Thursday morning we had a leisurely morning and breakfast at the guest house. We were all packed up and took the ferry back to Aswan after checking out. Abdullah was there waiting for us and for two other couples. Turned out he was our Egyptologist. The other couples finally showed and we all piled into a mini van to be taken to the dahabiya
along the way:
What is a dahabiya? – it’s a shallow-bottomed, barge like vessel with two or more sails – reminiscent of the boats used in Cleopatra’s time only her boats were gilded in gold! They have no engine and rely on wind power It is an extremely quiet way of cruising the Nile and offers the bonus of very few passengers for a more intimate experience.
They took us north of Aswan along the Nile
We stopped at the side of the road near the big bridge and walked to the boat moored on shore – this was the path – WTH!:
We were greeted with ice cold hibiscus tea and all our luggage was brought on board for us. As we got on first, we got to choose which suite we wanted – there were two.
The dahabiya, Nora, is a 45 m / 148 ‘ long and 7.5 m / 25′ wide. It can take up to 15 passengers with a crew of ten. It has four cabins and two panoramic terrace suites situated at the back. On the lower deck where the rooms are located is also a formal dining room (if the upper deck cannot be used due to weather) and a small salon. All accommodation is comfy and generous in size; the boat is air conditioned, has complimentary Wi-Fi on the upper deck and unbeknownst to us when we booked, only has power from a generator (as the boat has no motor) in the mornings and the evenings till ten.
The rooms all have French windows (means shutters and screens that slide in and out), are spacious and elegantly designed; bathrooms have tubs with showers and are quite large. The two suites at the back have large private balconies with comfy curved couch seating.
Upper deck area:
Our room, terrace and bathroom:
There was a crew of 8 and only eleven passengers on board:
- A young couple from Austria: Sebastian and Vanessa
- A young British couple: Zara and David
- A Swiss/Australian couple: Scott and Sibylle with their two teenaged children and a family friend
After lunch at noon, we were taken to do a tour of Kom Ombo Temple (aka as “the House of Crocodiles”).
This temple is dedicated to two gods: right side for Sobek – the crocodile god and the left side for Horus – the falcon god. Each side has its own entrance, halls and inner sanctuary. Construction is believed to have begun in 205-180 BC and competed between 80 – 51 BC. Evidence has also been found of a temple being at this location as early as 1550 BC. Like many temples in Egypt they had been used by people over the centuries with some damage but a great deal of restoration has taken place.
In the pilon of the temple you can still see where openings were made for artillery:
Abdullah filled us in on so much history and was a clear and concise speaker and we learned so much.
Before leaving the site, we visited the Crocodile Museum as well. Check out the mummified crocs:
Upon returning we were given fresh juice and tea and biscuits were served shortly afterward.
As we had time before dark, the crew raised the sail for short time.
Dinner was then served at seven. As half the passengers were vegetarian, there were plenty of food options each night and we always had soup to start and some type of dessert to finish.
That night we had a full moon.
Friday, after a lovely quiet night and breakfast at 8:30 we visited the rock quarries of Gebel El-Silsila, tombs and Temple of Horemheb right on the shore by us. The tombs were not pharaohs but of nobles.
During the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptians switched from limestone blocks to sandstone. These quarries are where many large stone blocks were used to build temples far and wide including Kom Ombo which we saw yesterday and the two large ones in Luxor (which we will see next week).
Various “brands” were scratched onto the blocks which indicated which “group” had cut it.
We sailed peacefully later in the morning, enjoying our balcony. After lunch we stopped at Edfu and visited the Temple of Horus and Hathor at Edfu. As the temple was over a kilometre from the docking area, we all rode in horse and buggies to get there.
This temple was built in 237 to 57 BC and contains much information about beliefs at the time with many important scenes and inscriptions about the aged old conflict between Horus (god of kingship and the sky) and Seth (god of the desert, storms and violence).
We sailed a little further and moored next to a farm.
