I studied Ancient History in college and have always been fascinated by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. We have seen many of the Roman ruins in Europe but Egypt kept drawing me in. Chuck and I finally took the plunge October 2009, before the uprising, and so glad we decided to go at that time, as we might never have seen these ancient wonders.
We booked a private tour through Kennsington and were met at the Cairo airport by one of our guides. When he found out we didn’t check any luggage, he literally hugged us both as we saved him, and us, a couple of hours in the airport (so if possible only do carry-on). Off we went to Giza.
We stayed the first two nights in Giza at the Mena House Oberoi Garden, with the pyramids in plain view as you exit your car. We arrived as the sun was setting, and our first glimpse was truly breathtaking.
The ancient Egyptians believed that after death the soul traveled through the underworld to the Halls of Ma’at (or Halls of Judgement). There their heart was weighed against the feather of Ma’at and those who met the standard passed on to a blissful existence in the field of reeds. As a result, ancient Egyptian tombs often include a description of the achievements and virtues of the deceased, spells to aid the deceased in their dangerous journey and “magic doors” to allow the spirit to return and gain sustenance from offerings hleft in the tomb. We saw these in many of the burial sites we visited.
Giza Plateau – site of the Great Pyramids built for Pharaohs Cheops, Chephre and Mycerinus was our first stop of the day. The pyramids sit at the tip of a limestone cliff and are still being excavated. The site consists of the three large pyramids, their temples, satellites and storerooms, the Great Sphinx, and a worker’s village.
Other pyramids did not come close to rivaling the size or quality of construction of these immense structures. The huge blocks of limestone used in construction have stood the test of time much better than any of the other pyramids (and there are over 100) built before or after them.
Chuck checked out the tomb within the Great Pyramid, braving the extreme heat and claustrophobic nature of the space. I waited outside in the 100 degree heat, which was like springtime compared with the temperatures inside that vault. But Chuck exited saying it was worth every minute of it. Arrive early to get into Cheops Pyramid as a limited number of people are allowed to enter
Solar Boat Museum – take the time to visit this museum to understand how the pharaohs’ bodies were transported to this site by boat thousands of years ago. You can view the 141-foot long funerary boat of King Cheops, which our guide told us was the single most important archaeological find in Egypt since the tomb of Tutankhamun.
The Great Sphinx – an immense stone sculpture of a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh. It measures 190 feet in length and 65 feet high, carved out of a single piece of rock, and stands over these magnificent royal tombs. No picture can ever do this justice, you need to see it for yourself.
Cairo, capitol of Egypt, and the hub of the country, easy to get around on foot, and when we were there, safe to explore on your own. You must visit the Egyptian Museum whose 100+ halls feature huge statues on the ground floor, and small statues, jewels, Tutankhamon treasures and the mummies on upper floors. Other downtown sights include the Saladin Citadel and Mohamed Ali Mosque, and Khan Khalili bazaar. We stayed at the Hotel Sofitel Gezirah,
Egyptian Museum of Antiquities – The entire museum looked like it was under excavation itself. Wherever you turned there were more treasures lying at your feet, so many it was really overwhelming. We enjoyed the golden treasures of Tutankhamun but loved just walking around the “ruins” even better. Go early as the exhibit gets mobbed. And don’t miss the Mummy room where many of the Pharaohs lie.
Hilltop / Citadel of Salah El-Din – a spectacular medieval fortress dating from the 12th century. We followed by doing a walking tour of Islamic Cairo from the remaining gates of the city, Bob El Fotouh, to Khan El Khaliki Bazaar.
Coptic and Old Cairo – the Church of St. Sergius was first built by the Persians around 6 C BC, where the holy family is reported to have stayed. Nearby is the interesting Hanging Church which was the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate for centuries. We visited Egypt’s oldest synagogue, Ben Ezra, and was told by our guide that the once “large Jewish population in Cairo is now less than you can count on one hand”. Inside this temple, the Cairo Geniza documents were found, a treasure hailed as an unparalleled source of info about the life of Jews in Egypt’s past.
