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The last days in Egypt

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Published: June 16th 2017

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The Nile Valley

This area is described as the greatest open air museum in the world and that is not an exaggeration. We spent the bulk of our time in Egypt here see some of the most amazing places and antiquities. This area is also the very lush because of the dams of Aswan so the communities along this part of the Nile have an economy that is not solely dependent on tourism although the decline in tourism is still quite evident. Tourism in Egypt is down by about 50% since the 2011 revolution. It’s a great time to visit because you get to see all these wonderful places without the crush of tourists that would certainly take away from enjoying the grandeur of everywhere we went.

We flew to Aswan from Cairo to start this leg of the journey. After several tense moments at the Egypt Air check in (they didn&’t have a seat for me!!) we all boarded our flight. Arabic is what I would describe as an energetic language but when they argue you really now they are arguing. Our guide, Ibrahim, did a great job of making it very clear that I needed to be on

the flight. Once in Aswan we immediately boarded a bus to Abu Simbel. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel and the smaller Temple of Hathor are breathtaking and even more incredible they were hewn out of a solid cliff in 13th century BC AND when the High Dam was planned they were systematically moved to save them from being covered with water!!!! The Great Temple was built to honor Ramses II. Its 108 ft. high façade has four colossal enthroned statues of Ramses II wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. This exterior was designed to impress and frighten while the interior reveals the union of god and king.

The smaller temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor was built by Ramses II in honor of his favorite wife Nefertari. The façade has statues of Nefertari as goddess Hathor alternating with Ramses II. The interior has Hathor headed pillars (the head of a cow) and is decorated with scenes of Ramses slaying Egypt&’s enemies with Nefertari watching. Photos are not allowed in either temple.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Simbel_temples

http://www.abrock.com/ancientEgypt/Egyptweb2/NubianTemples/nubian.html

Egyptian kings from the New Kingdom to the Romans built temples along the Nile in Lower Nubia (between

the First and Second Cataracts). And there they stayed, in various stages of ruin, until the early 1960s, when the Aswan High Dam was built and Lake Nasser began to fill behind it.

An international effort to rescue the temples and other archeological sites was undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Many temples were moved to higher ground, the best well-known of which was Abu Simbel. Others were dismantled and given to donor countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany, and the United States. But hundreds of archeological sites, including some temples, were inundated and remain under the waters of Lake Nasser.

We returned to Aswan to spend the night. Aswan is quite a nice city right on the Nile. It is the starting point for the Nile cruises and also has many hotels along the river but it is relatively clean and has a pleasant climate which attracts many expats and locals looking to escape the heat of Northern Egypt. You can watch felucca&’s (Egyptian sail boats) lazing along and enjoy the green and gold of the hills around the city. It is also home to both of the dams that turned the Nile

from a seasonal water source to providing generous year round access to water and hydro-electric power.

Aswan is also home to a huge granite quarry where the unfinished obelisk still remains. The obelisk dates back to the New Kingdom and had it been completed it would weigh almost 1200 tons and stand 134 ft. high. Three sides of the shaft were quarried before a flaw was discovered in the stone and the obelisk had to be abandoned.

Our next stop was the Temple of Philae. It was begun by Ptolemy II and completed by the Roman Emperors. http://www.abrock.com/ancientEgypt/Egyptweb1/Philae.html These monuments were also relocated to save them from being immersed in the waters of Lake Nasser but are still housed on an island near Aswan which is accessible by motor boat. The site contains several structures &– the Kiosk of Nectanebo II, Temple of Isis, Gate of Hadrian, Temple of Hathor, and Kiosk of Trajan. The Temple of Augustus and the Gate of Diocletian lie in ruins on the island as well.

We sailed on a felucca to the Nubian village on the other side of the river and had dinner with a Nubian family. During the early-1970s, many

Egyptian and Sudanese Nubians were forcibly resettled to make room for Lake Nasser after the construction of the dams at Aswan. They served us a banquet of local foods &– all delicious!

Nile Cruise

We spent a total of 3 nights on the boat starting in Aswan and ending up in Luxor. Along the way we visited more incredible sites. The boat itself was very comfortable, the food was good although a bit boring. We were able to watch as other boats and ours moved through the locks. This was a lengthy process so locals living in the area came out in small boats with stuff to sell. They would throw it up onto the top deck and then ask for money. You had to be aware of the missiles of towels and linens as they came flying onto the deck. It was a wonder that stuff didn&’t just fall into the river.

