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Published: December 19th 2010
Egypt is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and – visible above all – its pyramids. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide – too bad its national carrier didn’t give me the best introduction – unfriendly staff, bad movies and bad food. The only upside was the view from the plane as we descended. The Nile.
The plane landed in this ancient land early in the morning and we were met by Shaggy, a representative of On The Go who picked us up and got us through this massive and busy airport quickly.
The tour was beginning that morning and the meeting point was the hotel Oasis. We were allowed into one of the rooms to shower and get ready for day one.
Anyone who has ever been on a group tour before will agree that a tour leader can really make or break the experience. Fortunately, our leader for the next week was Sharif, an Egyptologist. Sharif was a funnyman – he had the catch phrase, which he said, before any monument – “Get ready, get excited, this is the moment you have been waiting for your entire lives.”
The first stop on day one was in a town called Giza. One of the premier attractions of Egypt, if not the world, the Pyramids of Giza represent the archetypal pyramid structures of ancient Egyptian civilisation and – together with the Sphinx at the base of the Giza plateau – are the iconic image of Egypt. The Great Pyramids consist of the Great Pyramid of Kiza, the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex, facing east. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as “queens” pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids. Also associated with these royal monuments are what appear to be the tombs of high officials and much later burials and monuments (from the New Kingdom onwards). At the time of their construction and for many years after, the Pyramids of Giza were the tallest structures on the planet. Khufu’s pyramid originally rose 479 feet but has been reduced to 449 feet with the loss of its limestone casing. Khafre’s Pyramid had stood 471 feet at its completion while Menkaure’s Pyramid stands at a modest 218 feet. “In 1300 AD the Great Pyramid was surpassed as the tallest structure in the world by England’s Lincoln Cathedral.” but to this day remains the most massive structure on Earth.
Of the seven ancient wonders of the world – the pyramids is the only one that remains. We were able to climb on the pyramids, although officially forbidden and were able to go through a 1x1x1 tunnel for approx 100 meters in the second pyramid into the ancient burial chamber. We were able to get some nice pictures from the Giza Plateau and then ride a camel through over to the pyramids.
Afterwards, we went and visited the Sphinx, which is the oldest and largest monolith statue in the world. I always believed it was Napoleon who destroyed the nose of the Sphinx, but it is now thought that heretics did to prove non-existence of gods. If there were really were gods, it would be magically replaced they tried to teach the people of Egypt. After this we went to the Saqqara.
Saqqara is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas. Located some 30 km south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 km by 1.5 km. At Saqqara, the oldest complete hewn-stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser’s step pyramid, built during the third dynasty. 16 other Egyptian kings have built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials have added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.
Cairo is the most populated city in Africa and one of the most populated cities in the world. You tend to get used to the sound of beeping horns when you here. A downside to this is that there is extreme pollution. Massive piles of debris clog either side of the Nile. We navigated our way through the city to a legitimate papyrus store. We were able to purchase some papyrus before having dinner and making our way to the train station for our overnight train to Aswan. After arriving in Aswan we caught a boat to a hotel on an island, in the middle of the Nile. The hotel was called Isis and was the reportedly the nicest in Egypt.
We had some day tours lined up. One of which was a trip to Lake Nassar. This is the largest artificial lake in the world and is created from catching from the Aswan Dam – one of the biggest in the world. Aswan Dam was build by the Russian’s in the 1940’s in the hope of getting Egypt on side during the world war. It serves great purpose at is takes away the effects of the annual flooding of the Nile which had devastating ramifications on the country prior. The temple in Philae is a temple that had been moved to its own island due to damage. It is thought to be the resting-place of the god Osiris and is held in high respect by both Egyptians and Nubians for its historical significance. The markets in Aswan were different to anything I had ever seen before. Unlike in places like Thailand, where they know that no means no – the Aswanian’s did not take no for an answer. You were offered marijuana among other things, and it is an ordeal to make it out of the place. That night we had dinner at the Isis Hotel with Katie H and Sarah from our tour group.
The next morning was an early rise – 2.30am – we could catch a flight to Abu Simbel on Memphis Air. Abu Simbel was one of the highlights of all of Egypt and I was probably more impressed with this than I was even at the pyramids. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbours. However, the complex was relocated in its entirety in the 1960s, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.
The relocation of the temples was necessary to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. The temples were created in perfect alignment to the sun and have certain spots inside where the sun projects to light up paintings on the wall. After we flew back to Aswan we were then about to board our two-day Nile cruise on a felucca.
A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used in protected waters of the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean including Malta, and particularly along the Nile in Egypt, Sudan, and also in Iraq. Its rig consists of one or two lateen sails. They are usually able to board ten-some passengers and the crew consists of two or three people. Despite being made obsolete by motorboats and ferries, feluccas are still in active use as a means of transport in Nile-adjacent cities like Aswan or Luxor.
