Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile – Part III

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile - Part III

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

Luxor Temple

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.

Giza

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.

The Sphinx

‘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.

Memphis

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.

References

Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010

Citations on Request

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile – Part II

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile - Part II

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.

Alexandria

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.

Cairo

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).

Aswan

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.

References

Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010

Citations on Request

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile – Part I

Egypt - The Jewels of the Nile - Part I

A Dream Comes True

When my sister called me at work and randomly asked “Do you want to go to Egypt?” I responded with an almighty “Hell Yeah!”. How could I resist? Egypt was always high on the bucket list. So without any hesitation, we started the ball rolling arranging flights, accommodation, tour packages, passports, visas and a countdown to our departure date.

I’ve dreamed of travelling to this fascinating country famous for the Pyramids of Giza, which is an extraordinary Ancient Wonder of the World that has weathered the test of time. Egypt is also steeped in history, full of mystique, rich in culture and eye-opening customs. We wanted to take a step back into the past, into an era of Pharaohs and a civilisation that spans thousands of years.

In this three part series, I focus on the most impressive tourist attractions that Egypt is renowned for. These gems are scattered along the Nile, all of which are man-made monuments built thousands of years before Christ and a testament to man’s ingenuity. I’ve also added basic facts about the history and significance of each site just for a little bit of trivial information.

Insight Vacations: Jewels of the Nile – 11 Day Tour

We weren’t the adventurous type, and being creatures of style and comfort, we opted for a leisurely 11 day guided tour with Insight Vacations. The trip was predominantly spent cruising Lake Nasser and the Nile River to witness the many exotic highlights that Egypt has to offer. The package included buffet breakfasts, lunch and dinner, airport transfers, domestic flights between Cairo and Aswan and between Cairo and Luxor, as well as a stay at the deluxe 5-Star Cairo Marriott Hotel. While on land, we were transported by an air-conditioned bus between each site, accompanied by an enthusiastic guide who had in depth knowledge of the city and the history behind each spot visited. Bottled water and headsets for all guided visits and walking tours were provided for extra convenience. We didn’t have to figure out where to eat, what to do, where to go or determine how to get there (and waste valuable time getting lost along the way).

Egypt at a Glance: Things to Do, Cities to See

Cairo

  • Highlights include the Salah El Din Citadel, Mohamed Ali Mosque, Khan El Khalili bazaars and the Egyptian Museum where you can view Tutankhamun’s treasures
  • Visit Memphis and see the statue of Rameses II
  • Visit Giza to view the Pyramids and the great Sphinx
  • Take the opportunity to ride a camel with the Pyramids as a backdrop

Alexandria

  • Highlights include the Roman Amphitheatre, Pombey’s Pillar and the Quayet-Bey Fortress

Aswan

  • Highlights include the Temple of Dakka and the Temple of Kalabsha
  • Visit Abu Simbel to view the Temple of Rameses II and Temple of Hathor. Experience the monuments at their most majestic – lit up for the sound and light show
  • Visit Kom Ombo to see the Temple of Kom Ombo
  • Travel by motorboat to visit the Temple of Philae
  • Sail on a traditional ‘felucca’ where you’ll hear festive Egyptian music
  • Celebrate in true Egyptian style with a Galabea party, along with some belly dancing. Even get jiggy to some Egyptian music while dressed up in traditional Egyptian costumes
  • Experience life in a Nubian Village and get a henna tattoo while you’re there

Luxor

  • Highlights include the Temple of Luxor, the Temple of Karnak and the Colossi of Memnon
  • Visit Edfu to view the Temple of Horus
  • Visit the Valley of the Kings and enter the tomb of Tutankhamon and view his mummified body
  • Visit the Valley of the Queens and the Temple of Hatshepsut

I hope this quick snapshot is enough to wet the appetite. In my next instalment, I will 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.