Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbal, Giza
Note: Click on the video snap shot to see a larger version. Egypt is 7 time zones from the East Coast of the United States.
We landed in Cairo and stayed one night before our hour long flight South to begin our journey the next morning. The first week of our trip was spent exploring ancient temples and tombs as we cruised down the mighty river that has been the lifeblood of Egypt's monumental civilizations for millennia. After the first week we took the flight back to Cairo to visit that great city, the ancient city of Memphis and the Pyramids of Giza.
The stark Sahara landscape of Egypt is sliced through the middle by the fertile green strip of the eternal Nile River. We explore ancient temples and tombs as we cruise down the mighty river that has been the lifeblood of Egypt's monumental civilizations for millennia.
The Temple of Luxor was built by the two pharaohs, Amenhotep II and Ramses II. The temple was dedicated to Amun-Ra, whose marriage to Mut was celebrated annually, when the sacred procession moved by boat from Karnak to Luxor Temple. The largest known statue in the world ever to have been cut from a single block of granite (one of the hardest stones) stood in the funerary temple of Ramesses the Great at Thebes (Luxor). Fragments of an even larger statue have been found at Tanis where the size of the big toe equals that of a man's body.
Our Presidential Nile Cruise Liner was docked outside of the Luxor Sheraton Hotel on the banks of the Nile River. Daily we ate three meals in the lavishly decorated ship. The fresh vegtables and fruit were the best that I've had in a long time. The menu varied daily with a buffet breakfast and lunch and a formal meal in the evening. Daily we had tea at high noon on the Sun Deck. When not touring we enjoyed beverages and deserts in the lounge on the top deck as we sailed up the river.
The enormous temple complex of Karnak was called by the ancient Egyptians "the most perfect of places" and today is one of the most fascinating sites in Egypt. We walk through the breathtaking Hall of Pillars, and see the tallest obelisk in Egypt, raised by Queen Hatshepsut in honor of Amun, still standing nearly 100' high.
The Obelisk raised by Queen Hatshepsut
Prior to our visit to Luxor Museum, we spent one morning exploring the enormous temple complex of Karnak. Karnak was called by the ancient Egyptians, "the most perfect of places" and was one of the most fascinating sites that we visited in Egypt. In the evening we walked through the same breathtaking Hall of Pillars, and saw the tallest obelisk in Egypt (nearly 100' high), raised by Queen Hatshepsut in honor of Amun as we did that morning. The lights and shadows of the evening visit made for an interesting contrast to our visit in the morning.
The Temples of Karnak
During our three day stay in Luxor our group spent free time at local shops learning the art of negotiation, saw the light show at Karnak and spent an hour touring through the countryside by horse carriage ($3.00 US - 10 Egyptian Pounds). We ended our "taxi" ride on the East Bank of the Nile to watch the sun set in less than 10 minutes (15 degrees above the horizon to sun set) as we watched felucca sail boats sail on the Nile. We then went to buy gold jewery at a local merchant's shop
Today we used a newly opened bridge to go to the West Bank of the Nile, the hilly area that was the Necropolis of the ancient city of Thebes. Here we visited the giant "singing" statues of Amenhophis, also known as the Colossi of Memnon. These statues were carved out of single blocks of limestone and ferried to the gateway of the valley from over one hundred miles away. Today they stand magestically as a reminder of the feats of the ancients in the land of Egypt.
Site of Queen Hatshepsut's funerary Temple of the Valley of the Kings
(site of the incident in October, 1997)
During our visit to Queen Hatshepsut's Temple or the Valley of the Queens we saw workers restore the temple and the graves of the nobles. The paintings on the walls of the temple were vibrant as were the paintings of the walls everywhere we went. (Reason: the paint "dyes" were pulverized stones bound together and painted on the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs 3 to 4 thousand years ago.)
It is believed that the climate was not so dry back then as tree trunks were discovered outside of the temple in this now barren land.
