During ancient times the city of Aswan was much different. People in that period used to live around Elephantine Island, which is also where the rulers and kings of Nubia resided. This was why the tombs of the kings and the royal family of Nubia were located near the island of Elephantine in what is called today the Tombs of the Nobles of Aswan.
Elephantine Island was the center of the worship of the divine trinity of gods: Khnum, Sant, and Elephantine who were called the guards of the headwaters of the Nile. Elephantine Island was also the cult center of many other gods and goddesses like Isis and Hathor afterward.
About the Tombs of the Nobles
The Tombs of the Nobles are situated near the West Bank of Aswan at the northern edge of Elephantine Island. They are of significant importance as they give us the chance to know about the history of this section of Egypt during the Old and Middle Kingdoms.
The British archeologist Lord Greenville discovered the Tombs of the Nobles between 1885 and 1886 and was the first scientist to explore this important historical site.
The Tombs of the Nobles located in Aswan are also called the Tombs of Qubat El Hawa and this historical site, although it is among the less visited monuments in Upper Egypt, has some wonderful ancient art and noteworthy importance of the Middle and the Old Kingdoms. The wall paintings inside the Tombs of the Nobles are wonderfully alive and they display the daily life activities of the ancient Egyptians in a magnificent masterpiece of art.
The most important and beautiful tombs in the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan are the tombs of Harkhuf, Sarenput II, and the tomb of Sabni and Mekho. Many tours can be organized in Aswan including exploring the Tombs of the Nobles, situated in the West Bank of the Nile. A small old passageway leads to a staircase that takes the guests to the upper open courtyard where the tombs were dug. There are a large number of tombs dating to the Middle and Old Kingdoms periods. However, only some of them are worth a visit. Here's a guide to the tombs that are worth checking out:
The Tombs of Mekho
Climbing the stairs to the tombs of Mekho and Sabni you will notice that the steps were carved in a diagonal style to facilitate the lifting of the dead body over the top using wooden and stone tracks. Mekho was a prince who belonged to the 6th dynasty of the Old Kingdom. He was the son of King Pepi II and he lost his way in one of the royal exploratory journeys and maybe this was why we find that the tomb was not fully completed.
Inside the tomb, a portrait on the right-hand wall of the tomb displays Prince Mekho wearing a skirt and accompanying his wife while the servant is bringing him offerings to present to the gods. It was common in the tombs of ancient Egypt to find many portraits of the daily activities of the deceased in the first chamber of the tomb. However, in the tomb of Mekho, there is also a portrait of some people giving the prince a report about the activities that he used to supervise.
There is a false door at the right-hand side afterward where some offerings scenes are painted together with other scenes of Mekho doing daily activities. The burial chamber of the tomb of Mekho was constructed upon 18 columns which were divided into three rows that include many scenes and inscriptions. There is also a false door in the burial chamber and the walls contain scenes of the god Anubis and Osiris praying for Mekho with some agricultural scenes in the background.
The Tomb of Sabni
The Tomb of Sabni, son of Mekho, is actually an extension of the tomb of his father Mekho. It is a relatively large tomb, in comparison to the other tombs of the Nobles. The Tomb of Sabni has a wonderful entrance which is now surrounded by a wall and the entrance of the tomb goes through the tomb of his father, Mekho. The entrance of the Tomb of Sabni is actually divided into two sections that lead to the hall containing 14 square-shaped columns with the common fishing and haunting scenes all over the place.
The most important feature of the Tomb of Sabni is the scenes telling the story of his adventurous journey that the prince ordered to have displayed on the walls of his tomb, however, unfortunately, the first part of the story was totally ruined by the passage of time.
The story of the journey of Sabni is displayed on a number of columns to the left and the right-hand side of the tomb. These scenes on the columns tell the story of how Sabni was able to rescue the dead body of his father in one of the campaigns they went through as mummifying the dead body was an important ritual in ancient Egypt.
The story of Sabni and how he was able to hold the dead body of his father and travel for a long distance until he reached the tomb of his father in Aswan. It is among the most important historical records that tell us about the mentality of the Egyptians at that period of time and how they perceived life, death, and immortality.
The Temple of Sarenput II
The Tomb of Sarenput II is probably the finest of the tombs of the Nobles in Aswan. Sarenput II was the son of a Nubian king during the reign of the kings Senosurt II and Amenmehat II in the Middle Kingdom.
Moreover, Sarenput was a royal prince, a high priest of the temples of the gods of Khnum and Sant, and the army leader of Egypt during the ruling period of Amenmehat II who belonged to the 12th dynasty.
When the guests enter inside the tomb of Sarenput II, they find themselves in a courtyard that is based upon six columns, and to the right-hand side; there is an attractive offerings table, ornamented with granite with the name of the owner of the tomb carved on it. The false door has some hieroglyphic inscriptions that tell about the owner of the tomb.
Going further inside the tomb, after leaving the courtyard, there is a passageway and its walls display wonderful scenes of Sarenput II and his son. After passing the passageway, the guests reach another hall with four columns with a longitudinal line of hieroglyphic inscriptions that include the titles of the owner of the tomb, Sarenput II.
There are some irregular features that contradict what was followed in the tombs of the Middle Kingdom in the Tomb of Sarenput II. These include displaying a scene of the event of burying the owner of the tomb and displaying the owner of the tomb putting his right hand to receive the offerings from the table.
The Tomb of Harkhuf
Harkhuf lived in the period of the sixth dynasty, between 2345 and 2181 BC and he is among the first people to be buried in the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan. Harkhuf was the ruler of the region of Elephantine Island in this period.
During the Old Kingdom, the period of the builders of the pyramids, there were strong relations between ancient Egypt and Nubia and this was why Harkhuf went in four campaigns to the lands of Nubia.
During the first journey of Harkhuf to Nubia, he was young and he went with his father and this campaign lasted for seven months to import goods to ancient Egypt.
In the second journey, Harkhuf was older and he led the campaign to Nubia to bring some products and secure the commercial routes to Nubia. It was common in the period of the Old Kingdom that the sarcophaguses of the kings had to be ornamented with precious stones, ivory, and ebony and these products were brought from the Elephantine Island.
Harkhuf went to Nubia for the third time to try to resolve a conflict between two Nubian tribes with no further details mentioned in the inscriptions carved in his tomb.
In his fourth and last campaign, Harkhuf traveled to the lands of Nubia and the battles were bursting between the two most powerful tribes in Nubia. This was during the ruling period of King Teti and he was only six years at the time. Moreover, there were actually some references in the Tomb to some reports that Harkhuf has sent to King Teti telling him about his campaign in Nubia.
The Tomb of Harkhuf has a courtyard at the entrance, the same as the Tomb of Sarenput II. Afterward, there is the façade of the tomb displays some scenes of the life of Harkhuf.
After admiring the façade, the guests find themselves inside a rectangle-shaped hall that leads to a passageway and then the burial room that hosts some columns with inscriptions containing the titles of Harkhuf.