With Cairo only a two hour flight from Istanbul and the usual crowds of tourists much lower than normal, I decided it would be a good time to visit. I read blogs and emailed people who had recently been to Egypt to get a first hand view of issues tourists might face and it seemed safe from a security perspective. There was a lot written about the differences in culture and challenges an independent tourist might face, so I evaluated tours as well as independent travel. There are the usual pros and cons. I decided that travel could not be that different from Cambodia and SE Asia in general and having navigated those areas decided on independent travel in Egypt. My sister flew from Atlanta to join me.
For 30 centuries Egypt was the foremost country in the Mediterranean world. Then, in 332 BC, the arrival of Alexander the Great heralded the end of the Egyptian way of life. Then Greek, Roman and Arabic culture were layered onto the Egyptian culture. Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 300 years. This BBC site has a good overview of Egypt as does this site.
We spent two days in Cairo staying at the City View hotel right across the street from Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. We were greeted with some typical Egyptian towel sculptures on our bed.
We hired a guide for the Egyptian Museum and he was very good in giving us an introduction to Egyptian history and preparing us for the sites we would see in Luxor. The treasures of King Tut's tomb and the colossal statues from the temples were quite amazing.
The next day we went to Sakkara, where the first pyramid was built in 3000 BC.
There are many pyramids and tombs here. An example of the tomb decoration
Our next stop was the Giza Pyramids built in 2550 BC.
This gives you a view of the size of the pyramids with the camels in the front.
Sunday evening we boarded the overnight train to Aswan. We took the subway to the train station. They have separate cars for men and women. The women were helpful in directing us to the right stop and finding the train station. The train compartment was smaller than I had thought since they had no room for the luggage and it had to remain on the limited floor space.
but we had a good time traveling by train and seeing the people working on the farms along the Nile.
We arrived around 9AM in Aswan and checked into our room. View from the window of our hotel at the Isis Corniche.
Scene near the market.
Said, our taxi driver, kept finding us in Aswan. He took us to Philae Temple the first afternoon.
This was the center of the worship of Isis and was built during the time of the Ptolemaic Kings. You take a boat to an island where the temple is located. You can read more here.
Model of the temple in the museum.
Sunset on the Nile
We were up at 3AM the next day (this was our second early rise of this trip. There were many!) to join the caravan to Abu Simbel. It is a 3 hour journey through the desert to get to the temple and it is hot, so nice to visit as early in the day as possible. We had a nice mini van with a good driver and air conditioning! Rames II had two temples cut from the rock. Construction of the temple complex started in approximately 1284 BC and lasted for about 20 years. Known as the "Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun". Their purpose was to impress Egypt's southern neighbors, and also to reinforce the status of the Egyptian religion in the region. These temples were moved to higher ground when the Aswan Dam was built. The color and decorations on the walls are wonderful to see.
This part of Egypt borders on Sudan and is home to the Nubian people. They have a very nice museum with a wonderful statue of Rames II.
We visited the museum in the afternoon and planned a walk through the market in the morning prior to our departure for Luxor.
Said drove us the 3 hours to Luxor stopping at the Temple of Edfu, also known as The Temple of Horus in Edfu, which is considered the best-preserved cult temple in Egypt. This is partly because it was built later than most: in the Ptolemaic era from 237 to 57 BC.
Yet despite its later date, it exactly reflects traditional pharaonic architecture and provides an excellent idea of how all the temples once looked. Edfu is also very large: the second largest in Egypt after Karnak Temple.
The Temple of Edfu was abandoned after the Roman Empire became Christian and paganism was outlawed in 391 AD. It lay buried up to its lintels in sand, with homes built over the top, until it was excavated by Auguste Mariette in the 1860s. The sand protected the monument over the years, leaving it very well preserved today.
The video will give you an idea of the space. Considering the age it is amazing to see the columns and walls in place. Most Roman and Greek temples are in ruins that were built much later.
It was dark when we arrived in Luxor. Our hotel had an open air lobby where they had dance performances each evening.
There was also a nice pool with lovely views of the Nile.
