Gary A. Byers
Recently, the outside world became aware of a small island in the Nile delta where an ancient Egyptian village from the 15th century BC has been discovered. The unique thing about this village, located within the city limits of modern Cairo, is that it wasn’t there during Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 15th century BC! This ancient village is
Modern Egyptians recreating ancient Egyptian life in Ragab’s village.
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the 1984 creation of Egypt’s former ambassador to China, Dr. Hasan Ragab. It is officially known as the Pharaonic Village.
The island on which the village is constructed belongs to Ragab. It is the plantation where he grows papyrus reeds to supply his floating Papyrus Museum, docked on the bank of the Nile near Giza. It was Dr. Ragab, in the 1970’s, who rediscovered the techniques for producing smooth sheets of papyrus, an art lost for over a millennium. Today, hidden in the reeds of Ragab’s papyrus island, the ancient village sits in the very shadows of modern Cairo’s skyline.
Set in the days of Egypt’s New Kingdom (16th-13th centuries BC), the village sits in an ancient Egyptian ecosystem totally created by Dr. Ragab. He has successfully recreated the trees, flowers, birds and animals which lived in the region about 1500 BC, many of which have long disappeared from the banks of the Nile.
The village is accessed by launch from the Nile’s western bank. Upon arrival at the island, the boat navigates a narrow canal lined with the 10 ft high papyrus stalks. One by one, images of ancient Egyptian deities appear in the midst of the reeds. Amon-Ra, Thoth, Osiris, Isis, Horus and Bes all present themselves to the boatload of visitors.
The Pharaonic Village
At the end of the canal, the visitors from the present begin to view daily life in an ancient Egyptian village, a world with which both Joseph and Moses were familiar. White-kilted farmers plow their fields with oxen and wooden plows, sow seed by hand, irrigate with water from the Nile and winnow their wheat at a threshing floor. Further along, a scribe records baskets of grain poured into a whitewashed mudbrick silo for storage.
One by one, the vital industries of ancient Egypt are recreated. Modern Egyptians demonstrate fishing, wine making, papyrus making, linen weaving, perfume making, carpentry, boat construction, pottery production, brick making, sculpturing of monuments, wall painting and engraving.
Village structures include a nobleman’s house and garden, a farmer’s hut, a yard for Nile boat builders, a threshing floor and a village market. The only stone structure on the site is a reconstructed temple. Interestingly, it is the only ancient-styled temple in Egypt not in ruins today. While the ancient temple was off limits to the common man, the domain only of its priests, modern visitors may enter and observe the priests conducting 3,500 year old rituals.
The time-traveling visitors are free to roam the village, along with its numerous domesticated animals. They may observe the ancient Egyptians as they conduct daily activities inside, outside and on the rooftops of their houses.
Most recently, Dr. Ragab also
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completed a full scale reconstruction of King Tutankhamon’s tomb. All four chambers of the boy king’s ancient tomb are reconstructed, just as they appeared when discovered by Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922. Tut’s actual tomb, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor 360 mi away, has long been emptied of all its artifacts. Yet, it has remained a major tourist attraction for many years. Unfortunately, the breath of 3,000 daily visitors to the stone-carved tomb has caused bacterial growth on the ancient wall paintings and the site has been closed to the general public. The actual artifacts are kept just a few miles from Ragab’s island in downtown Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
At Ragab’s reconstruction, the tomb’s four chambers are separated by a visitor’s walkway, allowing viewing of each room. Considered by many to be even more interesting than the real thing, it was the high-light of this visitor’s island stop last summer. The impact of the collective sizes, shapes and colors of all those artifacts crammed into these small rooms is dazzling. It has caused more than one tourist to reutter Howard Carter’s words after being the first to observe Tut’s treasures in over 3, 000 years, “Yes, wonderful things.”
Solid gold facemask from the coffin of King Tut.