Today I got to realise a childhood dream and visit the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. Ever since I first read about Howard Carter and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s royal tomb I have had a burning passion to sail on the Nile to Luxor and see this fabulous Valley – and today my dream turned into reality! But not only the valley of the Kings but our group visited the impressive temple dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, and after a beautiful lunch on a roof-top balcony overlooking the Nile, we spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring the truly awe-inspiring Temple complex at Karnak!
The temperature in the morning was a pleasant 38 degrees and our guide was right in choosing for us the Queen’s temple first, as there was no shade to be had. Carved out of the rock face over 3500 years ago it is unique in Egypt for its style which is replicated no where else. At the Valley of the Kings we had the chance to visit four royal tombs. These were built in this valley in the high rocky desert to keep robbers and thieves away. Sadly, for all, except Tutankhamun’s, this was to be proved a false hope. Notwithstanding this – these tombs were fascinating for the carvings and paintings on the walls and for the wonder of the sheer engineering task of digging them in the first place!
Words fail to describe the temple complex at Karnak – which should be considered a wonder of the ancient world. It has the world’s largest Hypostyle hall with 164 massive columns which take the breath away! (in architecture, a hypostyle hall has a roof which is supported by columns). Built over 1800 years and covering at its height 65 acres this is the largest temple structure in the world. My camera started to heat up I was taking so many pictures!
Tomorrow promises even more delights as we visit the Valley of the Queens, Habu Temple, the Tombs of the Nobles and Der el Madina.
We are all exhausted but in good health and spirits; bonding well as a group, and slowly, slowly getting used to the heat!
Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple
Sherif insists on taking a group photo everywhere – not a bad back drop don’t you think!
No photos from the Valley of the Kings tombs – we just had to soak it up and take mental snap shots
There is great colour on a lot of these cravings and you start to imagine how the entire complex would have looked when first built.
An early start today with an exciting buggy ride to the site of the Edfu Temple. We ran the gauntlet of persistent sellers trying to surround each of us and sell us interesting knic-knacks which they and we know were made in China. We came around the corner to see the most beautifully preserved monument. This temple built in Ptolemy 3rd Dynasty (around 250 BC) was completely covered up by sand until the 1860s and thus remains the most perfect specimen of an ancient temple in Egypt. (Albeit a late copy of an earlier design!)
We then continued to enjoy the relaxing cruise on the Nile – catching up with the laundry and keeping the journal up-to-date. Tonight we reach Luxor and tomorrow and Friday are busy days visiting the sights of this wonderful city which used to be called Thebes – the Ancient capital of Egypt. The afternoon was fun with Ian and Conrad having to share a hearing aid and the rest of us not really knowing which one has it on at any given moment. The evening meal on the ship was Egyptian Night and yours truly had a fez for the moment – photo proof will come later!
looking good at the wheel
Edfu Temple. The French forces used the top windows as shooting nests lying on the sand – unaware of the temple 20 metres below
The hardy nine hanging in there in the heat – Conrad on far left and Ian on far right – who has the hearing aid?
the local children enjoying the Nile as we lazily sailed by!
We set off early today (3.30am!) for the 3 and a half hour drive down to Abu Simbel to see the fantastic complex of Ramses II. This 20m high by 50m high four figurines of the mighty Ramses had to be moved in the 1970s due to the building of the Aswan Dam. This was an international engineering feat that cost 40million (300 million in today’s money) to complete. The figurines guard the entry to the temple which is also striking and awe-inspiring. It stands next to the temple dedicated to Ramses II favourite wife – Nefer -tare. (Nefer means beautiful)
In the afternoon we sailed upstream to Kom Ombo to see the Sobeck (crocodile) and Horus (Falcon) Temple. It was temple dedicated to the pair of Gods built by Ptolemy 5th and his son Ptolemy 6th and used from 205BC to 146BC. It was interesting to see that the Ptolemy dynasty completely copied in perfect detail the Egyptian style. The Crocodile museum had several mummified crocodiles on display. The belief being that some part of the God Sobeck inhabits the animal and therefore it becomes sacred. An interesting feature was a sound channel where the priests could speak at one end and their disembodied voices would be heard to great effect in another part of the Temple (Bit like Wizard of Oz)
The drive to Abu Simbel – long stretches of desert – beautiful as the Sun rose
The hardy nine in front of the impressive Ramses II statue
Temple of Sobeck and Horus – divided down the middle column – One God on one side and one worshipped on the other.
A scene of the purification of the King – Beak face God on the left – (Noth) and falcon face God on right – (Horus) – shown washing new king – Ptolemy 5th
The best way to describe the train journey was ‘interesting’. We each had a sleeper cabin which could have done with a good clean. The food was okay but nothing to write home about. The scenery along the way south finally showed some green and we had vistas of plantations of all types of fruit and produce. The train journey served its purpose and we had made it to Aswan. We were taken by small ferry to the island of Philae upon which the Temple of Isis had been moved to when the Aswan dam was being built in the 1970s. To think of the work involved in that process was amazing but that paled into nothing compared with the Temple structure itself. Our wonderful guide gave a fascinating talk about the history and theology of the temple. I suppose we would have taken more in if not for the fact that it was midday and the temperature was in the high 40’s with little shade to be seen.
We made our way in the afternoon to our ship for the next three days on the Nile the MS Alyssa. After an interesting night visit to the Aswan Souq (market) we retired for the night knowing that we needed to be on the road by 3.30am the next day for our trip down to Abu Simmel.
J on the sleeper train
Temple of Isis – it isn’t hard to imagine that it is 47degrees!
