DAY 174: EGYPTIAN MUSINGS


Memorable moments – Egyptian style

We left Egypt and the mighty River Nile behind today. We only spent a fortnight in Egypt but it was certainly a memorable stay. There is just so much history to take in, and so many sights, sounds and smells to contend with, that 2 weeks felt like 2 months in some ways. Before travelling through Egypt we’d seen countless documentaries about the temples, pyramids and history of this ancient land, but nothing compares to actually being there. The sheer size of the Great Pyramids of Giza was amazing, and the silence and serenity when we visited the Temple of Isis at Aswan (i.e. the Temple at Philae) was blissful. Other highlights for us were the temples at Abu Simbel (the imposing Sun Temple of Ramses II) and Karnak – both were so huge and impressive that it left us quite in awe of the ancient Egyptians. The Valley of the Kings was the most wonderous sight of all however. The colours in the tombs was just stunning – can’t even begin to imagine what the tombs must have been like when they were fully coloured and filled with treasures!

 

 

Some of the other things we’ll always remember about Egypt include:

  • The incredible fortune we had in having places almost entriely to ourselves. Obviously the lack of tourists is a real issue for the Egyptians who rely on visitors for their livelihood, but for us it was fantastic. It was just great being able to really soak in the atmosphere at sites like Abu Simbel and the Temple of Isi at Aswan. Hooray for no (other) tourists!
  • The incredible beauty of the Nile, with its lush green banks set against the backdrop of the Sahara desert. At dawn and dusk especially, that landscape just took our breath away.
  • The food – especially the mixed grill plates (i.e. charcoal grilled lamb, beef and kofta meat balls), shish tawouk (i.e. tasty charcoal grilled chicken on a skewer), and kosheri. Food in Egypt is just so cheap too! For example, 2 lunch serves of kosheri cost us about $2.50AUD! Just be warned: all those beans, chickpeas and lentils can have some rather, errrr, noisy side effects.
  • Speaking of noise, we have to give Cairo traffic one last mention. It’s pure, unbridled chaos, with a soundtrack to match. If anyone is looking for a good business to set up in Cairo, we would suggest a car horn fixing business. There are so many over-worked car horns in that city, you’d have gauranteed business!
  • Cairo’s smog and haze was quite exceptional too; as was the rubbish in the streets. Not in a good way though. Unfortunately the lack of a stable government has meant contracts for some public services like garbage collection have lapsed and not been renewed. The result is not great.
  • The hustlers, hawkers and touters. The lack of tourists was a mixed blessing in some ways: fewer visitors means we also had all the hawkers to ourselves too. They are sometimes very annoying, sometimes very funny and always persistent. There is one thing we would love ALL street vendors in Egypt to know: BACK OFF! Give us some space and we probably WILL come and ride your camel, buy one of your basalt statues of Nefertiti or come and/or try on some of your genuine Egyptian cotton clothing. But the high pressure, in-your-face sales tactics are soooooo off-putting! We bought very little in Egypt – not because we didn’t want to; not because the prices weren’t incredibly cheap; but simply because we refuse to reward the hawkers and touters for their pushy, invasive and agressive behaviour. It’s a cultural thing, we get it – we’re just not used to that very direct sales approach. But there are ways to be direct without being so damn pushy!
  • Hand-in-hand with the hawkers and touters comes the experience of haggling and bargaining. Should you decide to buy anything, it’s not simply a matter of paying what the ticket price says the item costs – coz there isn’t a ticket price. On anything. EVER. The best approach, we found, was to treat every haggling experience like a game. Have fun with it, but be prepared to walk away if they really won’t budge on the price. Oh, and always do a bit of research to find out roughly what you should be paying for stuff (that’s where having a local guide is VERY helpful). At the end of the day, we also realise that Egypt is seriously cheap, and even if we paid a bit more than we should have for some stuff, those few Egyptian Pounds translate to just a couple of Aussie dollars for us, which we’re happy to part with in the name of entertainment.
  • How we could forget the time-honoured tradition of baksheesh?! We’re just not used to tipping in Aus and it took a conscious effort to remember to take a 1EGP coin with us every time we had to pee to pay the bathroom attendant! Tipping wait staff, bathroom attendants and drivers is noproblem at all – they’re actually providing a service we needed. But the guys that hover around to “help” you when you don’t need help is just bloody annoying – and then they have the audacity to ask for a tip for it?! They were as annoying as the hawkers!
  • Our favourite saying of the Egypt trip would have to be that wonderful, all purpose word: inshallah (translation = God willing). Egyptians pepper their sentences with this word when they’re talking about any future event – using it almost as a small prayer to help ward off any misfortunate than may stop said future event from happening.

