The legendary German fest, which attracts around 6 million visitors every year, has been called off
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Travellers trapped at home during this lockdown are being catered to like never before with a host of virtual tours being made available to encourage some at-home exploration. The latest addition to this catalogue is a tour of the 5,000-year-old tomb of Queen Meresankh III, courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, with the usual admission fee of 50 Egyptian Pounds (around Rs243) waived.
The tour, bolstered by Harvard University’s 3D rendering and encyclopaedic information, guides you through various sections of the tomb and provides important details about the paintings, hieroglyphs, sculptures and structures that can be found within. Add to that digital reconstructions of points of interest, an animated tour led by the Queen herself, and a marked absence of swarms of tourists all trying to nudge past you for a better look, and the tour shapes up to be an enriching experience rather than simply a way to pass the quarantimes.
The tomb itself is chock full of ancient Egyptian art and artifacts that have allowed Egyptologists to zero in on the culture’s practices and peculiarities. You enter through the doorway of the rock-cut tomb to the antechamber, the walls of which are covered in hieroglyphs. The Egyptians were pioneers of pictorial presentation and the glyphs, beside detailing Queen Meresankh’s family and position, provide a glimpse of life 5,000 years ago. These etchings include a variety of sacrificial items, such as food and animals, for the funeral procession, a depiction of the Queen's steward, names of the artists that decorated the tomb, and other elements the like of which helped build the understanding of Egyptian culture we have today.
The Egyptians also followed a well-known practice of burying certain possessions to use in the afterlife. These possessions were also etched on the walls to ensure their availability to Meresankh when the physical objects are lost in time.
A notable feature in the tomb is a collection of sculptures carved into a wall on the right of the entrance. The sculptures depicted 10 women, certainly not the norm in male-dominated Egyptian society. Historians are certain that these sculptures signify a sisterhood that the Queen was part of.
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The sarcophagus itself is deeper in the tomb, underground. At the head of the stairs that lead there is a false door where, at certain points of the day, the sun would shine through a small window near the tomb’s entrance. This was no accident; the setting sun was thought to provide the perfect time for spirits of the dead to leave the earthly realm and the false door was meant to allow the Queen’s spirit to pass.
Meresankh’s sarcophagus itself was a black granite casket gifted to her by her mother, Hetepheres II. It had etchings of both the women on it. Taking the virtual tour of Meresankh's tomb is a way of connecting to an ancient culture and seeing the marks of human life dripping from the walls. The marks of the artists, the remnants of the Queen’s positions and the detailed pictographic description of the lives and lifestyles of the Egyptian nobles is a truly gratifying experience, all from the comfort of your own home.
Several other virtual tours have also been made available, although without the detailed and informative analysis that came through the partnership with Harvard University. These tours cover landmarks like the Red Monastery, whose walls are covered with frescoes of orthodox Coptic tradition, and the Ben Ezra synagogue, the purported place where Moses was discovered as a baby.
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