J at the Temple of Isis
Inside Temple – King (with the double crown – both Kingdoms – Upper and Lower – one looks like a champagne bottle and the other crown looks like a ladle) offering a gift to the God Isis – seated figure with circle on head with a pair of horns around the circle.
It was with a lot of excitement that our hardy bunch set out for the Great Pyramids of Giza today. First – the Great Pyramid of Khufu – built in the 4th Dynasty over 4500 years ago – this was the tallest structure on earth until the building of Lincoln Cathedral! It stands 146.5m tall and each side is 230.5m. The angle of incline is 51.5 degrees – giving the perfect dimensions for a stone pyramid structure to support its own weight. The latest estimate is that 1.7 million stones were used. It was originally encased in a smooth limestone outer layer, which would have been a sight to see. Even though this layer was missing it was awe-inspiring to be able to stand on one of the original wonders of the world. Khufu’s son built the second Pyramid and while this is smaller in scale to his father’s tomb – his builders were able to give the impression it was bigger because they built on a higher level. After exploring the Great Pyramid, we were surprised to be informed we all were going to have a camel ride. Going a five-minute drive to the start of the Sahara Desert and with the three Pyramids to our left we all had the ride of our lives – scary to get on and disembark from but fine (if a bit hard on the thighs) once you got going! It was surreal to think where we were. But things only got better. We had the privilege of entering the third Pyramid – that of Khufu’s grandson. A scary thirty metre descent down a steep set of stairs in an ever-smaller tunnel which levelled out into a larger room from which we descended another 10 metres into the funeral camber. It was surprisingly cool and an eerie space. To touch the smooth stone walls which fitted perfectly together and realise this was built without the aid of modern technology was mind-blowing. Yet I personally was glad to ascend and feel the scorching heat of the sun once more. We then had the high-light of seeing the Sphinx which guards the entry way to the second Pyramid. While one could have stayed forever in front of such a wonder – it was too hot – no – it was bloody hot to put it mildly!
After a beautiful Egyptian lunch in an outdoor restaurant (The Blueberry) we drove to Sakkara. It was here that we saw and explored the oldest Pyramid on earth – the Step Pyramid built by Imhotep for his Pharaoh Zoser in the 3rd Dynasty. The Palace you enter to get to the square upon which the Pyramid stands at the end was magnificent with 20 pairs of beautiful carved stone pillars.
We drove back to our hotel – had a lovely shower and change and headed off to the railway station for our overnight train journey to Aswan. But that is for another entry!
What a packed day! It got up to about 37 degrees, but it was a dry heat. We started early and went to the Citadel – Saladin’s 12th century fort – to see what is referred to as the Alabaster Mosque and another older but less impressive one. We went onto the Coptic quarter to visit three fascinating churches – the ‘Hanging Church’ – which was built directly over the old Roman fort, as if to say, “We have out lived the Romans!” Next was St George’s, which had a museum including torture equipment used to solicit Christian faith! The last Church visited in the morning was referred to as the ‘Cavern’ church because it was built over a cavern where the Holy family stayed for three months after fleeing the wrath of Herod. This is one of twenty-six sites in Egypt which claim the family stayed there over the course of the three years there were on the run. We then went onto the Ben Ezra Synagogue – the only functioning one in Cairo. The story goes that the Christian church were in a bit of a bother over unpaid taxes and sold a church to Ben Ezra who turned it into a Synagogue. Another story goes that it was a lease for a hundred years – but no dated contract stating when the hundred years started has been found.
After a well-earned lunch we had the afternoon in Cairo Museum. Words fail to describe the overwhelming old-world charm and magnificence of this museum – the first ever built for the purpose of being a museum. It has over 100,000 items. Sherif our guide high-lighted a few items – including a stature of the builder of the 2nd Pyramid – they don’t how they were able to carve it out of the material with the tools available. We saw the copy of the Rosetta stone – the original is in the British Museum – the key to de-coding much of the ancient language of the Egyptians.
We arrived back at our hotel tired and hot and exhausted but with a sense of gratitude for a wonderful day.
After a gruelling long flight from Melbourne to Dubai, followed by a more pleasant flight to Cairo our travelling group of nine (Conrad, Ian, Robert, Judy, Daniel, Lewis, Carole, Janet and yours truly) have been warmly welcomed to Egypt. We were expertly shepherded through Cairo airport by Kerrid to be met outdoors by our tour guide Sherif. The drive from the airport to the hotel took us through the Presidential area of Heliopolis. We passed the sprawling Dead city cemetery to be amazed to learn that people live here among the tombs of the ancestors. 24 million people call Cairo their home! (Population of Egypt is 97 million). To house so many people we saw what Sherif called ‘Randoms’. These are towering apartment blocks built on any spare bit of land. Some are so close to each other that you could probably reach out and shake hands with your neighbour across the gap. There is one colour in Cairo and that is ‘mud brown.’
Other sights on the journey to the hotel included the impressive Citadel build by Saladin in the tenth century. We crossed the Nile into Giza and caught a tantalising glimpse of the Pyramids before turning into our hotel for the next two nights – aptly named the Oasis Hotel. It boosts lush green gardens and a spectacular pool. A relaxing place to recharge the batteries before heading to the Cairo Museum and the Coptic Quarter tomorrow.
A group of nine hardy souls will be taking the trip of a lifetime beginning on Friday 31 August in Cairo. I will be posting a regular blog about our adventures, along with pics! After this trip I head off straight away to the UK to join the Australian Welsh Male Choir as we embark on a three-week tour culminating in the London Welsh Choir Festival at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 13 October. Check in for up dates.