Another early morning, (for anyone who is counting this is our third) up at 5AM, to go to the West Bank and see the Valley of the Kings and the Tombs of the Nobles as well as Medinet Habu. First sight as you enter the West Bank is the Colossi of Memnon which have been standing for 3400 years. Their original function was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep's memorial temple.
This is a very large area. We bought our tickets for the temple and tombs and drove to the ones we had selected.
Medinet Habu, erected around 1180 BC, is the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III.
Video again gives you a sense of the space.
The land on the West Bank is quite barren
We hired someone to take us to the 4 tombs we were to visit because there are no signs. These were the burial tombs of important people in the society but not royal. They had wonderful decorations on the walls. A lot of what we know about every day life in Egypt was learned from these decorations. The first tomb we visited was Re-khme–e, who was vizier of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II. It is another rock cut tomb and its walls are decorated with many painted scenes of the various aspects of life in Ancient Egypt. One of the most beautiful scenes is the one that represents the arrival of the foreign delegations to the court of the Vizier, carrying presents and tributes to the King of Egypt and his men. These presents and tributes included items such as, utensils, agricultural products and various animals. One of the most important text in this tomb is the one which mentions the duties and responsibilities assumed by the vizier in order to let the justice prevail on Earth.
We then drove to the Valley of the Kings. There are over 63 tombs here. They close tombs for extended periods of time because the breath and humidity that visitors bring are causing destruction of the tombs. We visited three tombs of the Kings. No photography is allowed in the valley or in the tombs.
The next day we had a leisure day and enjoyed sitting by the pool and enjoying the views of the Nile. We continued our exploring the next day by going to the Winter Palace, which was built in 1886 and is a wonderful colonial hotel with a lovely garden. There were hugh ficus trees growing in the garden.
Karnac Temple was next. Another early morning. Most of the sites open at 6AM so people can avoid the heat of the day. We hired a guide at the site who was very informative. Construction on the Karnak temple complex began in the 16th century BC and continued into the Greco-Roman period - a period of up to 1300 years of construction. Around 30 successive pharoahs added their own touches to the complex: a new temple, shrine, or pylon and carved detailed hieroglyphic inscriptions. It is the largest temple complex in the world, covering a site almost a mile by two miles in area. There are over 25 temples and chapels in the complex, including separate shrines for the three boats that took the statues of the gods on their annual trip on the flooding Nile. Sanctuaries, obelisks, and groups of columns all feature accounts of the heroic deeds of the sponsoring pharoah. Many of the obelisks have been taken to other countries but one remains standing. One is at the Place de la Concord in Paris.
The Avenue of the Sphinxes, or Sacred Way, that once stretched the two miles from Karnak to Luxor Temple is the entrance to the Temple of Amun. They have excavated and you can see many of the sphinxes that have survived between Luxor and Karnac and they are working on recreating the avenue between the two temples.
Paula resting in the shade.
Video of the Temple of Amun.
The Luxor Temple is right in the middle of the modern city. Construction work on the temple began during the reign of Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC. Horemheb and Tutankhamun added columns, statues, and friezes, and Akhenaten had earlier obliterated his father's cartouches and installed a shrine to the Aten.
However, the only major expansion effort took place under Ramses II some 100 years after the first stones were put in place. Luxor is thus unique among the main Egyptian temple complexes in having only two pharaohs leave their mark on its architectural structure.
Each year, to ensure the flooding of the Nile that was necessary to national prosperity, the statues of Amun, Mut (goddess of war), and Khons (the moon god) were sailed down the river to Karnak for a great festival.
The temple fell into disrepair during the Late Period. Alexander the Great claimed to have undertaken major reconstruction work "to restore it to the glory of Amenhotep's times" in the 320s BC. During Rome's domination of Egypt it was converted into a centre for the Roman emperor cult.
By the time of the Arab conquest, the temple was largely buried underneath accumulated river silt, to the extent that the Mosque of Abu Haggag was built on top of it in the 13th century (much reworked since, but one of the minarets dates back to the original construction).
Our 10th night in Egypt. We have another early morning leaving the hotel at 5:30 AM to catch our plane to Cairo and then on to Rome. We have had a wonderful time and enjoyed getting a better understanding of Egyptian history and culture.