CRUISE DOWN THE NILE
We cruised on the Royal Lilly Nile Cruise visiting Karnak, Luxor, and Aswan.
The modern town of Luxor is the site of the famous city of Thebes, the city of a hundred gates. It was the capital of Egypt from the twelfth dynasty on. It was here that Thutmose III planned his campaigns, Akhenaten first contemplated the nature of god, and Rameses II set out his ambitious building program.
Karnak Temple – located on the east bank of the Nile River in Thebes (modern day Luxor), dates from around 2055 BC to 100 AD, and is larger than some ancient cities. It was known as Ipet-isu (most select of places) by the ancient Egyptians. This city of temples was dedicated to Amun-Ra (male god associated with Thebes) which takes up the large central section, the goddess Mut (Amun-Ra wife) smaller area south of the center, Montu (falcon-headed god of war) north of the center, and Aten (sun disk) to the east.
Karnak must have made quite an impression on ancient visitors. “The pylons and great enclosure walls were painted white with the reliefs and inscriptions picked out in brilliant jewel-like colours, adding to their magnificence,” writes Egyptologist Heather Blyth in her book “Karnak: Evolution of a Temple” (Routledge, 2006). “Behind the high walls, glimpses of gold-topped obelisks which pierced the blue sky, shrines, smaller temples, columns and statues, worked with gold, electrum and precious stones such as lapis lazuli must have shimmered in the dusty golden heat.”
Valley of the Kings – from the 16th to the 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of Egypt and became a royal burial ground for pharaohs. The valley is on the west back of the Nile, across from Thebes. and is famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, and a World Heritage Site.
Only a few of the 62 known tombs are accessible and open to the public and I did venture into one of the tombs with Chuck. There I witnessed the elaborate preparations that were done for these pharaohs to enter the next world, where they would become one with the gods. The hieroglyphs and wall paintings were in excellent condition, retaining their bright colors. Breathtaking! Decided to enter others, as allowed, going forward.
Valley of the Queens – where the wives of Pharaohs were buried and known as Ta- Set-Neferu (the place of beauty). We were told it may hold secrets yet to be revealed, as some of the tombs are still lost beneath the sands.
Colossi of Memnon – two massive stone statues of Pharoh Amenhotep III, 3,400 years old, sitting across the Nile from Luxor. The original function was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep’s mortuary temple, where he worshiped as a god-on-earth both before and after his death.
Located on the west bank of the River Nile between Esna and Aswan. Of all the temple remains in Egypt, the Temple of Horus at Edfu is the most completely preserved. It was originally an Egyptian city called Nubt, meaning City of Gold. The town’s location on the Nile gave it some control over trade routes from Nubia to the Nile Valley, but its main rise to prominence came with the erection of the temple in the 2nd century BC.
Temple of Edfu – was the center of the cult of a triad of Gods, Horus of Behdet, Hathor, and their son, Hor-Smama-Tawy. It is one of the most beautiful and preserved temples in Egypt and quite large. The construction started about 237 BC and took 180 years to complete. Don’t miss the Birth House where the walls are decorated with the story of the divine birth of Horus the child in the presence of the deities. Around the back of the building are reliefs of Horus being suckled by Isis.
This city on the Nile has been southern Egypt’s strategic and commercial gateway since antiquity.
Aswan High Dam – one of the largest embankment dams in the world, built across the Nile between 1898 and 1902. It was created to control the floodwaters of the Nile.
Temple of Philae – is on the island of Agilika, dedicated to the goddess Isis, consisting of multiple shrines and sanctuaries. It has been dismantled and reassembled on this island in the wake of the High Dam.
Unfinished Obelisk – the largest known Egyptian obelisk, found today exactly where it was semi-carved from the solid bedrock. The stone block was intended to be a 120 ft. / 36 m tall obelisk, with the block of granite weighing over 1000 tons. It was never finished because during the process to remove the block of stone a huge crack appeared that made the stone unusable.
Hopefully the unrest will die down shortly and I can return for a second visit to this magical land of wonders.