We’re reflecting on these, and so many other thoughts, as we sit on the plane bound for Morocco. Tonight we’ll be in a new country, ready for a whole set of new experiences. We’ve got no idea what to expect from the next leg of our journey, but one thing’s for sure: we won’t forget Egypt in a hurry!

DAY 173: WHAT A BAZAAR DAY…


Shopping & dodging hustlers at the Khan el Khalili

We left Luxor on the first flight this morning and arrived in Cairo not long after. As today is our last day in Egypt we thought we’d use it to take a look at the city’s main souk (translation = open air market). Like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the Khan el Khalili was a warren of streets, alleys and tiny paved malls that had us lost within just a few short minutes. It was every bit as colourful and chaotic as we had hoped, and we had a great day perusing the wares in the shops and fending off the attentions of all the stall holders.

 

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All the colours, smells and sounds of Cairo’s Khan el Khalili!

 

 

As soon as we walked out of the airport here in Cairo the now-familiar smells and sounds of this chaotic city reintroduced themselves. Cars honking their horns incessently, donkeys braying, hawkers touting their wares on the streets, children laughing and chatting as they leave school for the day – it’s all part of the mosaic that is modern-day Cairo! Thanks to the ever-present traffic, it took a surprisingly long time to get from the airport to the Khan el Khalili, but once we were there the market itself was quite quiet. Many of the stalls were still setting up for the day when we arrived at 11:00am, which was actually great as it allowed us to have an inital look through the market and get our bearings without being harassed by too many touters.


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Checking out the water pipe shops whilst getting our bearings at the markets this morning before they were in full swing.

 

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It was a labyrinth of alleys and side streets in there!

 

 

Unlike the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the Khan el Khalili did not seem to be organised into “districts” – there were stalls selling clothes made of the famed Egyptian cotton next to tacky souvenir shops; juice bars selling freshly squeezed pomegranate juice next to jewellery shops; and papyrus stalls standing side-by-side with shops selling alabaster statues and carvings. We generally love strolling through markets and today was no exception – the colours, the smells, the ridiculous calls of the touters! Some of the touters had the most entertaining sales pitches we’ve ever heard. Our favourites from today:

  • “I don’t know what you need sir, but gauranteed I have it. Come have a look….”
  • “Tell me what I need to do so I can take your money!”
  • “Welcome to Alaska – just come inside for some warmth!”
  • “Are you Australian sir? I think you are Australian. I know Australian: Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” 

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We had an armed escort with us during our explorations of the souk. You can hire one of thes eguys for security to ensure you don’t get “locked in” to a store and forced to buy stuff. Our guide advised us to hire a security guy, “just in case”. Errrrr…, sure – much better than risk being locked into a shop and extorted!

 

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Animal fur sir? Stuffed desert fox maybe?

 

  

Many of the touters speak smatterings of multiple languages – just enough so they can entice people in to their stores and then barter with them. With our dark hair and dark eyes some of the touters weren’t quite sure what language to throw at us so they tried in English first, then Spanish, then Italian – we even had a bit of Portuguese thrown our way. It’s nice when you can keep people guessing!

 

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Tacky Egyptian-themed souvenirs abounded – most of them, unfortunately, made in China!

 

 

The souk dates back to 1382, when merchant Emir Djaharks el Khalili built a large caravanserai (translation = rest place for travelling traders and merchants) in Cairo. He called the market place that sprung up around his caravanserai Khan el Khalili and the name stuck! Over the centuries the market place expanded and today it covers a number of city blocks. The market’s original doors and some of the original Medieval alleys are still in use – we came across a couple during our wanderings.

 

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Some of the original market areas from the 14th century are still used today.

 

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One of the original 14th century gates that used to mark the limits of the market place. Today the souk extends a LONG way beyond its original boundaries.