Abdullah took us for a short walk on shore to stretch our legs.
We enjoyed sunset alone on our balcony with a beer.
After dinner the crew treated us to a little music and dancing in which we all joined in.
Saturday after breakfast we sailed to visit the tombs of El Kab. We disembarked and had to walk about a kilometre through what was known to be an old fort – much of the brick walls are still standing.
Here you find tombs from the 18th Dynasty (1550 – 1295 BC) as well as temples dating back to 3100-2686 BC! There was also once a Coptic monastery on these grounds.
At tea time, Abdullah asked us for feedback about our cruise and provided us with envelopes for tips for him and the crew. We were asked to turn them in by five.
We sailed on to Esna where we were taken on about a half hour walk in town.
At this point Abdullah left us to return home to Aswan and the rest of us had a final dinner onboard.
On Sunday, our last day we had breakfast at 8:30 and then were taken by mini bus into Luxor; Most people were staying on the east bank and we were on the west so about 20 minutes before Luxor we stopped and we left the bus to board a private car to our hotel which was right on the Nile.
We have to say this little cruise was amazing and exceeded expectations and we wished it had been maybe one day longer.
As we cruised north, the sails were not used a lot, hence the tugboat but there are cruises that go south and are supposed to use the sails but we have to say every dahabiya we saw going south was also being pulled…..
We arrived at the Nile Castle guest house in Luxor about ten in the morning.
Luxor is a modern city which includes the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes the great capital of Upper Egypt during the New Kingdom. The name Luxor derives from the Arabic word for “castle” or “palace”. It is among the oldest inhabited cities in the world. The city later attracted peoples such as the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, and more. A Hittite prince from Anatolia even came to marry with the widow of Tutankhamun, Ankhesenamun. The political and military importance of the city, however, faded during the Late Period, with Thebes being replaced as political capital by several cities in Northern Egypt, such as Bubastis, Sais and finally Alexandria.
However, as the city of the god Amun-Ra, Thebes remained the religious capital of Egypt until the Greek period. The main god of the city was Amun, who was worshipped together with his wife, the Goddess Mut, and their son Khonsu, the God of the moon. With the rise of Thebes as the foremost city of Egypt, the local god Amun rose in importance as well and became linked to the sun god Ra, thus creating the new ‘king of gods’ Amun-Ra. His great temple at Karnak, just north of Thebes, was the most important temple of Egypt right until the end of antiquity.
Later, the city was attacked by the Assyrian and the city of Thebes was in ruins and fell in significance. However, Alexander the Great did arrive at the temple of Amun, where the statue of the god was transferred from Karnak during the Opet Festival, the great religious feast. Thebes remained a site of spirituality up to the Christian era, and attracted numerous Christian monks of the Roman Empire who established monasteries amidst several ancient monuments including the temple of Hatshepsut.
Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open-air museum”, as the ruins of the Egyptian temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. Immediately opposite, across the River Nile, lie the monuments, temples and tombs of the west bank Theban Necropolis, which includes the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. Thousands of tourists from all around the world arrive annually to visit Luxor’s monuments, contributing greatly to the economy of the modern city.
We were taken upstairs to their rooftop for a drink to see the view across the Nile. The guest house is located right on the street along the river with an unobstructed view.
Our room was one floor below with a balcony view of Nile as well.
We arranged with the hotel manager a felucca ride for sunset and then private driver for next day to take us to the Valley of Kings area. Our room was quite large with a living room area off the balcony and a large bedroom with an ensuite.
We got checked in and then took a motor boat across the Nile to take a walk to Karnak about 3km away.
The Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak ,which was originally derived comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, pylons, chapels, and other buildings. Construction at the complex began during the Middle Kingdom (around 2000–1700 BCE) and continued into the Ptolemaic Kingdom(305–30 BCE), although most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom. The area around Karnak was known as “The Most Selected of Places” and the main place of worship of the god Amun as its head. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes, and in 1979 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with the rest of the city. The Karnak complex gives its name to the nearby, and partly surrounded, modern village of El-Karnak, 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) north of Luxor.
