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Looking across the river from Aswan, just over to the right of the massive tower of the Mövenpick Elephantine Island, you should be able to make out little black specks in the face of the golden-brown cliff. These are the Tombs of the Nobles, the final resting place of the officials who ran Aswan and controlled the lucrative trade with Nubia and Sudan. In terms of execution and quality, the experts will tell you that these are inferior to those found to the north (they pale in comparison to the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings). I think, however, that the setting adds a certain something here and that, after a trek up the steep slippery path from the dock, these tombs, not to mention the view back eastward to the land of the living, are a pretty rewarding experience.

Most of the tombs remain closed, and many have sanded up inside or collapsed. Of the open tombs, the most interesting is probably Sirenput II. The owner was a governor under the 12th-dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat II. It's worth making your way to the burial chamber at the back of the tomb for illustrations of Sirenput with his family. The next tomb along is also a good one. The owner, named Harkhuf, was another governor who led several trading expeditions to the south and brought back what he described as a "dancing pygmy" to the delight of the Pharaoh. A letter from the Pharaoh is transcribed on the wall exhorting Harkhuf to hurry to the royal court with the pygmy, but to take care of him on his way and surround him with trusty men so that he wouldn't fall into the Nile or tumble from his hammock in the night. If the New Kingdom tomb of Kakemkew is open, it's worth a look as well. It was discovered by Howard Carter about 20 years before the opening of Tutankhamun's considerably more illustrious tomb at the Valley of the Kings, which made him famous, and there are notable illustrations of funerary rites and mourning family that adorn the walls.