Egypt has put up with a lot since it came into being in 3150 BC. Having originally been ruled by the Pharaohs, it was later to become Persian. Then Alexander the Great came and conquered Egypt and so its Greek period started. Then along came the Romans! This chequered history has of course provided Upper Egypt with a wealth of history, traces of which today litter the landscape. I chose to visit Luxor in order to visit many of the sites which have earned this region the title ‘the world’s greatest open air museum’.
I’ve seen temples in most of the countries I’ve visited. But the temples I saw in and around Luxor took me to another level! It’s hard if not impossible to appreciate the fact that these enormous sanctuaries were constructed not just centuries ago, but thousands of years ago. Luxor temple for instance was founded in 1400BC.
I’m not going to bore you with loads of historical facts and dates. To be honest I had trouble in getting all the dates and names into my head, so whenever a guide looked at me whilst spouting facts plentiful, I just stroked my chin, nodded my head and tried to look intelligent! Take a wander around Luxor Temple with me, and whilst you do so imagine if you will that until the late 19th century most of what we see was completely buried beneath the ground.
There is no doubt that what has so far been uncovered is but the tip of the iceberg, and excavation is still going on today as it will into the far future. There was originally an avenue of sphinxes all the way from Luxor Temple to the Karnack temples some three miles away. Both ends have now been excavated and work is ongoing to eventually uncover the whole road.
The Karnack temple complex is the most visited site in all of Egypt. It was started by Ramses 11 who reigned from 1391–1351 BC. All of the temples in Egypt were originally brightly painted. It would be wrong of course to use modern paints today to renovate the pillars and walls. Whilst they have some idea of how the paints were made they’ve not yet discovered the secret ingredient that prevents the colours from washing away when it rains for that single day every year! Here endeth the facts! Come for a stroll.
Queen Hatshepsut Temple butts the mountainside was commissioned by Augustus in 15BC. Climbing all those steps in the midday sun was sheer torture!
Half way through my holiday I decided to set off down (or was it up?) the Nile. The River Nile is the world’s longest river measuring over 4000 miles. I was surprised to learn that only about 20% of the river actually flows through Egypt. The country is almost entirely dessert, but alongside the Nile there are wide fertile banks on which crops grow and cattle graze. I travelled in a floating palace known as the M/S Orchid. It was built to carry two hundred passengers. On the day I went I was just one of thirty.
It chugged along past village after village whist feeding me scrumptious food and quenching my thirst with flavoursome beers. We even had tea and cakes at sundown! It was a long day from the misty moisty morning until sunset. My arm ached from waving at the ebullient children who rushed to the river bank as we passed. Hardly surprising that the God of the River Nile is known as Hapi. There was a swimming pool on board which was filled with six or so screaming splashing kids for the whole 12 hours. I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been happier playing with youngsters at the riverside, but I resisted the urge to get them to walk the plank.
Needless to say we managed a quick stop off to visit another temple (surprise surprise) This time it was a Greek one, Dendur temple, and it had a roof – that’s unusual I‘m told.
The Valley of the Kings which dates back to 16-11BC was the highlight of my trip. It was here that the tomb of Tutankhamen was found having been there for some 4000 years. His tomb is in fact quite modest compared to the other 63 so far discovered. This was the final resting place of the Kings of Egypt; a valley in the mountains on the west bank of the river Nile. Sadly cameras are forbidden (They claim that the flashes would harm the paint – mmmm!) I also so visited the Valley of the Queens which as its name implies is the burial site of the wives of the Kings. Again, photography not allowed!
I have to say that I’m not one for lounging around the pool. It bores me. Whilst my fellow visitors relaxed I went a-wandering! The smells, the sounds and the sights I experienced down town will remain with me forever. From the donkey carts to the meat stalls; the shoemakers to the vegetable sellers. Flags strung across streets and brightly coloured washing hanging from balconies. And of course the heat – it reached 45 degrees every day, that’s 115 degrees in old money!
I was of course in the wrong part of Egypt for the pyramids. I may go there one day, I don’t know. My abiding image of them is a picture I saw recently which showed a branch of McDonald’s alongside one of those great monuments! I can just imagine the menu – Pharaoh Burger and McRamses fries and Tutankhabonated Cola!
Thanks for joining me on my trip. I can only hope it has inspired you to go there too. As I write this the sun is going down in my little corner of England. Minutes before I left the hotel for the airport I leant on wall beside the swimming pool and took a picture of the very same sun setting across the Nile.