 

 

Aside from browsing in the shops and stalls of the Khan el Khalili bazaar, we also spent time in one of the souk’s coffee shops. Here we joined a few locals and a couple of other tourists for an Egyptian coffee (think Turkish coffee with extra grit and a dash of cinnamon, cloves and other spices). After the bustle of the souk’s streets, the coffee shop provided a welcome retreat and gave us a chance to do some relaxed people-watching. After coffee and a light lunch of kosheri we headed back out of the souk and found our driver and guide again. And now we’re in our hotel, relaxing before our flight out tomorrow and reflecting on our amazing fortnight in Egypt. It’s been fascinating, exhausting, incredible and, in some ways, a little shocking; most of all, though, it’s been memorable.

 

Egyptian coffee packs a spicy, super-caffeinated punch.

 

DAY 172: HOLY KARNAK – WHAT A TEMPLE!


Exploring the temples of Luxor’s East bank

We had a marvellous day in Luxor exploring the magnificent Temple of Karnak. Built some 3,000-4,000 years ago, this immense complex was Egypt’s mmost important centre of worship during the years of the New Kingdom. For almost 1,500 years every pharaoh that ruled Egypt added to the temple in an attempt to curry favour with the Gods. The result of more than a millennia of expansion, renovation and reconstruction was a temple complex of incredible size, wealth and artistry – the likes of which the world may never see again. Today the vast temple complex is mostly in ruins, though parts of it survived Nile floods, vandals and the weathering of time. Even with so little of the temple remaining intact, it was still amazing wandering through its many halls, courtyards, chapels and chambers today.

 

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The vast Temple of Karnak was Egypt’s most important religious site for almost 1,500 years.

 

 

The Karnak Temple Complex was known in ancient Egypt as Ipet-isut (translation = the most sacred of places) and was dedicated to the sun god Amun-Ra. There are actaully about a dozen chapels and temples within the 250 acre grounds, as well as a number of large ceremonial halls, storage rooms, avenues and a large made-made lake that contains water channeled from the Nile. The waters from the sacred lake were once used during purification rituals and seasonal ceremonies.

 

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The main entry into the temple was once flanked by a 2.5km avenue lined with protective sphinxes.

  

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Today only a few of these lion-sized sphinxes remain, many of them damaged by wind, rain and river waters.

 

 

Today the complex is a vast open-air museum and is considered the largest ancient religious site in the world. It is the largest temple complex ever built, and represents the combined achievement of many generations. The overall effect is quite awe-inspiring, though a little confusing as there are just so many parts to the temples. This is to be expected though, given that evey pharaoh for 50 generations added their own “bit” to the temple!

 

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There were once hundreds of rooms within the temple complex; today many of these are just piles of stones loosely arranged as they might once have been.

 

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Many of the once great halls are now roofless and all the treasures of the temple have long since disappeared. Still, we you can still picture how amazing the Temple of Karnak must have once been.

 

 

Most impressive was the Second Great Hall of Karnak, built by Rameses II (i.e. Ramses the Great). The hall was roofed and contains 132 huge pillars, each 12.8m high and covered in detailed hieroglyphics depicting Ramses II making offerings to Amun-Ra and glorifying the name of both God and King.

 

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This Great Hall was commissioned by Ramses II and pays tribute not just to Amun-Ra, but Ramses’ own glory.

 

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Some of the colours have survived 4,000 years of weathering which is just amazing!

 

 

Before Ramses II, his father Seti I built the First Great Hall of Karnak. The amazing thing about the First Great Hall is the way it was designed to allow natural light into the hall. A central colonnade was built, some 6m higher than the other columns. The outer columns were then topped by 6m-high glassless windows, upon which the flat roof sat. With all the hieroglyphics and ststaues colouredin vivid reds, blues, yellows and greens, and the roof still in place, the overall effect must have been quite spectacular.

 

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Built by Seti I this hall was once illuminated by sunlight thanks to a sophisticated system of high windows.

 

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Here we could clearly see the ceiling decorations, depicting the myriad of stars seen in the desert sky.

 

  

There are also several granite obelisks around the temple complex, each standing 20-30m tall and weighing about 300 tons. These monumental towers were incredibly difficult to quarry, transport, place and carve, and were thus only ever used to record the most grandiose of each pharaoh’s achievements. The largest of those at the Temple of Karnak records all the great achievements of Hatshepsut, the pharaoh/queen whose tomb/temple we saw yesterday on the West Bank of the Nile. 

 

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The obelisk of Hatshepsut was the largest in Egypt and details all the achievements made during her reign.

 

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Many of the temple’s heiroglyphics are very well preserved as they were cut very deeply into the stone – an obvious attempt at ensuring their longevity.

