Tuna Al Gebel

Top choice monument in Hermopolis

Tuna Al Gebel was the necropolis of Hermopolis; about 5km past the village of Tuna Al Gebel you'll find the catacombs and tombs of the residents and sacred animals. The dark catacomb galleries once held many thousands of mummified ibis and baboons, both seen as the ‘living image of Thoth’. This wonderfully atmospheric subterranean cemetery is on two levels and extends for at least 3km, perhaps even all the way to Hermopolis.

There is an impressive shrine to the baboon god and a single human burial on the lowest level. You need a torch to get the most out of the galleries.

At one time Tuna Al Gebel belonged to Akhetaten, the short-lived capital of Pharaoh Akhenaten, and along the road you pass one of 14 stelae marking the boundary of the royal city. The large stone stele carries Akhenaten’s vow never to expand his city beyond this western limit of its farmlands and associated villages, nor to be buried anywhere else, although it seems he was eventually buried in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. To the left, two damaged statues of the pharaoh and his wife Nefertiti hold offering tables; the sides are inscribed with figures of three of their daughters.

The most striking ruins at Hermopolis itself are two colossal 14th-century-BC quartzite statues of Thoth as a baboon. These supported part of Thoth’s temple, which was rebuilt throughout antiquity. A Middle Kingdom temple gateway and a pylon of Ramses II, using stone plundered from nearby Tell Al Amarna, also survive. There is also the remains of a Coptic basilica, which reused columns and even the baboon statues, though first removing their giant phalluses.

The site is several kilometres south of Hermopolis and then 5km along a road into the desert.