The final article in this series 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.
As we forged ahead on our journey, the cruise headed north from the region of Aswan towards Luxor, where we continued to enjoy the ever changing scenic landscapes of the Nile, from the reddish earth of Nubian lands in the south, to luscious green dunes that flanked the river banks, which was capped off by glorious sunsets at dusk.
Luxor was once known as the great city of Thebes and for centuries was the capital of the Egyptian Kingdom, and it is in this city that the Temple of Luxor was built11. ‘The entrance of the Luxor Temple is marked by the great pylon, which stands at 65m wide. In front of the pylon there used to stand two obelisks of Ramses II (each towering at 25m in height), but today only one remains, the other was erected in the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1836.
The entrance is flanked by two giant granite statutes representing the Pharaoh at 15.5m high’12. Beyond the grand entrance is the courtyard of Ramses II, dominated by columns that look majestic lit up in full glory at night.
Temple of Karnak
‘Approximately three kilometres from the Temple of Luxor are the monuments of Karnak, which is the largest of any temple in the world. Among its splendours is the hypostyle hall which is 102m long by 53m wide, featuring 134 columns each 23m in height.
Beyond the hypostyle hall stands the obelisk of Tutmose I towering at 23m high and weighing 143 tonnes. It is believed that 81,322 people were involved in building the site’13. One can only imagine the scale of this temple in its original form; its immensity is awe inspiring.
Valley of the Kings
When I first arrived at the Valley of the Kings, I saw nothing but mountainous sand. It’s difficult to fathom that under these hills are underground channels leading to tombs, where pharaohs have been buried. To this day, archaeologists continue to dig up tunnels in order to unravel relics and hidden treasures.
‘The Valley of the Kings is the burial place of many of the New Kingdom Pharaohs. Its history began with Tutmose I, who wished to be buried in a secret place, thus setting a precedent which was followed by all successive pharaohs. A well-like tomb was excavated in an isolated valley and then a steep stairway was carved out of the rock leading down to the burial chamber’14. The highlight of this tourist site is the opportunity to enter the tomb of Tutankhamon and view his mummified body. (Be warned, cameras are not permitted inside; the stairway is steep and narrow and is not ideal for the elderly, people suffering from breathing difficulties or claustrophobia).
Valley of the Queens & the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
‘Just over one kilometre away from the Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens, where eighty tombs have been discovered, mostly dating from the period 1300 to 1100 B.C. Within the valley is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which consists of a series of vast terraces, which by means of ramps led to the sanctuary’15. As you reach the first terrace, you’re greeted by enormous statues of sphinxes that guard the entranceway; I guess in today’s world, we’d jokingly refer to them as a posse of ‘door bitches’.
Colossi of Memnon
We made a quick photo stop at the towering Colossi of Memnon, located along the west bank of the Nile. ‘These two giant seated figures are all that is left of Amon-Ofis III mortuary temple. These two gigantic statues are 20m high and were cut out of single blocks of sandstone’16.
To save the best for last, the tour reached its pinnacle with a guided excursion of Giza where we stood in awe at the enigmatic Sphinx and the monumental Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Micerinus.
The Great Pyramids
‘The Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Micerinus are arranged diagonally, in such a way that none of them hides the sun from the others. The pyramid of Cheops is the largest of the three, standing at 137m high but has completely lost its protective facing that covers the internal blocks. Chephren’s pyramid is the only one which still has, at least at the top, the smooth external facing. The smallest of the three is the pyramid of Micerinus, at barely 66m high. In front of Micerinus’s pyramid there are three satellite pyramids’17.
I was gobsmacked by the sheer size of the Pyramids. The word monumental or colossal doesn’t begin to describe the scale of these sites.
‘Each pyramid is square at the base, the length of each side being 246.26 metres, while each stone block is at least 9.24m long. It took 10-20 years to build this astonishing man-made structure, using 100,000 men’18.
For a few laughs, why not take the opportunity to ride a camel with the Pyramids as a backdrop. I can guarantee a few Kodak moments.
‘About 350m from Cheops’s pyramid stands the Great Sphinx. At 73m long, this colossal statue represents a lion with a human head which some believe to be a likeness of Chephren standing guard over his tomb. The defacement of this monument is due in part to erosion by the wind and the cannon of the Mamelukes who used it for target practice’19.
To top off the afternoon, a final stop is made at Memphis where we viewed the massive statues of Ramses II. ‘Carved from a single block of alabaster it is 4.5m high, 8m long and weighs, it is believed, at least 80 tonnes’20. This is where the tour comes to a finale. As they say, all good things must come to an end.
Writing this day by day account of my 11-day tour of Egypt felt like a gargantuan task, in addition to selecting and editing the stunning pictures for each piece. It’s almost reflective of the colossal, monumental and ancient structures that Egypt is renowned for. In summary, I was awestruck by Egypt and its jewels along the Nile. As a tourist, you’re presented with some of the most amazing sights built by the hand of man, all of which were created thousands of years before Christ. This was my Ode to Egypt, I hope you enjoyed it.
Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010
Citations on Request