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Egypt

February 2018

Giza

I’ve often thought about going to Egypt to get a first-hand view of its ancient history so in early February we flew in to Cairo, got picked up at the airport and the got stuck in evening traffic. We spent our first two nights in the Cairo Marriott which is a very nice hotel on an island in the Nile River in downtown Cairo.

 

The hotel consists of two 20 story towers which are separated by the former Gezirha Palace which is now the reception and administrative areas of the hotel. The Palace was built to host Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie when they attended the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Much of it has been restored to its original elegance.

 

CairGiza pyramid complex o is the capital of Egypt and the area in and around it has many direct connections with ancient Egypt. The Giza pyramid complex and the ancient city of Memphis are both located within its geographical area, along with about 20 million people. Air pollution and traffic jams are both major problems. 

 

We had a very busy first day with a guided visit to Memphis, Sakkara then Cheops Pyramid, the Sphinx and the Solar Boat Museum. We were fortunate enough to have our own vehicle, driver and a very good guide for these tours so we had extra flexibility in what we could do and see.

Alabaster Sphinx

Memphis was the first capital of ancient Egypt and was founded in about 3100BC by King Menes who united Upper and Lower Egypt. Little remains of the ancient city which was located just south of the current city of Cairo. We visited a small open air museum in the village of Mit Rahina which features a giant alabaster sphinx and a colossal limestone statue of Ramses II.

 

Saqqara (Sakkara), the “City of the Dead” was the royal necropolis of Memphis. One of its important sites is the Step Pyramid of Djoser which was the first pyramid built by the Egyptians. There are a number of other tombs including the Pyramid of Unas and the tomb of Princess Idut both of which we were able to enter.

 

After Saqqara we drove back to Cairo and toured the Giza pyramid complex which is made up of three major pyramids, several smaller queens’ pyramids, the Sphinx, tombs, temples and numerous other archaeological sites dating from the 4th Dynasty between 2580 and 2510 BC.

 

The largest of the three major pyramids is called the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu). I paid extra for the privilege of entering this pyramid and climbing up to the King’s Chamber. The initial way in is up a narrow steep passage called the  Robbers' Tunnel which goes to the entrance of the Great Gallery which is a 50 metre long and 9 metre high ascending passage which leads to a low passage into the Kings Chambers. Photos Memphis and Sakkara, Pyramids

 

After two nights in Cairo we took an early morning flight to Luxor and boarded the Sonesta St George for a five day Nile River cruise to Aswan. The Sonesta St George is an upscale river boat that can accommodate just over 100 passengers. After settling into our berth and a nice lunch we did a tour of the Karnak Temple complex and in the evening visited the Luxor Temple.

 

Obelisk at Luxor TempleThe city of Luxor is the modern day city on what was the site of Thebes in ancient Egypt. The ruins of the Karnak temple complex and Luxor Temple are in the current city of Luxor and on the opposite bank of the Nile are the remains of the West Bank Necropolis which includes the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon and much more.

 

Karnak is the present day name for the ancient site of the Temple of Amun at Thebes. It started at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom around 2000BC and was expanded over time as each new ruler added to it. It was in use for almost 2,000 years and was considered one of the most sacred sites in Egypt.

 

Luxor Temple is situated on the banks of the Nile River and in the center of the current city of Luxor. We visited the Temple after sunset so all of the photos rely on the flood lighting used to show off the Temple at night. Photos of Karnak and Luxor Temples

 

The next morning we did a tour of the West Bank which included the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon. After lunch the boat set off for Esna where we spent the night.

Donkey cart

The Valley of the Kings was the necropolis of the New Kingdom of pharaohs and was used for almost 500 years starting in the 16th century BC. Sixty-three tombs have been found in the valley and we visited the tombs KV 2 – Ramses IV, KV6 - Ramses IX and KV8 – Merenptah.