 

 

Interestingly all the chapels and halls of the temple were built along a single axis. This axis was drawn to follow the trajectory  of a particular star across the sky. Apparently historians are not sure which star’s path across the night sky the temple mirrors, but they are certain that, in keeping with ancient Egyptian beliefs, the temple’s alignment would have corresponded with some heavenly sign. This means that, when standing at the temple’s inner-most heart (the sanctuary where the sacred golden statue of Amun-Ra would have been kept), we could look straight down the central corridor and see all the way to the outer-most part of the temple. Very cool!

 

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Standing at the temple’s inner-most heart (the sanctuary where the sacred golden statue of Amun-Ra would have been kept), we could look straight down the central corridor and see all the way to the outer-most part of the temple.

 

  

There were so many nooks and crannies to explore around the temple that we happily spent a few hours there and left with our brains full and appetite for history and wonder well satiated. Egypt has been amazing – all the tombs and temples, the history and the scenery, have been fantastic. This is just such a unique place with so much to see that we feel we’ve hardly even scratched the surface in the 2 weeks we’ve been here. But unfortunately our time in Egypt is coming to an end – tomorrow we fly back to Cairo for one last day in the “big smoke” before flying out on Thursday. Still, it’s been great seeing some of the marvels created by the ancient Egyptians and, even better, to have had so many of the sites to ourselves!

 

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Luxor: Egypt’s jewel on the Nile.

DAY 171: WEST OF THE NILE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS


Luxor’s West Bank

In ancient Egyptian culture life followed the course of 2 constants: the sun and the River Nile. It makes sense therefore that the West side of the Nile (where the sun was seen to “die” each day) was equated with death; while the East side (where the sun was reborn every morning) was the abode of the living. Nowhere is this more apparent than here in Luxor, where temples abound on the East side of the river and tombs pepper the hillsides on the West side. The most majestic of these tombs cluster together in a deep cleft now known as the Valley of the Kings.

 

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Exploring the tombs of Luxor’s West Bank.

 

  

We finished our Nile cruise today and disembarked in Luxor – our last stop in Egypt. We were off the boat by 7:00am and heading across to the West Bank of the Nile to start our sight-seeing nice and early (while it was still cool enough to function!). First site of the day: the Valley of the Kings. This enormous network of tombs served as the principal burial ground for the pharaohs of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Built across the river from the then capital of Thebes (known today as Luxor), this valley was one of the most sacred sites in Egypt from about 1600BC to 1000BC. The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit some 5-6m below ground, to complex tombs 20-30m below ground containing over 100 chambers). Today we got to go down into 3 of these tombs and see for ourselves the splendour in which these ancient kings were buried.

 

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The hills surrounding the Valley of the Kings are dominated by the peak of al-Qurn. This pyramid-shaped mountain may have attracted the Egyptians to the area as it reminded them of the pyramids of the Old Kingdom.

 

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The Valley of the Kings opens at 7:00am – best thing about visiting this early are the lack of crowds, awesome colours and the bearable temperatures.

 

  

Most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were cut out of the mountains following a similar pattern: a long central corridor angled down with an antechamber, numerous side chambers for treasure and a lower/deeper sarcophagus chamber. The theory is that the pharaohs switched to using these sunken tombs as they were harder to rob and were more easily concealed than the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. Unfortunately, despite their valiant efforts, almost all of the tombs discovered to date had been opened and robbed in antiquity, but the sheer size of the tombs and number of rooms designated for storage of treasures still gave us an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs. Amongst the most renowned tombs in the Valley of the Kings are those of Ramses II (i.e. Ramses the Great) and Tutankhamun – one of the least significant of the New Kingdom’s kings, but one of the most famous due to the fact that his tomb was discovered untouched and still containing all its treasures.

 

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The royal tombs we saw were incredibly well preserved, with the colours of the decorations still visible and bright. The hieroglyphics in the tombs are “readings” from the Book of the Dead – an ancient text that details how the soul travels from Earth to Heaven and the trials it must face along the way.

 

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The underground tombs were also well stocked with all the material goods a ruler might need in the next world. Treasures, like the golden masks found with King Tuttankhamun, are dazzling, but the tombs also contained the more mundane. Apparently they included furniture, clothes (even underwear), and jewellery. Tombs were also well provisioned with enough food and drink for royal feasting in the next world, as well as sacred objects meant to help the deceased achieve eternal life.