Kom Ombo Temple

The Graeco-Roman temple is in a particularly beautiful setting overlooking the Nile. The building is totally symmetrical with entrances, two halls and two sanctuaries and is dedicated to two gods the left side is to the falcon god Horus the Elder and the right side is to

Sobek, the local crocodile god. The temple was started by Ptolemy VI in the 2nd century BC and mostly completed by Ptolemy XII during the 1st century BC. Finally, Augustus added the entrance pylon in 30 BC. In the interior there are scenes relating to Horus on the left wall and Sobek on the right. The many columns are carved with the lotus or lily of Upper Egypt and the papyrus of the Delta. A series of halls and vestibules lead through to the sanctuaries of Horus and Sobek.

Edfu

Edfu stands beside the Nile almost exactly halfway between Aswan and Luxor. According to ancient myth this is where Horus fought a fierce battle with this uncle Seth who had cruelly murdered Horus&’s father Osiris. The Temple of Horus at Edfu is the largest and best preserved Ptolemaic temple in Egypt. The imposing 118 ft. high pylon (entrance façade) is decorated with scenes of Ptolemy XII defeating his enemies in front of Horus and Hathor. Two elegant black granite statues of Horus flank the entrance which leads to the first hypostyle hall. Behind this lies a second smaller hall with chambers on either side. Gifts from the gods were stored

in these rooms until they were taken into the hall of offerings beyond. Stairs lead to the hall of offerings which is roped off but you can get a good look inside. The walls are beautifully decorated with scenes from the New Year festival, a ritual celebrated in temples all over Egypt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Edfu

Valley of the Kings; Carter House, Hatshepsut Temple; Colossi of Memnon (Luxor)

After a hearty breakfast on our cruise boat we headed off to several major sites around Luxor. The Colossi of Memnon are two, 60 foot high statues of Amenhotep III seated on his throne. They originally guarded Amenhotep&’s mortuary temple – thought to have been the largest ever built in Egypt &– hard to imagine given the size of what we have seen! It was plundered for building material by later pharaohs and gradually destroyed by later floods but there is ongoing excavation being done that is turning up a wealth of statues that have been buried on the site for millennia. This area is out of bounds but can be seen from the road. Onto the Valley of the Kings. This is a remote, barren valley that was the necropolis for the New

Kingdom pharaohs. They hoped to stop robbers stealing precious possessions buried with them. Despite their hidden locations, every burial chamber was raided except those of Yuya and Tuya and Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. In spite of the looting, the corridors and chambers remain and are stunningly adorned with symbolic accounts of the journey through the underworld and paintings to assist the pharaohs in the afterlife. A total of 63 tombs have been found in the Valley of the Kings with about 11 open at any one time. Additional tickets are needed to visit the tomb of Tutankhamen and Ramses VI. It is definitely worth it to buy the extra ticket for Ramses VI but all the good stuff from Tutankhamen&’s tomb is on display at the Egyptian Museum. There is a good sized model of the tomb on the site of Howard Carters home nearby and a tour of his home is very interesting. It has lots of his original possessions including maps and household items. There is even an indoor dog house for Lord Carnarvon&’s beloved Susie who traveled with him all the time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Herbert,_5th_Earl_of_Carnarvon

Hatshepsut Temple, from a distance, looks almost like a

modern building and against the start mountainous backdrop it is quite stunning. It rises from the desert plain in a series of imposing terraces. It was built during the 18th dynasty for Queen Hatsheput who was unofficially the first feminist. She dressed as a warrior which fooled many into believing she was actually a man. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. According to Egyptologist James Henry Breasted she is also known as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut

As you approach the temple you see the long staircases that advance to each level and the further you go the more amazing it is. The columns of the portico and around the upper terrace were decorated with statues of Hatsheput, characteristically represented as a male king with a beard. Many of these were destroyed by later pharaohs but several have been reconstructed from their fragments. The different galleries have very well preserved painted walls and bas-reliefs and the Chapel of Hathor has Hathor-headed columns.

Just when I thought these temples couldn&’t get any bigger we visited

Karnak Temple in Luxor. The temple was built over a period of 1500 years and is one of the greatest architectural achievements ever executed. St. Peter&’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul&’s Cathedral in London could easily fit inside its 100 acre site with room for eight other buildings of equal size. Get the picture?! The 60000 square foot Hypostyle Hall has 180 columns. Each is 80 feet high and 33 feet around. It is considered the greatest religious shrine of antiquity. It is linked by a 2 mile Nile-side promenade (that was once lined with sphinxes) to its twin shrine to the south, the Temple of Luxor.

The few days on the Nile were exhausting. We were on the go a lot and the heat was building. We were ready to get back to Cairo. We celebrated our last night with a group dinner. This was a very fun group and we have made some long lasting friends.





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