A visit to the Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings has many tombs chiseled deep into the cliffsides. It's where Howard Carter discovered the treasures of Tutankhamen. In the valley of the Kings we saw the tomb of Ramses, containing some of the best-preserved and most colorful hieroglyphs with scenes from the reigns of Amenhophis III and Akhneten. Many of the artifacts recovered from King Tut's Tomb are now in the Cairo Museum (More Info).
The entrance to the Valley of the Kings was well guarded and the trek up into the hills was partially accomplished by a motorized tram. Safaa brought us into the vibrantly painted tomb of Ramses VI were we saw some of the best-preserved and most colorful hieroglyphs with scenes from the reigns of Amenhophis III and Akhneten. A couple of us made the long trek up the hot, barren slope, by foot, to the 3,000 year old tomb of Tuthmosis IV. We walked deep into the earth to see the giant sargophagus and bones of the pharaoh. We also walked into the tomb of King Tut (Tutankamen), over 70 years after Howard Carter and Lord Carnavon, in 1922, discovered the Golden Treasures of the young king that was murdered early in his reign. The body of Tut still resides in the tomb while the 22.5 pound gold mask and other valuables found in the tomb were moved to the museum in Cairo. (We saw them later in our trip.) We spoke to the American Archologist that discovered the graves of 62 of Ramses II's sons, in 1997, outside of his now famous KV5 dig (this site was not open to the general public.).
Perhaps some of our most memorable experiences were seeing the village life of today's Egyptians, who live along the river's banks much as they did hundreds of years ago, plying the waters in traditional felucca sail boats whose design has not changed for centuries. Women washed clothes and their children on the banks of the Nile and children played Soccor games as we do in the States.
After a short journey, up the Nile, we ended up in Edfu. Here we visited the Temple of Horus, Egypt's best-preserved temple. Dedicated to Horus, the god of the sun and planets, the hawk (Horus's symbol) is prominent in the vivid hieroglyphs and bas-reliefs of the temple. Thirty-eight cloumns surround the court, and a fine statue of Horus stand guard over the entry. Every available surface is carved with hieroglyphs describing offerings to the god. We walked from this large, sunny courtyard to the dark inner recesses of the offering chambers.
Temple of Horus at Edf 365 steps lead from the holy of the
holies to the roof at the Temple of Horu
In Edfu we got another taste of the bazaars found in Egypt. Here many of us purchased Egyptian Cotten table clothes, galabia's and other types of clothing to bring back home.
Edfu - contrasting modes of travel from the ship to horses to a bridge
View of Edfu from the Sun Deck
Fishing on the Nile
The stark Sahara landscape of Egypt is sliced through the middle of the fertile green strip of the eternal Nile River. The middle snapshot below is the landscape we saw to the West.
Irrigation Systems keep the Nile River Valley Green
After a morning in Edfu we continued on our cruise to Kom Ombo. The Kom Ombo Temple is set at the top of a hill overlooking the bend in the Nile River. The Greco-Roman style temple is unique, built between 181- B.C and 219 A.D on the ruins of an 18th dynasty temple, it is Egypt's only double temple - dedicated both to Sobek, the crocodile god, and Haroeris, the great winged solar disk. Everything here is doubled and perfectly symmetrical along the main axis - twin entrances, twin courts and twin colonades. Beyond the pylon is the open courtyard which leads to the hypostyle hall and three halls before the two sanctuaries, and here places were added to the main temple like the bird house - shrine of Hator and the shrine of Sobek. Within the temple was an alter where locals placed food "to appease the howling crocodile god and reduce the severity the yearly flood" - in reality the high priests stood below bellowing out the terrible noise to increase their bounty from the fearful locals. It was here that we saw the only mummified crocodiles found in Egypt.
Kom Ombo Temple
bazaar at Kom Ombo
After an afternoon at Kom Ombo, we started our cruise up the river to Aswan where we would be for the next couple of evenings. The next morning I awoke to the above scenes as I looked out the window of my room on the ship.