The complex is a vast open site and includes the Karnak Open Air Museum. It is believed to be the second most visited historical site in Egypt after Giza. It consists of four main parts, of which only the largest is currently open to the general public. One of these closed parts, The Precinct of Mut is very ancient, being dedicated to an Earth and creation deity, but not yet restored. The original temple was destroyed and partially restored by Hatshepsut, although another pharaoh built around it in order to change the focus or orientation of the sacred area. Many portions of it may have been carried away for use in other buildings.
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued into Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming. The deities represented range from some of the earliest worshipped to those worshipped much later in the history of the Ancient Egyptian culture. Although destroyed, it also contained an early temple built by Amenhotep IV, the pharaoh who later would celebrate a near monotheistic religion he established that prompted him to move his court and religious center away from Thebes. It also contains evidence of adaptations, where the buildings of the ancient Egyptians were used by later cultures for their own religious purposes.
The complex is HUGE and becomes a little overwhelming (and at times there were too many people around us to feel comfortable) but it was a lovely day and we enjoyed it for about 90 minutes.
On our way back into town we stopped for lunch at Roof Café on Jewel Nile Hotel. It was slow service but nice view while we waited and then ate.
We walked back into the city and then took a horse and buggy to Luxor Temple arriving 30 minutes before it closed. Have to admit we are getting somewhat “templed” out.
Along the ride we saw:
At one time back in the day, this temple was connected to Luxor Temple by an “Avenue of Sphinxes” of which we saw a part of it when we visited Luxor Temple later this afternoon.
The Avenue, which went in a straight line for about 2,700m / 8,900’ between the Luxor Temple and the Karnak area was lined with human-headed sphinxes; in ancient times it is probable that these replaced earlier sphinxes which may have had different heads. Six barque shrines, serving as way stations for the barques of the gods during festival processions, were set up on the avenue between the Karnak and Luxor Temple. Along the avenue the stations were set up for ceremonies such as the Feast of Opet which held significance to temple. Each station had a purpose, for example the fourth station was the station of Kamare, which cooled the oar of Amun. The Fifth station of Kamare was the station which received the beauty of Amun. Lastly the Sixth Station of Kamare was a shrine for Amun, Holy of Steps.
Not far from Karnak, the Temple of Luxor looms large as a reminder that Ancient Egypt is ever-present. Standing in front of the Temple of Luxor, looking past the two seated statues of Ramses II that flank the entrance, we couldn’t help but realize how close we were to both the modern city of Luxor (just a few hundred yards on one side) and Egypt’s lifeblood, the Nile (just a few hundred yards on the other side).
The Temple of Luxor is not of the same magnitude of Karnak; Karnak is much older and was impacted by many pharaohs, whereas Luxor reflects just a few of Ancient Egypt’s leaders. Amenhotep III began construction on the Temple of Luxor, and Tutankhamen, Horemheb, and Ramses II all contributed to it development. Where Luxor flourishes is in its preservation. Karnak struggled with so many kings and queens erasing and rewriting history, and some portions of the temple complex look like a construction site. The Temple of Luxor is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the world, and much of it still exists as it did centuries ago. Unlike the other temples in Thebes, Luxor temple is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death. Instead, Luxor temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually (as in the case of Alexander the Great, who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern Cairo).
Along with the other archeological sites in Thebes, the Luxor Temple was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
The Luxor Temple was built with sandstone from the Gebel el-Silsila area which we visited on our cruise. This sandstone is referred to as Nubian sandstone
Like other Egyptian structures, a common technique used was symbolism, or illusionism. Athe Luxor Temple, the two obelisks (the smaller one closer to the west is now at the Place de la Concorde in Paris) flanking the entrance were not the same height, but they created the illusion that they were. With the layout of the temple they appear to be of equal height, but using illusionism, it enhances the relative distances hence making them look the same size to the wall behind it. Symbolically, it is a visual and spatial effect to emphasize the heights and distance from the wall, enhancing the already existing pathway.
