Pharaohs and Temples

IMG_2643The number of temples, the names of pharaohs, the dates of construction and discoveries – it’s making my head spin. Egypt’s history is beyond anything I’ve seen before. Even if the carvings are similar to those I’ve seen at Angkor Wat or Aztec temples, these Egyptian monuments predate everything. I’ve never before been inside a 4,000 year old building. 

IMG_2992During the cruise on the Nile we visited the temples of Karnak and Luxor. At Karnak, gigantic pillars tower over the visitors. It’s a huge temple complex and we walked around the sphinxes and columns and walls with hieroglyphs. We visited here both in the day time and at night while a light show gave details on the era. It was interesting but I wouldn’t highly recommend the light show. As an archeological site, Karnak was one of the most impressive though.IMG_2668

Luxor, too, had interesting sites. I’m surprised at how different each ancient site is. Some have columns, others just facades. Some have tombs and others are a different kind of monument. In the fabled Valley of the Kings we walked around in the blazing heat and made the trek down into some of the tombs. The long narrow walk way was so low that we had to move bend over. I kept my arms over my head to protect myself from bumping my head on the low stone ceiling. But at the bottom it opened up to a large room which held the sarcophagus. I kept wondering what it would have been like to discover these amazing tombs and their guilded treasures. IMG_2823

Construction of the tomb was started as soon as a pharaoh ascended the throne. If he lived a long life it might get finished but often they had to rush unexpectedly when he died young. The hieroglyphs on the walls leading into and all over the temple, tell the king’s life story and of his heroic deeds. Everything that the king might need in his next life was provided: furniture, tools, food. The spirit had to recognize his body, so the outer sarcophagus was lifelike. The mummified body was inside several different caskets. The whole thing is pretty mind boggling. The model of hidden tombs at Valley of the Kings gives a good idea of the magnitude of the tombs and how secret passageways led all over the place. images

In the Valley of the Kings, pyramids were built as mastaba’s – benches. They are lower mounds of stone. In the period that these were built, pharaohs did not want it knowns where their graves were for fear of grave robbers. Later, the great pyramids of Giza became the iconic symbols for pyramids, including the Djoser Pyramid at Saqqara, built in the 27th century BC.

IMG_2857The temple of Queen Hatshepsut is visible from Karnak. It honestly looks like a huge modern building but dates back to some 1,460 years BC. I believe that all, or almost all temples holding tombs are on the west bank of the Nile. This is because the sun sets in the west and ancient Eqyptians believed that the sun died each night, to be reborn in the east. So the west bank of the Nile is the ‘death’ side and all life took place on the east bank.

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Sunset on the Nile

Tourism is way down in Egypt. Our guide told us that before 2011, long line ups stood outside the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Now there were some tourists but no line-ups and I was able to take photos without too many people in the way.  As at all major tourist attractions, there are plenty of vendors around. In Egypt bartering is not just a way to get the price down. It is an art form and part of the culture. With the lack of tourists, vendors are pretty desperate and incredibly persistent. They held up cloths and necklaces in our faces, walking along, yelling, sometimes even grabbing our arm. They did not easily take ‘no’ for an answer and it often took the intervention of our guide to get rid of them.

In one area, tour guides were asked not to block the way by speaking to their group in front of the entrance. The English translation of this sign left a bit to be desired… IMG_2869

We do get a chuckle out of many English signs. It’s amazing they don’t get them proof read, especially official signs in official places. There are spelling mistakes in airplanes (a note to “pasangers”), in restaurants (on our menu are “wuffles” and “beanutbutter”) and many other places.

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The Gift of The Nile

“Egypt is the gift of the Nile.”  ( Herodotus)

Upon our return to Aswan (population 2 million) from Abu Simbel in the southern tip of Egypt, we were delivered to our cruise boat. These cruise boats do not resemble western cruise ships. Rather, they are large flat bottom boats with about 5 decks stacked like an oval shaped wedding cake. A gang plank led to a large glass door through which we entered a two storey tall lobby with stained glass ceiling. From here a curved wooden staircase led down to the dining room and up to two decks of cabins, as well as an outer deck with swimming pool and easy chairs. IMG_2554

Our cabin was a lovely room with kingsize bed, two easy chairs, a small fridge, a bathroom and a balcony with two chairs. The total fare for a 4 day cruise, including all food except drinks, all sightseeing, all entrance fees for archeological sites, a private guide (which we had not realized until it happened), and all transportation to and from the boat, came to about 600 US for both of us. 

The capacity of the Sonesta Moon Goddess, our ship, was 225 people but we cruised with only 40 people on board, an illustration of how tourism has declined across Egypt. At major sites, our guide would sigh “There used to be long line-ups here to enter the tomb,” but now we walked right up and often were one of just a few visitors. Most of our photos show no other people.

IMG_2559We had no idea that our fabulous guide from Abu Simbel would accompany us for the entire trip. He had a room on the ships and also ate all meals there with other guides. Guides can speak a wide variety of languages: we heard Spanish, French, Italian, German and more. Ours was a very knowledgable guide who had taught many of the younger ones, had a wicked sense of humour and knew everything! IMG_2611

Soon we set sail on the Nile. Egypt is a bit of an upside down country! The south is called Upper Egypt, the north is Lower Egypt. The Nile, longest river in the world, flows from south to north. Thus you travel upstream to go south and down stream to go north. Confusing. 

The names and dates of gods, pharaohs, ancient sites and temples have my head spinning. There’s no way I can accurately tell you what happened when and to whom, so you’ll have to check out specific events or places online. 

The boat sailed fairly fast north with the strong current. We saw Elephantine Island near Aswan and soon green strips with corn fields and palm trees streaked past. Little barefooted children came running down muddy slopes yelling “Hello! Hello!”, waving furiously. We saw cows and goats and dogs. And lots of cats. Of course, Egypt is the land of the mysterious cat and they dwell everywhere in great numbers. We listened to the melodious call of prayers floating on warm wafts of air as we sailed by. Men led donkeys to the river to drink and women hung laundry and blankets from glass-less windows. In larger towns, houses are build of bricks but often houses are the same colour as the local mud.

This very southern region of Egypt is part of the land where the original people lived, the Nubians. They are more African looking and speak their own language.

IMG_2614Without the river Nile, Egypt would be all desert. One broad strip of green runs the length of the country along either side of the river. From the air, the strip looks to range from a few hundred feet to a couple of kilometres wide. Before the dam this was the river’s natural flood plane where fertile silt was deposited with each flood. Since the dam, water is regulated but chemical fertilizer is now needed to grow grain, fruits an vegetables. The dam created Lake Nasser, which hosts about 30,000 crocodiles. All crocs were eliminated from the river itself so that people can once again use it for washing, swimming and leading their cattle to drink.

IMG_2638Our boat docked, together with several other river boats, immediately opposite the Temple of Kom Ombo where it is believed are the very first depictions of medical tools in the hieroglyphs. We also stopped at Edfu where we rode a horse drawn carriage to the temple. I was impressed by the size and height (37 meters) of the temples. Even though this temple was constructed in the century before Christ, it looks newly made from fresh cement. This is because often these temples were completely buried in sand and thus protected from the elements. I always thought that few, faded hieroglyphs were found and am blown away to see every inch of these gigantic monuments covered in letters and pictures that are as clear today as they were 4,000 years ago…

https://www.sonesta.com/africa/nile-cruises/sonesta-moon-goddess-nile-cruise-shiphttps://www.sonesta.com/africa/nile-cruises/sonesta-moon-goddess-nile-cruise-ship

Our guide: masteregyptologist@gmail.comIMG_2630