One evening a small group of us had a private tour of Aswan. Here we sampled freshly baked bread made by the shop owners below. Our guide Abdul is in the photo with his uncle a shop owner in Aswan.
During the evening we went through the locks which allowed us to proceed up the river.
The next morning we made a trip to see the Temple of Isis, which was moved to the Island of Angelica from Philae Island when Aswan's Low Dam was errected. The temple was moved at the cost of several million dollars in approximately four years. We also visited Aswan's High Dam, built in 1971, creating Lake Nasser. It was the construction of this dam that necessitated the monumental engineering feat of moving the massive Temples of Ramses II and Nefretari to their new location in Abu Simbel.
former site of the temple
During our trip by boat we saw Aswan's Low Dam and the new site for the temple.
Evidence of former christian activity and the move to change the temple to a christian church.
Many temples and buildings broke down because of the use of wooden joints used to hold limestone walls together. With the introduction of water the wood swelled and shrunk causing the walls to break up.
A view of Aswan
Elephantine Island was named after the elephant looking rock formations found on the island.
Flight to Abu Simbel
Construction of the Aswan Dam that necessitated the monumental engineering feat of moving the massive Temples of Ramses II and Nefretari to their new location in Abu Simbel. (click on the photo left to see it larger) For more information on the moving of the temple click play on the videos below.
Temple of Ramses II Temple of Nefretari
Inside the Temple of Ramses II are bas-reliefs and hieroglyphs showing his great abilities as pharaoh.
After a memorable morning of visiting the amazing engineering feats of man at Abu Simbel we were back on the boat eating once again. Our French chef created another fantastic lunch and our waiter Mezza took care of every one of our needs (He is a college graduate that has not been able to find a job in Egypt. He taught us some dances and gave us some puzzles to solve as we sat and enjoyed desert and coffee.) Within view we could see the Egyptian country side as we sailed back down the Nile to our next destination.
Fulucca's a sailing
Coka-Cola is in Egypt too! ---------------Men loading a boat
Man on a donkey
Landing in Esna
There are many ruins along the Nile's banks, we stopped at Esna to visit one of them. We were greeted by the children, guards, and horse carriages. Before sailing off once again we had to see The Temple of Esna.
Temple of Esna - dedicated to Khnum (The god who created men and animals from the clay of the Nile)
The Temple of Esna, dedicated to Khnum, the god who created men and animals from the Nile clay. Centuries of daily life on this spot have raised the level of the ground so that the temple now lies well below street level. Villagers still tell the story of archaeologists who discovered the tops of ancient columns in the streets and how they suddenly realized that the tops were still attached to their columns. The temple has now been completely excavated.
From the street above we look down to the base of the temple approximately 60 to 100 feet below. During the last few thousand years of the Nile depositing silt each flood season the temple got covered completely. It is ironic that the god being honored here had it's temple covered by that very clay that it used to create men and animals from. Villagers still tell the story of archaeologists who discovered the tips of ancient columns in the streets and how they suddenly realized that the tops were still attached to their columns. The temple has now been completely excavated but is in danger of water damage due to the high water table from the Nile.
After visiting Esna, we continued our journey North. We needed to have one bridge segment moved (on the right) so that we could get to the locks.
The elevation of water is 17 meters higher on the South side of the lock than it is on the North. We were well guarded as we passed through this gateway.
See the water mark
Our armed escort guards us as we wait for the water to receed.
And away we go....
One more night was spent in Luxor before we left Southern Egypt to fly back to Cairo for the last five days.
Visiting Coptic "Old" Cairo
After an hour flight we are in the Christian part of Cairo by 9:00 AM. Here we visited the Al-Mu'allaqah (Hanging Church), dating back to the late 4th and 5th century. This basilica was named for its location on top of the south gate of the Fortress of Babylon. The madonna below had eyes that are like the eyes of the Monelisa that I saw in Paris, followed you every where.
We visited the Al-Mu'allaciah (Hanging Church), dating to the late 4th and early 5th century. This basilica was named for its location on top of the south gate of the Fortress of Babylon.