  

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We saw the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and it sure seemed like a lot to us! If Tutankhamun was one of the least of their kings and he was buried with THAT MUCH treasure, it is staggering to think about the amount of stuff that must have been in the tomb of a GREAT king like Ramses II!

 

 

After a couple of hours trawling through the Valley of the Kings we hopped back in our minivan and drove 5 minutes down the road to the incredible tomb/temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This huge temple/tomb was both a tomb for Queen Hatshepsut and a monument to her greatness. In its reconstructed form the temple is very impressive; wandering its immense 3-tiered terraces, we felt very very small!

 

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Feeling very small as we explore the tomb/temple of Hatshepsut.

 

 

Hatshepsut was a pharaoh during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom and is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman* and achieving much in the way of establishing trade networks and consolidating Egypt’s significant wealth.

*Although it was uncommon for Egypt to be ruled by a woman, the situation was not unprecedented.


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These statues, lining the entry into the temple/tomb of Hatshepsut, bear her visage on a man’s body. This was supposedly done intentionally to show that, despite being a woman, she was “the king”.

 

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The tomb/temple of Hatshepsut was carved out of the mountain but is unique in design, with its vast colonnades and terraces framing the entry into the actual tomb itself.

 

  

We were incredibly fortunate to once again have these sites virtually to ourselves. Being able to wander through the tombs at leisure, without having to dodge other people or wait in queue, has been fantastic. Thanks to lack of fellow tourists we’ve been able to linger in many of the temples and tombs and really get a feel for the place. Even better, the hawkers aren’t allowed into the actual tomb/temple grounds in most of Egypt (just at the Pyramids of Giza which just ruins the experience in our opinion). 

 

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Peace and solitude this morning meant we could really soak in the atmosphere in the Valley of the Kings and at the temple/tomb of Hatsheput.

 

   

Now we’re off to to stroll along the riverfront corniche and find ourselves a nice restaurant that specialises in shish tawouk (translation = charcoal grilled chicken) and koshari (translation = a uniquely Egyptian mix of lentils, rice, chickpeas and rich tomato paste) – our current favourite foods! Tomorrow we’re checking out the temples on the East side (i.e. the land of the living); tune in then to see even more historical marvels form Egypt! 

 

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Today: the West bank of the Nile at Luxor. Tomorrow: the East bank.

 

 

DAY 170: SUNRISE AT THE TEMPLE OF HORUS IN EDFU


Another day dawns over the Nile

We intentionally woke early this morning to catch sunrise over the River Nile. It was totally worth the sacrifice of an hour’s sleep to see this…

 

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Dawn over the River Nile this morning.

 

 

Shortly after dawn our cruise ship docked at Edfu and we set out with our guide Amr to see the Temple of Horus just outside of town. Edfu is a very small town, and there are few cars in town and no taxis. The only way to get from the cruise ship dock to the temple, it turns out, is by horse-drawn carriage. When Amr told us this we were pretty excited – what a lovely way to travel through the town and out into the desert… Ha! Little did we know that the Egyptian version of a horse-drawn carriage involves a malodorous, decrepit carriage; a driver who likes to speed and is overly fond of using his whip; and a stinky, cranky, bitey nag with protruding ribs and a nasty disposition (poor creature – she looked so underfed we wanted to buy her some food rather than give the driver a tip!). It was without a doubt the least pleasant transport experience we’ve ever had to date and the dirty, rubbish-filled streets of Edfu just rounded out the experience for us.

 

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Our horse-drawn carriage ride this morning was pretty rough and stinky. Walking may have been better really!

  

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Goats in the streets on Edfu eating the discarded rubbish. That’s Africa at its finest!

 

 

Luckily the temple itself more than made up for the horse-drawn carriage experience. From our first sighting of the 2,200 year old Temple of Horus we were impressed – the temple is incredibly well preserved, with the roof, all its rooms and most of the hieroglyphics intact.

 

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The Temple of Horus at Edfu is said to be the best preserved temple in Egypt.

 

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The open first courtyard was for the general public – this is where they could come to make offering and seek counsel from the temple priests.

 

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The god Horus (to whom the temple is dedicated) is often represented as a falcon or a man with the head of a falco.

 

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Happily exploring the Temple of Edfu this morning.

