16.10.2012 - 20.10.2012 38 °C
Of all the countries we have travelled to this year, Egypt has possibly given us the greatest value from all the travel books, magazines and websites we have pored over for the last decade. The pyramids, the sphinx, the Valley of the Kings and numerous temples have all been included in our nine day tour and whilst some days have challenged us in terms of how much we fit in, others have been bliss with a short tour in the morning and hours of downtime in much-needed air conditioning in the afternoon. In mid-October we are still experiencing days of nearly 40 degrees and surrounded by desert there is little reprieve from any cooling winds.
Where Cairo provided the “big ticket items” of the pyramids and sphinx, our Nile cruise between Aswan and Luxor gave us the temples. We visited a small handful, just eight sites in five days, but there are so many others that you could explore if you wanted to. Experts believe there are still more temples yet to be discovered, so a future trip to Egypt could give you a completely different itinerary pending future excavations.
As the three of us kicked back each evening with a cold drink at sunset, we analysed the days discoveries and debated which temple we liked the most and why. It was contentious, but we managed to rank them in an order that satisfied the three of us. So, in number eight position…..
No. 8 – Hatshepsut temple, Luxor. Built approx. 1550 BC
Our first view of this temple was from the balloon floating above it which was pretty spectacular. Hatshepsut was the only woman pharaoh to ever rule Egypt and she dressed like a man for the entire time she ruled the country. Her stepson was the true heir to the throne, but due to his age when he inherited the kingdom she took it upon herself to rule until he eventually replaced her as a young man.
No. 7 – Kom Ombo temple, Kom Ombo. Built approx. 180 BC
Komombo was a quick stop off the boat as we headed north for Luxor. Literally metres from the dock, we wandered through the unusual double temple that had been built originally for two gods Horus and Sobek. Sobek is often represented with the head of a crocodile - it is believed that worship of crocodiles (in the form of Sobek) would appease them and prevent them from doing harm to people in the area. So of course building a temple for this purpose was only natural (??!!!).
No. 6 – Temple of Isis, Philae Island, Aswan. Built approx. 370 BC
Located on an island in the Nile in Aswan, this structure was actually moved to higher ground around 40 years ago to save it from rising water. It spent approx. 50 years underwater in the Nile after the first dam was built in the early 1900’s and UNESCO and other countries embarked on the project to save the temple by relocating it exactly as they found it. Even the island they placed the temple on was ‘remodelled’ to look more like the shape of the original Philae Island.
To get to this one we took a small motor boat out on to the Nile and got to view it from all angles on approach. It was our first temple and the three of us were in awe….little did we know that the next five days would turn out others that would impress us more.
No. 5 – Karnak Temple, Luxor. Built approx. 1900 – 400 BC
Considered the largest complex of temples in the world, definitely the largest in Egypt, Karnak is high up our list due to the incredible space it occupies. The columns are so wide in here it takes 6 adults to reach around one holding hands and is estimated that 50 adults could comfortably stand on top of one of them.
This complex is unusual too in that it was not completed to honour just one king or god like many others; the entire complex took approx. 1500 years to build and a number of kings added sections to it over this period to honour themselves and various gods.
No. 4 – Valley of the Kings, Luxor.
No cameras were allowed in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings in order to preserve the vivid colour that is still evident inside. The tombs were beautiful, if the Pharoahs really did move on to the afterlife they would have been sad to leave these beautiful holes in the ground. At the moment there are 63 known tombs Identified in the valley but given the last one was only discovered 6 years ago who knows how many more there are still hidden?
The entrance ticket into the valley allows you to visit three temples, and you can pay an additional fee to visit Tut Ank Ahmon’s tomb as well. Only ten tombs are open at any one time to aid preservation of this unbelievable site, and Sameh our guide gave us the rundown on which three we should spend our time in.
No. 3 - Edfu Temple, Edfu. Built approx. 237-57 BC
Edfu was a highlight situated between Aswan and Luxor, again just a short distance from where the boat docked (remember our mate on the horse and carriage from a previous blog?!). This is said to be the best preserved temple in Egypt thanks to the fact that it spent many centuries buried under sand. When it was discovered in mid-19th century houses had to be removed from above it so excavation could take place.
It is the second largest temple in Egypt after Karnak and the stories depicted on the temple walls here were fascinating. It was also the first temple we came across that had a fair bit of colour still intact. It can be easy to forget that the temples used to be vividly painted back in the day. Now we see them without colour due to the ravages of people and time.
No. 2 – Luxor Temple, Luxor. Built approx. 1400 BC
With our Luxor Temple visit on the last day of tour, we really felt we had saved one of the best until last. This one had it all - sections of colour still visible, an amazing obelisk at the entrance (its sister sitting in Place de la Concord in Paris), tall statues carved from single blocks of granite and evidence of Islam and Christianity influences that had been introduced over the centuries.
To top it all off opposite the entrance is the Avenue of the Sphinx – a three kilometre stretch of road that leads from Luxor Temple to Karnak Temple and lined with sphinx statues all the way. Most fascinating is that most of it is yet to be excavated! A small section has been restored, but funding for the excavation is at a standstill right now. It would be unbelievable to have seen this in its day.
No. 1 – Temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari, Abu Simbel. Built approx. 1260 BC
Abu Simbel was painful to get to with our 2.30am wakeup call and police convoy, but it was magnificent. You actually can’t see it until you are standing right in front of it as you approach it from behind. Ramses II thought pretty highly of himself and the temple he had constructed was testament to this. It is so grand and is instantly recognisable as it looms before you.
Ramses fancied himself as a god and the way the temple was built allows for the sun to come in through the front entrance and light up a statue of him in the rear chamber of the temple. This happens twice a year and is broadcast on large screens outside the temple for the large crowds who come to witness it. Unbelievable to consider how they managed to construct the temple in this way over 3000 years ago and with none of the technology we would use today.
The Little Temple beside it is dedicated to his “most favourite wife” Nefertari and if you had seen this one on its own it would blow you away with the huge statues and detail inside, but it is dwarfed by Ramses beside it. Like Philae temple, these two were also moved to higher ground to save them from the rising waters of the dam. If you had not been aware of this fact you could barely have known – even the mountain that they appear to be carved out of is artificial.
So that was our temple trail in a nutshell! We learned so many things along the way, and the benefit of having someone with you all the time is priceless – Sameh really ensured we understood what we were looking at and despite the heat and crowds (and his hustling us in Arabic with his “yalla yalla”!!) he made every day a great day out. If we ever return to this part of the world we will definitely be calling on Sameh and would recommend to anyone coming here that you do the same.