Kilt Like an Egyptian

The Pyramid of Khafre, Giza Necropolis, Cairo

The Pyramid of Khafre, Giza Necropolis, Cairo

It seems wherever you travel around the globe, you can’t miss signs of Scottish influence. From bagpipes being played in far off antipodean lands to Ceilidhs taking place in South America, the Scots have sure spread themselves far and wide. I recently traveled through Egypt, eyes peeled for any evidence of these great wanderers.

Today Egypt is sadly far down the list of travel destinations for holiday makers. The most recent revolution earlier this year (or coup, depending on who you’re speaking with), follows three years of life-changing political change that has turned the majority of travelers off the region, as the country remains stuck in a kind of political purgatory. I was a little nervous about visiting Egypt, but after conducting a large amount of research online, we discovered the situation on the ground was a lot calmer than what is shown on the evening news.

Revolution Graffiti, Luxor

Revolution Graffiti, Luxor

The signs of revolution in Egypt are evident – curfews are still in place, political graffiti adorns city walls, and tanks and soldiers patrol the streets (mainly to keep the few visitors that are still visiting safe). But I have never been more blissfully overwhelmed in my life than when I first set eyes on the grandeur that is the Great Pyramids of Giza. I’ll also never forget my afternoon spent floating on a Felucca down the incredibly tranquil and soothing Nile. And just as in Scotland, every corner you turn you’ll find another historical gem sitting as it has for thousands of years, patiently awaiting you – from Mosques, Coptic Churches and the odd Synagogue, to the thousands of temples and monuments from ancient times.

So what are the ties between Egypt and Scotland? Well, it turns out they both wear.. kilts! Look at any statue of the great Pharaohs that adorn temples, and you’ll notice these titans of ancient times are wearing what my fantastic guide Mustafa refereed to as the ‘Royal Kilt’. My ears pricked up when he said this – as I had been searching far and wide for some way to tie the two countries together. Known also as the Shendyt, this kilt (generally made of linen) was the basic form of dress for Egyptian men of all social classes for thousands of years. And just like Scottish kilts, the Egyptian version is also pleated in the back.

Ramses II wearing the Royal Kilt, Ancient City of Memphis

Ramses II wearing the Royal Kilt, Ancient City of Memphis

The Shendyt is probably an adaptation of early hunting skirts which allowed freedom of movement for the wearer. Members of the military wore a version of the Shendyt, as they too would need freedom of movement for battle. A man’s status was also confirmed by how elaborate his kilt was, and how fine the linen used to make it. The kilts of the rich nobles and Pharaohs were often very intricately pleated, and must have been difficult to care for. By the Middle Kingdom, mens kilts had become longer and more complex and ornamental pendants were often attached to elaborate belts.

Upon further research I also discovered that another quintessential Scottish item can possibly trace its ancestry to the ancient Egyptians. The bagpipes roots lie in ancient Egypt and Babylonia, where early double-piped instruments probably sounded the melody and the bag as air supply played the accompaniment. Some sources say the pipes made their way to Scotland via Rome – Emperor Nero (37-68 A.C.) was apparently a keen player. During the Roman expansion into Europe and Britain, the bagpipes were used by soldiers during religious observances, and could have been appropriated then by the locals. Other sources say the bagpipes reached Scotland with immigrants from the Mediterranean by the way of the west coast between 2000 and 3000 B.C., or via Ireland with its close ties to Spain. Or of course it could be that the Highlanders invented their pipes completely independently in pre-Roman times.

If you’ve been thinking of going, Egypt needs you now more than ever as so much of the country relies on tourism. It broke my heart that the major sightseeing destinations had been reduced to ghost-towns. When I visited the Valley of the Kings with my dad, we were the only people there, and felt as if we were modern day explorers discovering the tombs for the first time.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to spend time in Egypt, especially during such a pivotal moment in the country’s immense history. The Egyptians are a wonderfully friendly bunch who will go to all lengths to make you feel welcome in their country. If you’re considering making the trip – go! It’s definitely not your average holiday, but completely worth it for the sights, the people, the food, and even the heat.

I was looked after in Cairo and Luxor by the incredibly wonderful Memphis Tours – Cheers guys!


About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

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