The West Bank is the final resting place of the Keepers of the Southern Gate, the adventuresome ancient Egyptian noblemen of Elephantine who were entrusted with securing caravan routes, monitoring the granite quarries, and supervising trade shipments to the capital of Memphis. Take a camel or walk up the slope to the necropolis and enjoy a sense of discovery that you rarely achieve when perusing Egyptian antiquities. Many tombs are closed or undergoing excavation, but there is a great deal to see nevertheless. The view as you make your way south along the cliff is stunning.
Start with the north-end Tomb of Serenput I (No. 36, 12th Dynasty, 1938–1759 BC), which is noted for its lovely forecourt, with six columns inscribed with male figures, and its 28-yard-long inner passageway, forged through bedrock. (Ask the people at the kiosk if this tomb is open; if not, they can send someone who has a key with you). Move on to the Tomb of Khounes (No. 34, 6th Dynasty, 2323–2150
BC), located beneath the ruins of a Roman wall; traces remain of its conversion into a Coptic monastery. Look for the graffiti left by French soldiers in 1799. Continue south along the cliff to one of the best-preserved tombs of this era, that of Serenput II (No. 31, Middle Kingdom, 1980–1630 BC), grandson of Serenput I. Allow your eyes to adjust to the dim interior and watch the brilliantly colored reliefs (showing the deceased and his family) at the end of the 32-yard passage come to life. The last tombs are those of Mekhu and Sabni (No. 25 and No. 26, 6th Dynasty, 2350–2170 BC). These impressive rock-pillared chambers contain some frescoes—and the occasional bat. Mekhu died in equatorial Africa on an expedition. His son Sabni went to punish the tribe who killed him and to carry his father's body back home. Pharaoh Pepi II sent along mummification paraphernalia as a sign of appreciation for these exploits.
On your way back from the Tombs of the Nobles take a short hike up to the domed Gubgubet al-Hawa —the tomb of a sheikh, though most locals just call it Abu al-Hawa (Father of the Wind)—for the best view in Aswan and a cooling breeze year-round.