We delve into the stunning attractions of Cairo, Alexandria and Aswan in greater detail and include extraordinary pictures capturing the amazing beauty of Egypt and its gems, all of which are man-made monuments built thousands of years before Christ and a testament to man’s ingenuity.
We kicked off our trip on New Years Day 2011 with a flight to Cairo, which was slightly marred by a drunken female passenger going through a mid-life crisis, who mistakenly sat next to us. Nevertheless, her crazy rants about her ex-husband and her new Turkish lover didn’t dampen our excitement but merely added a little humour along our journey.
Before you begin any exploration of Egypt, start with an excursion of Alexandria which is a three hour bus ride from Cairo. Alexandria doesn’t have the grandeur of the capital, but there are enough attractions to pack a full-day’s worth of sightseeing. As per my previous blog, the most memorable sites were the Roman Amphitheatre, Pombey’s Pillar and the Quayet-Bey Fortress. But our guided tour also included a visit to the Roman Catacombs and a stop at the Mosque of Abdul Abass, both of which are worth checking out.
To wet the appetite, we began our main tour of Egypt with a glimpse of Cairo, visiting the Saladin Citadel and the Mohammed Ali Mosque in the heart of the city. We then tested our haggling skills at the lively Khan El Khalili bazaars, a market full of colourful trinkets and locally made goods.
The day concluded with a visit to the Egyptian Museum, exhibiting Pharaonic treasures and artefacts, the best of which was the gold coffin of Tutankhamon (Be warned, cameras are not allowed inside the premises and three hours is not sufficient to view the entire collection of masterpieces, some of which date back to the Ancient Kingdom1).
Temple of Abu Simbel
After a short, but rickety flight to Aswan, we headed further south by bus to Nubia where we boarded our cruise boat on Lake Nasser. In the late afternoon, we headed off to the majestic Temple of Abu Simbel, which would have to be one of the ultimate highlights of the trip. Words cannot begin to describe how impressive this monument is, which measures ‘38 metres wide by 65m long, carved out of a single piece of rock’2. You’re confronted by four colossal statues of the Pharaoh Rameses II, each towering at 20 metres high, while the complete façade is some 31 metres high3.
‘The smaller Temple of Hathor, built for Rameses’ wife, Nefertari, is also guarded by six 10m statues. Inside the temple are paintings depicting Rameses and the Gods that are over 3200 years old’4.
If you travel in early January, rug up as it does get a little chilly, particularly if you attend the sound and light show in the evening, where you witness Abu Simbel lit up in all their glory.
Wadi El Sebou, Avenue of Sphinxes & Temple of Al-Dakka
As we continued along the journey, we stopped at smaller ruins including Wadi El Sebou – ‘the Valley of the Lions’. According to our handy itinerary, the site was named after the great Avenue of Sphinxes which leads to the Temple of Rameses II’5. This region is 194kms south of Aswan and features the Temple of Maharraqa, Wadi El Sebou Temple and the Temple of Dakka.
Temple of Kalabsha
‘Approximately 50 kilometres south of Aswan is the Temple of Kalabsha, built by the Roman Emperor Octavius Augustus and dedicated to the local fertility god Mandulis’6. A few other monuments surround the temple, including the Kiosk of Qertassi, whose silhouette looks stunning against the sunshine.
Temple of Philae
We took a motorboat ride to the Temple of Philae, which is ‘located on the island of Egelika. The Temple of Philae serves as a sanctuary sacred to the goddess Isis’7. The site has a touch of mystique as it’s a monument perched on an island rising from the waters of the Nile. This is further reflected by the columns of the Pavillion of Trajan, which look majestic up against the contrasting blue sky with the river as the back drop.
As part of an optional excursion, we got to experience life in a Nubian village where we mingled with the locals, sipped tea at their home, played with their pet crocodiles (which are considered sacred) and had henna tattoos painted on our hands.
For a change of mood, the group embarked on a relaxing ride on board a traditional felucca where we were surprisingly serenaded by local kids, who paddled towards our boat and sang for donations.
Temple of Kom Ombo
As the cruise headed north, we visited Kom Ombo ‘(situated between Edfu and Aswan) to view the only Egyptian temple dedicated to two gods – Horus the Elder and the crocodile headed Sobek’8. One section of the temple is dedicated to the god Sobek, who according to legend is the creator of the world, while the other section is consecrated to the god Horus, the solar god of war9.
To top the evening off, a Galabea party was held where we witnessed some belly dancing and listened to Egyptian music, while dressed up in traditional Egyptian costumes.
Temple of Horus
‘The Temple of Horus is located in Edfu (positioned half way between Aswan and Luxor) and is the best preserved temple in Egypt. Because of its imposing dimensions it is considered the most significant after Karnak. Built during the Ptolemaic period, the monument is 137m long and 79m wide with a pylon 36m high.
Two black granite falcons guard the entrance to the temple, depicting Horus in the form of a falcon god’10.
Get ready for Part III of Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile series; this is where the tour heads further north and the monuments get bigger and grander. The final article explores the gems of Luxor including the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the astonishing Temples of Karnak and Luxor, before reaching a climatic end at the monumental Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.
Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010
Citations on Request