient Egyptian king, Ramses II.
The museum is also keen on showcasing the grass roots of Egyptian culture by displaying marriage contracts, marriage traditions, children’s toys as well as dedicating a hall showing the role of Egyptian women in Upper Egypt throughout history.
(Deir al-Abyad; h7am-dusk), on rocky ground above the old Nile flood level, 12km northwest of Sohag, was founded by Saint Shenouda around AD 400. White limestone from Pharaonic temples was reused, and ancient gods and hieroglyphs still look out from some of the blocks. It once supported a huge community of monks and boasted the largest library in Egypt, but today the manuscripts are scattered around the world and the monastery is home to 23 monks.
The fortress walls still stand, though they failed to protect the interior, most of which is in ruins. Nevertheless, it is easy to make out the plan of the church inside the enclosure walls. Made of brick and measuring 75m by 35m, it follows a basilica plan, with a nave, two side aisles and a triple apse. The nave and apses are intact, the domes decorated with the Dormition of the Virgin and Christ Pantocrator. Nineteen columns, taken from an earlier structure, separate the side chapels from the nave.
Visitors wanting to assist in services may arrive f rom 4am.
(Deir al-Ahmar), 4km southeast of Deir al-Abyad, is hidden at the rear of a village. Founded by Besa, a disciple of Shenouda who, according to legend, was a thief who converted to Christianity, it was dedicated to St Bishoi. The older of the monastery’s two chapels, St Bishoi’s dates from the 4th century AD and contains some rare frescoes. At the time of writing these were being restored by a team sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt and USAID. While most of the chapel is hidden by scaffolding, frescoes visible in the right-hand nave suggest the superior quality of this early work.
The chapel of the Virgin, across the open court, is a more modern and less interesting structure.
To get to the monasteries you’ll have to take a taxi.
on Sohag’s east bank, covers the ruins of the ancient Egyptian town of Ipu, itself built over an older predynastic settlement. It was dedicated to Min, a fertility god often represented by a giant phallus, equated with Pan by the Greeks (who later called the town Panopolis). The current name contains an echo of the god’s name, but more definite links to antiquity were uncovered in 1982 when excavations beside the Mosque of Sheikh Naqshadi revealed an 11m-high statue of Meret Amun (h8am-4pm).
This is the tallest statue of an ancient queen to have been discovered in Egypt. Meret Amun (Beloved of the Amun) was the daughter of Ramses II, wife of Amenhotep and priestess of the Temple of Min. She is shown here with flail in hand, wearing a ceremonial headdress and large earrings.
Nearby, the remains of a seated statue of her father still retains some o riginal colour. Little is left of the temple itself, and the statue of Meret Amun now stands in a huge excavation pit, among the remains of a Roman settlement and houses of the modern town. Another excavation pit has been dug across t he road.
Akhmin was famed in antiquity for its textiles – one of its current weavers calls it ‘Manchester before history’. The tradition continues today and opposite the statue of Meret Amun, across from the post office, a green door leads to a small weaving factory (knock if it is shut). Here you can see weavers at work and buy hand-woven silk and cotton textiles straight from the bolt or packets of ready-made tablecloths a nd serviettes. Currently you will be escorted to Akhmin and will need to go by taxi. Otherwise, a microbus from Sohag to Akhmin and takes 15 minutes.
Check the security situation with the Sohag tourist police.
Sleeping & Eating Until the new upmarket east-bank Hotel anNil is finished, only one hotel was accepting foreigners in Sohag. Al Safa (Tel:230 7701/2; Sharia alGomhuriyya, West Bank;)
A relatively new West Bank block. Rooms are comfortable and the riverside terrace is popular in the evening for snacks, soft drinks and w ater pipes. Whatever choice there is in the way of food is off limits to foreigners. If this changes, there are budget kushari, fuul and ta’amiyya places near the train station.
For something fancier, try the floating café tied up on the east bank, south of the bridge, which is good for grills. More romantic, there is a café on an island, reached by boat from the north side of the new Hotel an-Nil. Getting There & Away With service taxi and bus travel forbidden to foreigners, the only way of leaving Sohag is by train.
There is a frequent service north and south along the Cairo–Luxor main line, with a dozen daily trains to Asyut (1st/2nd class) and Luxor. The service to Al-Balyana is very slow.
Al-Balyana is the jumping-off point for the village of Al-Araba al-Madfuna , 10km away, site of the necropolis of Abydos and the magnificent Temple of Seti I, one of the most beautiful monuments in Egypt. Security here tends to be heavy-handed and if you haven’t been escorted thus far, you’ll certainly pick up policemen here. Although they may limit the time you can spend there, they do not have the right to stop you seeing t he temple. Should you need to change money, there’s a tiny Banque Misr kiosk at the entrance to Abydos Temple, which may open when tourists arrive, but cannot be relied upon. As you’re unlikely to be able to stay in Al-Balyana, you will be limited to travelling here by private taxi or on a day trip, most easily from Luxor.
A s the main cult centre of Osiris, god of the dead, Abydos (ancient name Ibdju; h7am-6pm) was the place to be buried in ancient Egypt. It was used as a necropolis from predynastic to Christian times (c 4000 BC–AD 600), more than 4500 years of constant use. The area now known as Umm alQa’ab (Mother of Pots) contains the mastaba tombs of the first pharaohs of Egypt, including that of the third pharaoh of the 1st dynasty, Djer (c 3000 BC).