We visited Abu Sergah (Church of St. Sergius), built at the beginning of the 5th century on the cave in which it is said the Holy Family stayed.
A visit to the Abu Sergah (Church of St. Sergius), built at the beginning of the 5th century on the cave in which it is said the Holy Family stayed when they were in Egypt. The cave is now flooded with water which we could see below the santuary.
The oldest synagogue in Egypt, built by Rabbi Abraham Ben Ezra in 1115 AD on the site originally used by Moses and Jeremiah. In 1894, American Professor Shichter discovered the Guenizeh in which the Old Torah was kept and other proof that the site is of historical significance.
Colette, our American in Cairo friend, said that cars lacked lights and brakes but most definately had horns. Horns which the drivers use as often as possible. Traffic never stopped all night long for the four nights that we stayed in the city. Some of the lights in the city reminded me of Hong Kong. This is just some of what I saw from the 13th story room that I was in.
The true pyramid shape may have been inspired by the spreading rays of the
Sakkara lies on a desert plateau, crowned by the set-pyramid and mortuary compound, built by the engineer Imhotep for King Zoser. The pyramid is composed of six receding mastabas (levels) on top of each other. The later pyramid builders developed this concept into the familiar even-sided pyramids.
Finally, here we were, at the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World - The Great Pyramids of Giza. Everyone was amazed at the closeness of the pyramids to the city. After decending down several meters then sharply up we got into the center of the pyramid (something that I had dreamed about for years). The entry hole was about 4 feet square and required us to bend over and negotiate the slope going into the giant pile of limestone.
Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the pyramids at Giza remain standing. There are at least 80 pyramids in Egypt, and another 130 smaller ones built later in the Sudan.
Pyramids were the tombs of pharaohs, but no royal mummies have ever been found inside them. Ancient tomb-robbers got there first.
The pyramids were built not by slaves, but largely by peasant farmers conscripted during their 'off-season', when their fields were flooded by the annual inundation of the Nile.
The first pyramids were actually mounds that proceeded in a series of steps towards the top – hence the name, 'step pyramid'.
King Snefru had not 1 but 3 pyramids no one knows why.
At Meidum, the Egyptians hit on the idea of 'filling in the step of what had
been a step pyramid, to convert it into the first true pyramid. Unfortunately
the structure collapsed.
The Great Pyramid of King Khufu took 23 years to build. During that time, on average one block of stone would have been put in position every 5 minutes.
The white limestone blocks that once covered the Giza pyramids would have looked blindingly bright in the midday sun. Much of this fine stone was plundered in later times to build monuments such as the Mosque of Mohammed Ali.
There are about 2.3 million blocks of stone in the Great Pyramid at Giza, some weighing a colossal 15 tons, or more than 2 African bull elephants.
THE GREAT PYRAMID
The area covered by the Great Pyramid is vast enough to hold the cathedrals of Florence, Milan and St. Peter's in Rome, as well as St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey in London. 4t 481 ft (146 m), the Great Pyramid was the tallest building on earth until the Eiffel Tower was erected 16 1889. The outer casing blocks of the Great Pyramid were so skilfully cut that it is impossible to run a knife between them.
Before the earthquake of 1356 A.D., the Great Pyramid was covered with 16 ton casing stones of a harder, whiter limestone and cut and dressed on 6 sides. While joints between the blocks are only 1/50 - 1/100 inches wide, they were fitted together with mortar. The outer casing blocks are reported to have been covered with hieroglyphs, creating an immense library in stone. When Herodotus, the Greek historian , came to Egypt in 454 B.C., no one was able to read the ancient language.
After the Cairo earthquake of 1356 A.D., the casing stones were dismantled, cleared of inscriptions, recut, and used to rebuild Old Cairo. A few courses of stones remain at the top of the second pyramid.
