A visit to an alabaster factory – Nile River Cruise
After an intense historical experience at the Valley of the Kings, we were treated to a visit of a lighter mode, which was a visit to an alabaster factory. In Egypt alabaster is found in two places, a few miles behind the Valley of the Kings and the Malawi area.
As we reached the factory building, there were men sitting on the floor and working on their pieces of raw alabaster. We were treated to a demonstration of how they sanded the rock into beautiful objects like vases and lamps. When we finally went into the building, it was like an aladdin’s cave full of alabaster products of all types. Most of them were machine made. The handmade alabaster objects are usually very thin, lighter in weight, waxy in feel and with a matte finish. The colors range from pure white to a rich creamy white, and sometimes they are streaked with various hues of warm, rusty reds. We were told that to see the true natural beauty of the colors and patterns, you should always ask to have the pieces you are looking at held to the light.
Alabaster is a fine-grained, translucent type of gypsum. It can be off-white or contain streaks of reddish brown. Alabaster is formed through the evaporation of bedded deposits which are precipitated from evaporating seawater. As it is a soft crystalline stone, it can be easily scratched by fingernail or easily broken. Because of its softness, alabaster is often used for decorative vases or sacrificial vessels. It was also common for walls and floors in pyramids to be covered by alabaster.
As we were leaving the factory, a young guy came up to me and wanted to trade his piece of alabaster for my ballpoint. We haggled a little and when I finally gave him my pen, I could sense that he felt he had struck a great deal. I still have this piece of alabaster at home in my bowl of ornamental collections.