Wednesday, 11 February 2015


Dan Brown once said that he researches his novels after he's written them. Well, it hasn't done his sales any harm, so I thought I'd try the same trick.

Burke and the Bedouin was published last October. I had wanted to visit Egypt while I was writing it, but the political situation there made this impractical. This year, though, our son booked a diving holiday on the Red Sea and suggested that we join him. We took the chance to visit Luxor and, very briefly, Cairo on our way back.

If you're writing about Egypt, you have to have a picture of the Pyramids. It's the law.

The Cairo of 1798 has almost totally vanished under a modern city that we were told now houses 22 million people. That figure seems incredible, but a quick Internet search suggests that it is correct if you include the entire metropolitan area. We visited the pyramids, of course, and I stood there and looked out over the field of Napoleon's famous victory, but all I saw was Cairo's suburbs. The built-up area extends almost to the pyramids and the three famous structures can be a bit of an anti-climax, but the smaller pyramids there that nobody talks about are interesting. And if you enter one of the huge structures and climb down to the burial chamber it is a truly awesome experience – especially now when you can often have a place to yourself. If you do visit, make sure you see the solar boat – an astonishing artefact from the time of the Pharaohs.

The Solar Boat would carry the Pharoah to the afterlife. It was found near the Great Pyramid

The guides we met had surprisingly strong views on Napoleon, either praising him as the man who opened up our modern interest in Ancient Egypt or attacking him as a villain who was responsible the death of many Egyptians and the theft of thousands of pharaonic artefacts. The sight of the base of an obelisk at Luxor crudely hacked off so that the monument could be carried back to Paris (it's in the Place de la Concorde) was quite sobering.

The temple at Luxor. There should be another column on the right of the entrance. Blame Napoleon!

It was interesting to visit, if only very briefly, the site of Burke's adventures and to take a felucca out onto the Nile. Egypt is a fascinating country and even such a short trip was better than nothing. I recommend it. But if you can't go, try to catch a glimpse of its past in Burke and the Bedouin.

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