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Published: February 10th 2019
At Luxor railway station we bargain with a taxi driver for a “good price” for the short ride to our hotel. Good for whom? The taxi is a battered old Peugeot 204, perhaps 50 years old? The door locks don't really work; the boot is held open with a stick; the speedo is stuck on zero. But it gets us to the illustrious Winter Palace Hotel, or rather its newer and cheaper Pavilion wing. Our room overlooks the wonderful gardens.
The Winter Palace Hotel has always been the place to stay and everybody has – from Lady Di to Richard Gere. In 1923, Howard Carter used the hotel's imposing staircase as his podium to announce to the world’s press that he had, at last, found Tutankamun's tomb.
The Nile is wide here and a local ferry, 50p return, links the two sides of the river. Luxor city is on the east bank: east, where the sun rises, is for the living. All the tombs are on the west bank, where the sun sets. We visit different areas – the valley of the kings, the tombs of the nobles, a selection of the temples and Howard Carter's house.
tombs of the nobles are on a lower hillside and they once had a village on top of them. Our guide was born in the now-demolished village. He explains that his aunt had three tomb openings in her house, using one as a larder and another as a bedroom. The government built the villagers new houses near the Nile but nobody wanted to move. So the electricity and water were turned off, forcing the villagers out.
Howard Carter’s house feels lived in, as if he has just popped out. His typewriter, record player and camera sit ready for use; photographic prints hang in the darkroom. We can easily imagine him sitting on the veranda after a long day in the hot desert. Carter was here for ten years before the Tutenkhamun find and it took a further nine years to clear the entire tomb and catalogue the more than 5,000 items found.
All over the area, archaeologists still work; they come from all over the world to work in this desolate area of desert and rock. Somewhere out there is an undiscovered tomb; in a old tomb, a new doorway or passage might be found; in the rubble
cast aside a hundred years ago something significant may have been missed.
Of course, many tombs were discovered “in antiquity”. Discovered, robbed and defaced. The Muslim religion has a prohibition against images of people, so many faces in paintings were scratched out and statues had their faces chipped off – literally de-faced. Only the wall paintings in undiscovered tombs, or those too high to reach, survive undamaged. Since finding Tutankamun's tomb in 1922 only one more unplundered tomb has been found.
We have plenty of time here to explore the temples and the souks – and to enjoy the winter sun. By the end of the week we have a favourite coffee shop, a trusted baker and helpful fruit stall. The hawkers get to know us and become less persistent, even the police guards smile and nod a greeting. Then, one morning, there are a lot more police and an armoured police car with a machine gun on its roof! “A group of 25 American are coming”, they explain. “We must show them that it is safe.”
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