Egyptologists believe the King's chamber to be the burial place or tomb of Pharoah Cheops, which he built in the 4th dynasty or circa zsoo B.C. However, when the Caliph and his workers broke into the pyramid and reached this room in 820 A.D., expecting to find a vast treasure, they found a bare stone room, with only an open granite sarcophagus or coffer, with no inscriptions.
While tombs traditionally have an opening, oriented to the east and west to allow passage of the soul of the mummy, there are two openings cut through to the outside and pointing to the north and south in the Kings Chamber. These allow ventilation and suggest consideration for the living, not for the dead.
Traditions and legends all around the Mediterranean, speak of a much earlier dating for the Great Pyramid and suggest that it dates back to 8-10,000 years ago. While it may well conceal the mummyof Pharoah Cheops, it may also..have served as an ancient site for astronomical observation and religious rituals and ceremony. Two additional spaces were discovered in 1987 and are under investigation.
The largest of the pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Cheops, built around 4,000 years ago and stands 450 feet high. In addition to the three most famous pyramids several others also exist at Giza.
The Shinx (known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol "the father of terror")
The Shinx is carved out of one piece of limestone bedrock of Giza. It is 240 feet long and 65 feet high at its head, combining the body of a lion with the head of a man. It is carved directly from the limestone bedrock of the Giza Plateau. This monument in conjunction with the Great Pyramid and its precise orientation, form a giant solar complex. Facing east, the Sphinx has watched the sun rise every day for 5,000 years in March, 1998. The face of the Shinx was defaced in the 1800's by a batallion of French Soldiers that shot cannons at it. There are many articles written about the marvels of this giant structure.
While the erosion of its limestone body is generally described as the work of sand driven by wind, the Sphinx has been almost continuously covered by the desert sands, with only its head ( a harder stone outcropping) protruding. Therefore, sand erosion seems unlikely. Observations by the French archaeologist, R.A. Schivaller de Lubicz, suggest the weathering to be the result of water action. Significant flooding occurred in Egypt during the melting of the last Ice Age, roughly 15,000-10,000 years ago. If water eroded the Sphinx's body, the monument existed prior to this flooding. Some legends link this early period with monuments created by the survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis. "Conde Nast Traveler", Feb. 1993, has an interesting article on recent research on the Sphinx.
So you want to ride a camel!
Our brave crew mounted camels for a journey around the pyramids of Giza only to have our trip cut short by a sand storm that came up very quickly.
All over Egypt, five times daily, we heard the reminder for the Moslems to come to prayer. Before prayer, the faithful wash their faces, hair, hands and feet three times before bowing down to the East to prayer. The dome shaped roof allows the celebrant's voice to be heard easily by all in attendence. The Citadel, built in 1183 AD overlooks the city of Cairo from the Muqattam Hills. Its domed and minareted structure (right) looks over a number of important buildings including the Alabaster Mosque.
The Alabaster Mosque of Mohammed Ali was built in 1830 on the northern elevated part of the Citadel, visible to all parts of Cairo. On Fridays, the faithful go to the Mosque to pray, taking their shoes off before entering the santuary.
From hill occupied by the Citadel, we could see the Great Pyramids of Giza in the distance; Cairo below and got the chance to talk to locals.
The Country Club in Cairo allows American Ex-Patriots and other foreign nationals to network with Egyptian Business people and the upper classes of Cairo. We enjoyed a 30 minute presentation from Colette on the adventures of living in this facinating land. When in Egypt one must learn to do things as the Egyptians do. In addition to meetings, there is soccer for the kids, a pool which is in use year around and many other benefits of membership.
Our afternoon was spent having a drink at the top of Cairo Tower looking at the Nile below and shopping for an oil painting that reminds me of one of the many bazaars that we went to during our trip. We said our goodbyes to the city from the Ramses Hilton's "Windows on the World" at the top of the hotel as we reminised about our time in Egypt and about future trips that we plan to take. God be willing, tomorrow.....
To my guide and new friends in Egypt - Shokran / Thank you for a memorable trip
Bruce_Oliver@msn.com © 1998