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Sculptural Fragments, Tanis | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Sculptural Fragments, Tanis

Something is afoot...?


The ancient site of Tanis lies in the north east of Egypt's Delta region and dates back to the 19th Dynasty, later becoming the seat of power for later pharaohs during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties.


Many of the monuments here are inscribed for Ramesses II but are believed to have been transferred at a later date from his former capital 'Pi-Ramesses', modern Qantir, (one of the nearby villages we travelled through en route here) where little remains today. The cities in the Delta were built along the many branches of the Nile that bisect this region, but with the silting up of some branches over time such settlements became vulnerable and were abandoned, as happened at Pi-Ramesses and later its replacement Tanis in turn.


The site today is located near the modern village of San el Hagar and the surviving ruins largely consist of isolated inscribed blocks, scattered obelisk and architectural fragments and pieces of large scale sculptures. It is nonetheless an impressive spectacle and a great site to explore, the almost caramel colour of the stone and desert adds much to the atmosphere.


More complete are the tomb structures of the 21st & 22nd dynasties, the tomb of Shoshenq III being complete except for its roof and filled with reliefs and sarcophagi. The tomb of Psusennes I (along with Amenemope and Shoshenq II who were also interred there) is located nearby under a surviving section of the ruined plinth of the former temple of Amun, but the tombs themselves can only be glimpsed through openings. These tombs yielded intact treasures when they were investigated by Pierre Montet in 1940 and the contents are now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.


My first encounter with Tanis was of course via one of my favourite films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which it is the setting for the stunning 'Map Room' and 'Well of Souls' where the Ark of the Covenant is found in the film. Of course none of it was filmed here (or even in Egypt itself) but I was intrigued to see broken obelisks like the one that led Indiana Jones to the target! But the film's claim that the city had been lost up to that point is pure myth, it has been investigated frequently since the early 19th century.


Our trip to Tanis was slightly complicated by the security situation, it is quite remote and the closest we got to the trouble spots in the Sinai, thus we were held back at Tell Basta until an armed escort could accompany us. This didn't cause alarm, being something we had experienced already elsewhere, and a sign of how seriously Egypt takes the safety of its visitors. Nonetheless it was quite humbling having groups of guards making a special trip at short notice just for the two of us!


We didn't spend more than an hour on site here (despite having a very good local guide who was willing to show us more if we'd stayed) as it was getting late and we didn't want to keep our generous escorts waiting.


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Taken on October 14, 2017