Middle Egypt

Most travellers cross the stretch of land between Cairo and Qena gazing out at the striking contrast of verdant Nile Valley and stark gold desert from the window of a train or plane, wholly bypassing the heartland and its scenic and archaeological treasures. But if you're keen to get a taste of the way most Egyptians live, Middle Egypt is the place to be. Small-time farmers work the land using traditional techniques and age-old tools. Women wash clothes and pots in the river and canals. Buffalo sleep under drooping date palms and donkeys carry children through the mud-brick villages. The provincial pace is slow and the frenzy of Cairo far away. So unfrequented a destination is this region that one can easily go days without seeing another foreign face.

The area known as Middle Egypt, so dubbed by 19th-century archaeologists, is tangibly distinct from Upper Egypt to the south. It has a large Coptic Christian population (at 20%, it's at least twice the national average), and an economy that is based more on sugar cane than tourism. Though the security policies of the government may suggest otherwise, the threat of Islamist militants has largely abated, and the people are among the friendliest you will meet.

One of the prettiest cities in the whole country is Minya, the provincial capital hailed as the 'the Bride of Upper Egypt', where majestic colonial buildings have stood the test of time and a relaxing Corniche is the locals' pride and joy. Though she's matured a bit, Minya is still a sleepy, romantic place with many of Middle Egypt's most notable ancient sights all within range. Climbing the cliff to the tombs of Beni Hassan or crossing the desert plains to the necropolis of Tuna El-Gabel has a mystique that harks back to the time of 19th-century exploration. Further south, the unquestionable highlights of the region are the magnificent temples of Abydos and Dendara, containing the most perfectly preserved and perfectly executed reliefs of any pharaonic structure in the land.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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