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Introducing Balat

For a captivating glance into life during medieval times, pay a visit to the Islamic village of Balat, 35km east of Mut. Built during the era of the Mamluks and Turks on a site that dates back to the Old Kingdom, charismatic winding lanes weave through low-slung corridors past Gaudí-like moulded benches. Palm fronds are still used for shelter as smoothly rounded walls ease into each other. The tiny doors here were designed to keep houses cool and confuse potential invaders. A guide will happily take you onto the roof of one of the three-storey mudbrick houses for commanding views (a small tip is expected). To get to Balat, a pick-up from near the general hospital in Mut will cost E£1.50.

A dirt track that meets the main road 200m east of Balat heads north about 2km to Ain al-Asil, or Spring of the Origin, the site of a ruined fortress that’s much less interesting than its name suggests. Continue another 1.5km to find Qila al-Dabba, Balat’s ancient necropolis. The five mastabas (mudbrick structures above tombs that were the basis for later pyramids) here, the largest of which stands over 10m high, date back to the 6th dynasty. Four are ruined, but one has been restored and is now open to the public, though you may need to find a guardian in the nearby buildings to unlock it. You’ll need a private vehicle – or plenty of endurance – to get here.