 

 

The Temple of Edfu is dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus who ruled over the sky and the sun, and has been likened to the Greek god Apollo. Built around 200BC, during the Greco-Roman period, the temple is huge and consist of a large, open front courtyard; a roofed internal hall; an inner sanctuary where the golden statue of Horus would have been kept; and 9 smaller “chapels”, each dedicated to one of the other major gods of Egypt from that time. Again, we had the temple almost to ourselves and had a great morning exploring the temple’s many rooms.  

 

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This facade separated the publically-accessible open courtyard from the inner sanctum of the temple proper, where only priests were admissable.

 

Enjoying Egypt’s finest temples.

  

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The morning sunlight illuminated the temple beautifully – great time to visit!

 

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Who loves  history? WE love history!

 

 

We left Edfu late this morning and continued on our way down the Nile, towards Luxor (we’re scheduled to arrive in Luxor in the early hours of tomorrow morning and will be leaving the ship tomorrow). The rest of our day was therefore spent in quiet repose up on the sun deck, watching Egypt float past. 

 

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We made ourselves at home on the ship’s sun deck.

 

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When asked if he would like to take another horse-drawn carriage ride tomorrow, Shane was NOT impressed…

 

 

It’s been great seeing scenes from daily village life drift past – we’ve seen water buffalo, donkeys, cows and horses hard at work grazing on the banks of the river; fishermen in their tiny row boats casting nets or fishing lines into the Nile; water birds diving in and out of the river waters; and kilometre and kilometre of date palms, banana plantations and papyrus reeds. All of this against an epic back-drop of sand dunes and granite mountains. This is definitely the prettiest side of Egypt we’ve seen so far! We’ve been told Luxor is a real highlight too so we’re looking forward to docking tomorrow and seeing what wonders are on offer there…

 

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Sometimes there is just the tiniest strip of greenery where the desert meets the river.

 

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Other times there was a veritable jungle lining the riverbank – especially where human intervention had created canals for irrigation.

 

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Once used to transport goods up and down the Nile, feluccas are now solely used for transporting tourists. We considered doing a tour that included a 2 night cruise down the Nile by felucca (rather than by floating hotel), but there are no bathrooms on board and we would have been sleeping on the boat’s open deck every night. That’s a little bit to “authentic” an experience for us!

 

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There are heaps of water birds here, as many of them have migrated south from Europe for the winter.

 

DAY 169: THE CROCODILE TEMPLE OF KOM OMBO


Cruising from Aswan to Kom Ombo on a floating hotel¬† We left Aswan today aboard a luxury cruise boat, bound for Luxor. We’re cruising the Nile in style the next few days, with stops at various temples along the way – starting this afternoon with the Temple of Kom Ombo.

Cruising the Nile, heading from Aswan to Luxor.

Our ship, the Royal Esadora, is a 50-berth swanky affair built just a few years ago. We have a great cabin and are really looking forward to having a few days of serious relaxation time. Normally there are up to 300 of these “floating hotels” cruising up and down the Nile between Aswan and Luxor, but with things being so quiet here at the moment there were 2 boats scheduled to sail today, including ours. That meant we had the whole river and Kom Ombo virtually to ourselves, which was awesome!

Our home-away-from-home for the next few nights: the MS Royal Esadora.
Ahhhh 5 star luxury – it’s been a while since we had a bit of that!

 

We had a marvellous day floating down the Nile, watching the villages and towns of Egypt go past as we relaxed up on the appropriately-named sun deck. Below are just some of our favourite shots from today (click on the photos to see them in full size).

 

The highlight of the day, however was without a doubt, our visit to Kom Ombo at sun set. Watching the colours play across the ruins of the temple and the desert sands was wonderful – definitely a sight to remember.

Sunset over the desert – definitely a sight to remember.

Dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, the Temple of Kom Ombo was built around 100BC during the Greco-Roman period of Egyptian history, which makes a relatively new temple by Egyptian standards! The temple is unusual in that it is actually dedicated to 2 primary gods: Horus and Sobek. This duality means there were 2 entries, halls, sanctuaries and offering rooms – one for each god. There’s not much of the temple left unfortunately, with the roof and many of the rooms destroyed by Nile floods, by early Coptic Christians, and by builders who, during the 19th century, removed some of the stones to use them as foundation stones to construct a nearby factory. What is there is fascinating though, not least of all because of the uniqueness of its dual design.