They are especially popular among tourists who can enjoy their quieter and calmer mood than motorboats have to offer. We were joined by Sarah, Katie H, Colin from New Zealand, Sam from USA, Debbie and Adam – Kiwis living in the UK and Katie M and Rachel – Melbournites living in the UK. When you are living in such proximity to people you end up making really good friends with them and I still keep in contact with over half the people from the felucca cruise today. It is such a great way to see the see the Nile as we cruised down stream. One night we went to a traditional Nubian House to learn Belly Dancing and smoke the hashpipes; another night we had a Belly Dancing competition, which I was the representative for our felucca, around a bushfire. We were chased by kids with pitchforks and sold necklaces by other kids. I couldn’t leave Egypt without having a swim in the Nile.
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It was a major source of life for the Ancient Egyptians and is probably the most famous river in the world.
We got off the Felucca after two nights and went to two temples – Komombo and Edfu. I was a little templed out by this stage. One of them was an ancient doctor surgery and one was a place for mummification and burials.
In Egypt, it is very likely you will come across a snake charmer and whilst waiting for other people in the group I got as close to a cobra as I ever want to get. We eventually arrived in Luxor – a beautiful city on the Nile where we got to have dinner. Our particular felucca group had a party in one of the hotel rooms here and named ourselves Cult Broccoli after some in-jokes from the trip. We decided to make a human pyramid and spent some of the night practicing whilst drinking.
The next day was for three purposes.
1. Valley of the Queens – The Valley of the Queens is a place in Egypt where wives of Pharaohs were buried in ancient times. In ancient times, it was known as Ta-Set-Neferu, meaning –‘the place of the Children of the Pharaoh’, because along with the Queens of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties (1550–1070 BCE) many princes and princesses were also buried with various members of the nobility. The tombs of these individuals were maintained by mortuary priests who performed daily rituals and provided offerings and prayers for the deceased nobility. In Queen Titi’s tomb we were able to see the skeletal remains of a foetus, which has, been preserved.
2. The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is situated beneath the cliffs at Deir el Bahari on the West Bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Designed by the architect Senemut, the mortuary temple is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and is located next to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II, which served both as an inspiration, and later, a quarry. It is considered one of the “incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt.” Hatshepsut’s temple is considered the closest Egypt came to the Classical Architecture. It marks a turning point in the architecture of Ancient Egypt, which forsook the megalithic geometry of the Old Kingdom for a temple which allowed for active worship, requiring the presence of participants to create the majesty. The linear axiality of Hatshepsut’s temple is mirrored in the later New Kingdom temples. The architecture of the original temple has been considerably altered as a result of misguided reconstruction in the early twentieth century AD.
3. Valley of the Kings The area has been a focus of archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the eighteenth century, and its tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (with its rumours of the Curse of the Pharaohs), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis. Exploration, excavation and conservation continues in the valley, and a new tourist centre has recently been opened. We visited three tombs in total – Ramses 1, a joint tomb – the largest in the valley; and then the tomb of Sipah. The walls were still bright with colours and size was amazing.
That afternoon we went to the temple of Karnak – made famous in the Indiana Jones movies. Stone had to be imported from other parts of the country and the sheer weight showed they were well ahead of their time. We managed to complete our human pyramid here before some of the group continued their tour to Dahab.
We joined Katie M and Rachel for dinner at the Ritz, in Luxor for dinner and boarded another overnight train to Cairo that night. When we got to Cairo we went to our hotel and the water was not working. It took a few hours to get it ready. It was also a coincidence that it rains 3 days a year in Cairo and this particular day was on of them. We were able to have a final breakfast with Katie and Rachel before they left and then we went to the Cairo Museum.
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities contains many important pieces of ancient Egyptian history. It houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, and many treasures of King Tutankhamen. The Egyptian government established the museum, built in 1835 near the Ezbekeyah Garden. We didn’t get Sharif for this visit; rather another guy who didn’t seem interested in showing us the main things on everyone’s mind – the death mask and the mummies. These particular treasures are world famous and behind tight security. Tutankhamun’s treasures were solid gold and mummies were so lifelike and well preserved you could see fingernails and hair. You can tell if a mummy is royal or not by their fingernails as the royals all had manicured nails. Among the mummies was that of Ramses II, the greatest pharoah in Egyptian history.
We had a brief stopover at a perfume store and then onto the Cairo markets for some shopping. We went and had some dinner before going back to the airport for our returning flight.
The land that wets our appetites more than any other leaves you with so much history and memories and has you begging for more. One visit was not enough and I cant wait for the day when I get to go back and walk with the Egyptians once more.
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