Today Al Minya is small city in Middle Egypt that does not receive much attention on the tourist map, but it was once a powerful regional capital within Egypt. During the First Intermediate Period, when the authority that ruled Egypt from Memphis during the Old kingdom broke down, Minya became a minor power center and it continued to hold sway over the center of Egypt through the Middle Kingdom.
Visiting Al Minya is not a common stop on most tours. The sites are visited much less frequently and the atmosphere of the town is not geared toward foreign visitors. While the town doesn’t offer much to visitors, there are some interested colonial era buildings in the old section of town near the central midan, Tahrir Square.
The tombs of Beni Hassan, cut into the rocky cliffs on the east side of the Nile, date from the period of Al Minya’s influence. There are 39 tombs in all, but only the four most impressive are open to the public. While much earlier and less impressive than the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens in Luxor, they are still a fascinating site for their vivid wall paintings that depict a variety of everyday activities from Ancient Egyptian life. About a mile and a half further on a path from the tombs are the ruins of Speos Artemidos. Queen Hatshepsut commissioned this rock-cut temple and like her temple near Luxor it honors the goddess Hathor.
Al Minya also hosts a small museum to Akhenaten, a unique character in the history of pharaonic Egypt. Akhenaton, born Amenhotep IV, ruled Egypt from 1352 to 1336 BC. Shortly after taking power he changed his name and outlawed the age-old religion in favor of monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun god. He founded a new capital called Akhetaten, which today is known as Tell Al Amarna and is located 30 miles south of Minya. Even the art produced during Akhenaten’s rains was strikingly different. Visit the Amarna Period room in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to see just how different Akhenaten art was. After his death, the priestly establishment did their best to destroy Akhenaten’s legacy, including the city he built. Today, there are only sparse remains of the city he built at Tell Al-Amarna, but the legend of Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti, still looms large. If you are in Al-Minya it might be worth a visit to Tell Al-Amarna to see what remains of the ‘heretic’ pharoah’s legacy.