Ruins in Sohag

The satellite town of Akhmim, on Sohag’s east bank, covers the ruins of the ancient Egyptian town of Ipu, itself built over an older predynastic settlement. It was dedicated to Min, a fertility god often represented by a giant phallus, equated with Pan by the Greeks (who later called the town Panopolis). A taxi to Akhmim should cost around LE50 per hour. The microbus, if you are allowed to take it, costs LE6 and takes 15 minutes.

The current name echoes that of the god Min, but more definite links to antiquity were uncovered in 1982 when excavations beside the Mosque of Sheikh Naqshadi revealed an 11m-high statue of Meret Amun. This is the tallest statue of an ancient queen to have been discovered in Egypt. Meret Amun (Beloved of the Amun) was the daughter of Ramses II, wife of Amenhotep and priestess of the Temple of Min. She is shown here with flail in her left hand, wearing a ceremonial headdress and large earrings. Nearby, the remains of a seated statue of her father still retain some original colour.

Little is left of the temple itself, and the statue of Meret Amun now stands in a small archaeological park, among the remains of a Roman settlement and houses of the modern town. Another excavation pit has been dug across the road and a more extensive excavation is underway nearby.

Akhmim was famed in antiquity for its textiles – one of its current weavers calls it ‘Manchester before history’. The tradition continues today and opposite the statue of Meret Amun, across from the post office, a green door leads to a small weaving factory (knock if it is shut). Here you can see weavers at work and buy hand-woven silk and cotton textiles straight from the bolt (silk LE200 per metre, cotton LE90 to LE125) or packets of ready-made tablecloths and serviettes.