 

The Valley of the Queens is a bit south and west of the Valley of the Kings and was a necropolis for the tombs of royal family members and the elite, with about 90 numbered tombs belonging to queens, princes, and high officials of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC). We had access to three tombs but no photos were permitted at the site which is too bad because a couple of the tombs we saw had some amazing pictures on the walls.

 

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is situated beneath the cliffs at modern day Deir al-Bahri, on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings. Photos of the Valley of the Kings and Temple of Hatshepsut

 

Overnight the boat sailed from Esna to Edfu where we had a horse carriage ride to and from the Temple of Edfu then set sail to Kom Ombo where we did another temple tour then had an Egyptian themed dinner party while the boat sailed to Aswan. 

Horus as a falcon

The temple of Edfu is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and was built between 237 and 57 BC. The reliefs in the temple tell the story of Horus exacting his revenge on Seth for the murder of his father, Osiris.

 

The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple in the town of Kom Ombo. It was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty, 180–47 BC. The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world. The northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder). Photos of the Temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo

 

After Edfu we sailed to Aswan and the end of the cruise.

Felucca

Aswan is a busy market and tourist centre located immediately downriver from the Aswan Dams. There are two dams. The Low Dam which was completed in 1902 and the High Dam which was competed in 1970. The city and the dams are at what is historically known as the First Cataract. A cataract or rapid is a shallow part of a river where the surface of the water is broken by many small boulders and stones jutting out of the river bed which makes navigation very dangerous. This obstacle created the ancient divide between Egypt and Nubia

 

While in Aswan we visited the High Dam, the Philae temple complex, the Aswan Botanical Garden and Nagaa Suhayl Gharb which is a Nubian Village.

 

The Philae temple complex was originally located on an island that was inundated by the construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. The temple was relocated to its current location on Agilkia Island in the 1960s through a joint effort between the Egyptian government and UNESCO.

 

Aswan Botanical Garden are located on a small Island known as Kitchener's Island, named after Lord Kitchener who was gifted the island after serving as British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt from 1911 through 1914. It is now a popular destination for locals and tourists.

 

After visiting the Botanical Garden we took a boat trip up the Nile toward the High Aswan Dam to visit Nagaa Suhayl Gharb which is a Nubian Village. Many Nubians who formerly lived on the shores of the Nile River which were flooded when the High Aswan Dam was built have been resettled in Aswan. Their unique lifestyle and architecture can be seen at Nagaa Suhayl Gharb. Photos of Aswan, Nubian Village and Philae temple

 

After five days on the Nile River and the Sonesta St George we took a plane back to Cairo and the Cairo Marriott. We had a free afternoon so spent some time exploring Gezira Island around the hotel.

 

On our final day in Cairo we visited the Saladin Citadel, the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Khan El Khalili Bazaar and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Museum of Cairo.

 

The Saladin Citadel of Cairo was started by Saladin in 1176 as a fortification against the Crusaders and was used by Egypt’s rulers for 700 years. In addition to the military fortress the complex includes three mosques and several palaces. The largest of the mosques is The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha.

 

Khan El Khalili BazaarKhan El Khalili Bazaar is a major souk in the historic centre of Cairo. The market dates back to the 14th century and was originally used by foreign merchants but today is mainly occupied by Egyptian merchants primarily geared toward tourists and selling souvenirs, antiques and jewellery.

Grave Mask of king Amenemope

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Museum of Cairo is home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. One section of the museum contains a large display of items recovered from the tomb of King Tutankhamen’s which is one of the only pharaohs’ tombs not to have been opened and robbed in antiquity. Photos of the Citadel, Bazaar and Museum

 

Cairo is a modern city with everything you would expect to find in any major cosmopolitan area. As you get further away for the larger population area life tends to slow down and is not quite so modern and kind of what makes it such an interesting destination to travel to. Photos of Rural Egypt

 

If you are able, visit Egypt. It has amazing history, friendly and welcoming people, decent infrastructure, interesting food and did I say history?