Amid an open air site in Upper Egypt's Minya, decorated with greenery, lie several layers of Ancient Egyptian civilization guarded by two giant baboons.
Welcome to Hermopolis, 'the joyous city'.
In Malawi, Minya, history is very much entangled with modern day lives. It is where historic sites live to witness present day.
The ancient city of Hermopolis and Tuna Al-Gabal (the burial site of Hermopolis) reflect the core of Ancient Egyptian civilization: the quest for knowledge and keen observation.
“The city of Hermes or Hermopolis is known today by its Arabic name Ashmunin, which is derived from the Coptic Shumnu, comes from the ancient Egyptian Khmnu, meaning the city of eight or ogdoad.
"Mythologically, the ogdoad are made of four masculine deities and their feminine counterparts, who represent the primordial creative forces whose marriage enabled harmony to be born," said founder of the village of New-Hermopolis, Dr. Mervat Abdel-Nasser in her latest book: The path to the New Hermopolis (Rubedo Press 2020).
Baboon a symbol of Thoth, holy figure of Wisdom, Photo by amira el noshokaty
Roman ruins at Hermopolis, Photo by amira el noshokaty
Based on the wisdom of Thoth or Tehuti, the ancient Egyptian lord of divine words and inventor of the hieroglyphs, symbolized by Baboons and Ibis, Hermopolis was known to be the city of creativity, philosophy and enlightenment where the Hermetic philosophical writing Hermetica was created.
“The book of Thoth (written in first century B.C.) for the longest time was believed to be a myth, until lately when they found fragments of this book which was evidence that it existed, and it is believed to be the basis of hermetic philosophy,” said Abdel-Nasser to Ahram Online.
It is believed that such a book holds the wisdom of the world, and is found at the end of the land. The quest to find it is dangerous. When found it will be in a tin box, inside a copper box, silver then gold. It is also guarded by a serpent that must not be killed.
Roman water system, at Hermopolis, Photo by amira el noshokaty
Lots of Roman pillars meet the eye, yet the sign, that marks these historic monuments, explains that they stand for the Basilica, the cathedral built in the fifth century A.D. on the ruins of a Roman temple that dates back to Ptolemy the third (300 B.C.).
The site is also known as the “Agora” meaning the market place in Greek. The ruins included a Greek water system that used pipes to transfer water to houses back in the day. A few steps away lie the ruins of one of the temples of each of Ramses the second and Siti the first.
Villa of archaeologist Sami Gabra,in Tuna Al-Gabal Photo by amira el noshokaty
Tuna Al-Gabal on the other hand, is the burial site of the era that took its name from the ancient Egyptian “Ta-Henet” meaning the swamp in reference to a nearby ancient lake that dried out.
On the right, a few kilometers from the entrance of the Necropolis lies the stela of Akhenaten and the first of Aketaton. Though known in history that he was the king who first called for Monotheism, limiting creation to only one god, manifested in the figure of the Sun “Aton”. The idea of Monotheism, was in fact established long before Akhenaten.
"Amenhotep the third, father of Akhenaten, first thought of the creator of the sun, and referred to him as the hidden, or the yet to be revealed," said Abdel-Nasser adding, that Amenhotep the third , accepted the diversity of the hidden manifestations in the form of several holy figures.
Drawing on the similarity between the idea of Sufi Wallis (Saints) of every city, Abdel-Nasser added that the ancient Egyptians' holy figures reflect keen observation of the environment such as Bastet (cat figure) reflecting the soothing sun, while Sekhmet (warrior/lioness ) reflects the burning sun. Both figures reflect the sun, and both are different species of cats. “Such holy figures were a manifestation of the creation of the hidden other than being gods themselves,” explained Abdel Nasser.
Villa of Taha Hussien in Tuna Al-Gabal. Photo by amira el noshokaty
The entrance of Tuna Al-Gabal is sided by two small villas one belonging to literary icon Taha Hussien and the other to his brother-in-law and renowned archaeological figure Sami Gabra. Both villas were scenes from a classic Egyptian movie Doaa Al Karawan, written by Taha Hussein, starring Fatin Hamama and Ahmed Mazhar.
Tombs of Baboons and Ibis in Tuna-Al Gabal.Photo by amira el noshokaty
Tuna Al-Gabal was the burial site of millions of baboons and ibises, they were considered holy figures that represented Thoth or Tehuti.
Poem lamenting the death of Isadora. Photo by amira el noshokaty
Further down the site we came across the famous Petosiris Tomb, where scenes of a cosmopolitan Egypt, with a Greek and Persian influence were apparent. Also reflecting the handicraft intangible heritage of ancient Egyptians that include carpentry, perfume making and planting.
The tomb of Isadora, Photo by amira el noshokaty
A few steps further lies the tomb of Isadora, dating back to the first half of the second century A.D. Isadora, the beautiful daughter of Roman Emperor Antonious, fell in love with a young soldier. When her father refused to let them marry, she drowned while attempting to elope. Her father founded this beautiful tomb and lamented her with a Greek poem. Isadora’s body is mummified and put in a glass coffin and the poem still adorns the entrance of the tomb.
Tomb of head priest showing Egyptian Handicrafts.Photo by amira el noshokaty
Next to Isadora lies an ancient Greek waterwheel that ensures a solid water system for the guardians of the cemetery.
The Water wheel in Tuna-AlGabal. Photo by amira el noshokaty