The temple is symmetrical down the centre, with one half dedicated to Horus and the other to Sobek.
We had the temple literally to ourselves. Totally awesome!
Watching the sun setting at Kom Ombo.
It was great exploring the temple as the sun set watching the colours change as the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky.

The temple is also unique in that it is dedicated, at leats in part, to Sobek. There are, apparently, no other temples left in Egypt dedicated to this crocodile-headed god. Designated a god of fertility in the Greco-Roman period, Sobek was revered alongside Hathor, the cow-faced goddess of fecundity and rich harvest. His image was everywhere in the temple and in the small museum next door to the temple we saw a few of the 300 crocodile mummies discovered in the vicinity. The size of the mummified corpses ranged from tiny palm-sized babies to enormous 7.5m monsters.

Just a few of the mummified crocodiles found at Kom Ombo.
Images of Horus, the falcon-headed god, and of Sobek, the crocodile god, were everywhere.
We left the Temple of Kom Ombo just as the sun was setting. Spectacular.

We’re now back on board our cruise ship enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the comfort of the bar (with free wifi internet!), and looking forward to waking up tomorrow morning in Edfu wher we’ll get to see another of Egypt’s amazing desert temples. Tis bah ala khair¬†until then!

Intrepid (5 star) explorers in Egypt.

DAY 168: MAGESTIC TEMPLES OF ABU SIMBEL


Just 60kms from the Sudanese border there is a temple – a most magnificent temple…

We went on a day trip to Abu Simbel today to see the Sun Temple of Ramses II and its neighbour, the Temple of Queen Nerfertari. Everyone at some stage in their life has seen the image of the 4 great statues of Pharaoh Ramses II flanking the entrance to the temple dedicated to his war victories. For us it was one of those sights that was on our “must see” list. It was so much larger in real life than we expected and so much more impressive!

 

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The Sun Temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel.

 

 

There isn’t much in the township of Abu Simbel, just a small community of Nubian villagers, a bank, a hotel, a small market and about 1,000 hawkers who (used to) live off the tourists who (used to) flock down here every day from Aswan in their hundreds. When the tourist trade was at its peak (3-10 years ago), Egypt Air used to fly from Aswan to Abu Simbel and back again 4 times a day. Now there’s 1 flight every 2-3 days at best. Lucky for us, there was a flight today! The flight itself only took 45 minutes each way, but add an hour’s wait at each airport, half an hour’s drive to get to and from the airport in Aswan and about 15 minutes drive to get between the airport and the temple in Abu Simbel, and that’s 5 hours of transit time in a day. All that just to see a couple of temples…. Totally worth it!

 

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We flew from Aswan to Abu Simbel and back in one day – much easier than driving down and back which takes 3.5 hours each way!

 

 

The twin temples at Abu Simbel were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Ramses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, and to commemorate Egypt’s victory against the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh. Ramses II was one of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs of the New Kingdom* – under his 67 year rule Egypt prospered, the territories of Egypt expanded significantly and numerous temples were built. He was 96 when he died and is referred to in later Egyptian texts as “Ramses the Great” or “Ramses the Builder”.

*As if Egyptian history wasn’t complicated enough, the dynasties of ancient Egypt are also grouped together into 9 periods: 

  1. Pre-dynastic period (3500BC-2600BC): I to III Dynasties; begins with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt and includes the building of the first pyramid at Saqqara.
  2. Old Kingdom (2600BC-2100BC): IV to VI Dynasties; the peak of Egypt’s pyramid-building fad.
  3. First Intermediate period (2100BC-2000BC ): VII to IX Dynasties; time of great internal strife.
  4. Middle Kingdom (2000BC to 1700BC ): X to XII Dynasties; Upper and Lower Egypt were once again reunited and there was a brief resurgence of pyramid building – the last pyramid was built during this period.
  5. Second Intermediate Period (1700BC to 1500BC): XIII to XVII Dynasties; war with ascending civilisations from the Middle East region case more chaos and once again things go pear-shaped for a couple of hundred years.
  6. New Kingdom (1500BC to 1000BC): XVIII to XX Dynasties; includes the reign of such fated pharaohs as Ramses II, Tutenkahmen and Akhenaten.
  7. Third Intermediate Period (1000BC to 700BC): XXI to XXIV Dynasties; all the territories gained during the New Kingdom were lost and Egypt itself came under threat.
  8. Later Years (700BC to 300BC): XXV to XXX Dynasties; this is the age of foreign rue in Egypt with Ethiopian kings and Nubians pharaohs running the show. Whilst these rulers all adopted the Egyptian religion and culture, influences from these other cultures are apparent in the art and temples of this period.
  9. The Greco-Roman period (300 BC to 300AD): after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt the country was under Ptolemic rule for almost 300 years and then Roman rule for another 300 or so years.


