Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt

The inconspicuous entrances to the tombs in Beni Hasan do not indicate rich, originally decorated interiors.

Stone steps lead towards a hill on the slope of which more than 4,000 years ago rock tombs were carved. The polychromes adorning them, depicting gymnasts, people playing football or fighting fortunes, made them famous throughout Egypt.

Beni Hasan is different from the few necropolises in Egypt as against tradition it was built on the eastern bank of the Nile. They were usually located on the west side of the river - the afterlife. The very top of the hill, on the slope of which the graves were carved, is an excellent viewpoint over the Nile Valley.

Most of the hypogeas, i.e. rock tombs, come from the period of the XXII-XVIII centuries BC, when local monarchs gained importance and strengthened their position in the state. However, there are also some smaller and poorer tombs from the 24th century BC. Out of 39 hypogeas, only 12 are decorated, and up to four of them can be entered.

The tombs away from the capital show provocative architecture and art. Two of them, almost identical, attract attention. They belong to the governors: Baqet (BH 15) and his son Khety (BH 17). Both are in the form of a rectangular cult chapel. The entrance to it is flanked by columns (two or six). The similarity is also visible in the layout and type of decoration. The polychromes and reliefs on the northern walls of both tombs show scenes from the life of the deceased and his family in the provinces. The western walls show funeral rituals, boat processions, bringing funeral gifts, as well as dragging the statue of the deceased into the tomb. On the eastern walls there are sports-themed scenes - wrestling which were apparently very popular at the time, and in his son's tomb there are also scenes of fighting during the siege of the fortress.

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Particularly noteworthy in the father's grave is the unusual polychrome depicting girls playing football. You can clearly see how the players had to have a flexible body: they sit on their friends' backs and pass the ball to each other.

The owners of the tombs in Beni Hasan came from two dynasties (XI and XII), hence the differences in the architecture of the hypogeas. In those that belonged to the XII Dynasty, the cult chapel is preceded by a portico and an enclosed courtyard. Inside it, there are columns that are purely decorative. They duplicate the wooden architecture of houses of that period, confirming the belief that the tomb was a home for eternity.

In the tomb of Governor Amenemhat (BH 2), the chapel has three aisles. Each of them is barrel vaulted. Also here on one of the walls is depicted fighting wrestlers in 59 poses. The individual phases of the struggle, blows and dodges were rendered with such precision that they are almost enough to teach this sport.

The tomb of Khnumhotep II (BH 3) attracts the most attention in Beni Hasan due to the vivid colors and expressiveness of the polychrome. The most famous scene shows the march of Asians carrying gifts for the Egyptian princes. They have characteristic long and curly hairstyles and short beards. They are dressed in togas pinned on one shoulder. The scene of catching birds in snares is also interesting, as the individual species of birds were crowned with attention to the smallest details and with great craftsmanship.

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