By the Middle Kingdom his tomb had become identified as the tomb of Osiris himself. Abydos maintained its importance because of the cult of Osiris, god of the dead. Although there were shrines to Osiris throughout Egypt, each one the supposed resting place of another part of his body, the temple at Abydos was the most important, being the home of his head, a place that most Egyptians would try to visit in their lifetime or have themselves buried here. Failing that, they would be buried with small boats to enable their souls to make the journey a fter death.
One of the temple’s more recent residents was Dorothy Eady. An English woman better known as ‘Omm Sety’, she believed she was a reincarnated temple priestess and lover of Seti I. For 35 years she lived at Abydos and provided archaeologists with information about the working of the temple, in which she was given permission to perform the old rites. She died in 1981 and was buried in the desert.
The first structure you’ll see at Abydos is the striking Cenotaph or Great Temple of Seti I, which, after a certain amount of restoration work, is one of the most complete temples in Egypt. This great limestone structure, unusually L-shaped rather than rectangular, was dedicated to the six major gods – Osiris, Isis and Horus, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah – and also to Seti I (1294–1279 BC) himself. In the aftermath of the Amarna Period, it is a clear statement of a return to the old ways. As you roam through Seti’s dark halls and sanctuaries an air of mystery s urrounds you.
The temple is entered through a largely destroyed pylon and two courtyards, built by Seti I’s son Ramses II, who is depicted on the portico killing Asiatics and worshipping Osiris. Beyond is the first hypostyle hall, also completed by Ramses II. Reliefs depict the pharaoh making offerings to the gods and preparing the t emple building.
The second hypostyle hall, with 24 sandstone papyrus columns, was the last part of the temple to have been decorated by Seti, although he died before the work was completed. The reliefs that were finished are of the highest quality. Particularly outstanding is a scene on the rear right-hand wall showing Seti standing in front of a shrine to Osiris, upon which sits the god himself.
Standing in front of him are the goddesses Maat, Renpet, Isis, Nephthys and Amentet. Below is a frieze of Hapi, the Nile god. At the rear of this second hypostyle hall are sanctuaries for each of the seven gods (right to left: Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Seti), which once held their cult statues.
The Osiris sanctuary, third from the right, leads to a series of inner chambers dedicated to the god, his wife and child, Isis and Horus, and the ever-present Seti. More interesting are the chambers off to the left of these seven sanctuaries: here, in a group of chambers dedicated to the mysteries of Osiris, the god is shown mummified with the goddess Isis hovering above him as a bird, a graphic depiction of the conception of their s on Horus. Immediately to the left of this, the corridor known as Gallery of the Kings is carved with the figures of Seti I with his eldest son, the future Ramses II, and a long list of the pharaohs who preceded them (see the boxed t ext, a bove) .
Directly behind Seti’s temple, the Osireion is a weird, wonderful building that continues to baffle Egyptologists, though it is usually interpreted as a cenotaph to Osiris. Originally thought to be an Old Kingdom structure, on account of the great blocks of granite used in its construction, it has now been dated to Seti’s reign, its design is believed to be based on the rock-cut tombs in the Valley of the Kings. At the centre of its columned ‘burial chamber’, which lies at a lower level than Seti’s temple, is a dummy sarcophagus. This chamber was originally surrounded by water, but thanks to a rising water table, the entire structure is now flooded, making inspection of the funerary and ritual texts carved on its w alls hazardous.
Just northwest of Seti I’s temple is the smaller and less well-preserved structure built by his son Ramses II (1279–1213 BC). Although following the rectangular plan of a traditional temple, it has sanctuaries for each god Ramses considered important, including Osiris, Amun-Ra, Thoth, Min, the deified Seti I and, of course, Ramses himself. Although the roof is missing, the reliefs again retain a significant amount of their colour, clearly seen on figures of priests, offering bearers and the pharaoh anointing the gods’ statues.
There are a couple of hotels and some cafés and food stands around t he town. House of Life, opposite Temple of Seti I. There is also a surprisingly good range of books and brochures about the temple.
The most common way of getting to AlBalyana is by tour bus or private tour in the 6am from Luxor .
A-8 days in Egypt, including a Nile River cruise and professional, private guides, will cost approximately $1,500 per person. Not bad considering this estimate also includes private guides for all of the sites and attractions.
A-There is no FCO advice against travel to Cairo, Alexandria, the tourist areas along the Nile, and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. The section of the country between the Nile and the Red Sea is also considered mostly safe.
A-If weather is your primary concern, the best time to visit Egypt is during the northern hemisphere fall, winter or early spring (October to April), when temperatures are lower. To avoid the crowds at ancient sites like the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, and Abu Simbel, try to avoid peak season (December and January).
A- An Egypt visa is required for most travelers including American and British passport holders. Americans and citizens fro 40 other countries can obtain an Egypt visa on arrival at the Cairo International airport at the bank kiosks before the immigration counters for $25 USD and are valid for visits up to 30 days.
A-Pants, Capris, Leggings, and Shorts...Basically, as long as your knees are covered, you are good. So whether you choose pants or capris, you will feel comfortable and remain respectful. Local women wear long pants or skirts.
A-On our Egypt tours that travel south to Aswan, include 3 or 4 night Nile cruise as standard. There is always the option to upgrade to a 5 star Luxury Nile cruise, which offers well–appointed and outward facing cabins.
A-The fixed deposit amount is 25% of the tours total price Except for Egypt Christmas tours, new years and other peak seasons where the deposit goes up to 50%.