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Ramses the Great had the temple built to honour himself. Was he a bit of a megalomaniac maybe?

 

 

Of all the temples built by Ramses II, Abu Simbel is considered to be the most impressive. The temple was originally carved out of solid rock and served a religious purpose as well as a defensive one: positioned right at the Southern reaches of the Egyptian Kingdom, the statues flanking the entry into the Sun Temple of Ramses II stared impassively at any potential invaders approaching Egypt from the Africa. It’s easy to see how the sheer size of the place would have made any enemies stop and ponder what kind of great and powerful king ruled the land of Egypt.

 

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The 4 seated statues of Ramses II towered above us as we entered the temple. The torso of the second statue in this photo toppled after an earthquake around 600AD.

 

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Wives, sons and daughters of the pharaohs were normally portrayed like this – much smaller than the pharaoh. When Ramses II built a whole temple dedicated to his wife Nefertari and had statues of her made almost the same size as his, it must have caused quite a stir!

 

 

Entering into the temple the humbling effect was even greater as we were stared at by the 8 stern-faced statues of Ramses II that line the Grand Hall. All the walls within this first chamber were covered with hieroglyphics telling of the pharaoh’s great victories in battle – there was even one giant relief showing Ramses II standing on the face of one enemy whilst attacking a second. All very epic.

 

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This relief shows Ramses II defeating a Nubian enemy (we know it’s a Nubian enemy because of the bow).

 

 

There were a number of smaller rooms either side of the Grand Hall apparently used for performing rituals associated with the king’s birthday (22 February) and coronation (22 October) – both very important dates. So important in fact that the temple was designed so that on 22 February and 22 October every year sunlight reached all the way through the Grand Hall into the chapel beyond, to illuminate the face of the statue of Ramses II built within. It’s amazing to think of the astronomical, mathematical and engineering skills required to carve a temple out of a mountain so that the sun only penetrates all the way into the temple on 2 specific days every year!

 

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One of the many side chambers carved out of the mountain in Ramses’ great temple.

 

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These 4 statues were within the deepest chamber of the temple. The 1st, 2nd & 4th from the left are gods and the 3rd was Ramses II. His face alone is illuminated on 22 February & 22 October each year.

 

 

The Sun Temple of Ramses II is quite unusual in that Ramses is portrayed throughout as a king equal to the gods. It’s also unusual in that Ramses pays tribute to his wife Nefertari, with hieroglyphics portraying her as the most beautiful woman in Egypt to be found in one of the rooms. There was obviously some real respect between Ramses II and Nefertari as he also had a temple built just next door to his dedicated to her. In the Temple of Nerfertari the queen is portrayed as being equal to Hathor, ancient Egypt’s life-giving cow goddess.This temple was much simpler than the Temple of Ramses II, but stunning in that many of the hieroglyphics still retained their colour. These temples must have been amazing when they were all painted in full, vivid colour.

 

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Just next door to Ramses’ temple is that of his wife Nefertari, where she is portrayed as equal to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.

 

 

What impressed us even more was knowing that the 2 temples at Abu Simbel were not originally built in their current location. Like the Temple of Isis yesterday they were dismantled and moved in the 1960s when the Aswan High Dam was built and the temples were threatened by submersion. In a UNESCO funded project a team of Swedish engineers managed to slice up and move the temples and the entire mountains they were carved out of.  Everything was reassembled, in the exact same positions relative to each other and facing in eactly the same directions so that the sun stll illuminated the depths of the Sun Temple of Ramses II on 22 February and 22 October every year. 

 

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So impressed by the temples of Abu Simbel!

 

 

Now we’re back in Aswan for our last night here – tomorrow we set off down the Nile for our cruise. It will be so cool waking up to the sounds of the river and being able to watch the sun rise and set over the desert! Tune in tomorrow to see how cool cruising the Nile can be…

 

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The huge Lake Nassar was formed in after the High Aswan Dam was built. The lake is full of huge fish and crocodiles but down river there are no crocs – makes for much safer conditions for people living downstream, no doubt!