We do have to admit we are getting somewhat “templed” out.
We returned to the guest house to learn that the wind was not strong enough for our felucca ride so we’ll get a chance to maybe try again tomorrow.
Next morning after breakfast (which was served late again despite us telling them we wanted it at 7:30 in order to meet out driver at 8. There are many archeological sites on the west bank of the Nile side of Luxor; far too many to choose from. While on our cruise, our guide, Abdullah, recommended a few of what he considered the “must sees” which was great as we only had two full days in Luxor. Our driver, Iman took us to see these sites after stopping at the main ticket office to purchase entrance to the sites we wanted to visit.
First, the Colossi of Memnon – These are twin statues of Amenhotep III that have stood here since 1350 BCE and are located at the entrance to what was once his temple and believed to have been the largest temple in Thebes. The temple was built on the banks of the Nile River, which in time eroded and eventually collapsed the structure. The Colossi of Memnon still rise 60 feet high, and even with nothing to guard they are impressive in their enormity. A legend that has lost some popularity says one of the Memnon would “sing” around dawn each day, making a sound described as the string of a lyre breaking or a whistle. The sound has not been reliably heard in centuries, but it was said that those who heard it would be given good luck. We didn’t hear the sound when we visited (long after dawn), but we both felt lucky we had the chance to stand next to them and admire some of the tallest statues we have ever seen.
They were well known to ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as early modern travelers and Egyptologists. The statues also contain 107 Roman-era inscriptions in Greek and Latin, dating back to between 20-250CE.
Second was: a number of tomb-areas on the West Bank which is known collectively as the Tombs of the Nobles. There are more than 400 tombs located here and they continue to uncover more. We visited only two on Abdullah’s recommendation. Both were very colourful with a few rooms each to wander through.
Rekhmire’s tomb was first; he was an Egyptian vizier – he is appointed by the Pharaoh and helps to run the country.
Sennefer’ tomb is also known as the “The Tomb of Vines” which you can understand from the photos below. Sennefer was a noble and mayor of Thebes.
On our way to third stop to which we walked, we saw two large statues aka colossi of Amenhotep like the other’s but these statues had him sculpted in standing positions. They are located at the other end of what would have been the temple and are in the process of also being restored.
Third stop was Merenptah which was a huge disappointment because not only was the museum closed, so was the storage room of statues which were supposed to be worth seeing. There are little of the actual above ground structures left here.
We had Iman drive us back to the main ticket office and tried with his translating help, to get our money back for this site; we’d actually met a few other tourists at the site that were also annoyed at the closures. Unfortunately, even with Iman’s help, we were unsuccessful. It wasn’t a large amount of money for that ticket, but it was the principle of the matter in that we should have been told that the best parts were currently not open.
Fourth stop on our tour was the Medient Habu Temple which is associated with the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III.
The temple, some 150 m (490 ft) long, is of orthodox design. It is quite well preserved and surrounded by a massive mudbrick enclosure, which may have been fortified. Just inside the enclosure, to the south, are three chapels. The first pylon leads into an open courtyard, lined with colossal statues of Ramesses III as Osiris on one side, and uncarved columns on the other. The second pylon leads into a peristyle hall, again featuring columns of Ramses III.
In Coptic times, there was a church inside the temple structure, but it has since been removed. Some of the carvings in the main wall of the temple have been altered by Coptic carvings.
The final stop of the day was to the Valley of Kings.
There is also a Valley of Queens nearby but by this point we have seen plenty today and Abdullah felt that seeing three tombs here would be a good taste of both valleys, the latter of which is of course, smaller than the one of the Kings. After paying for our tickets which includes entry into certain tombs (not all tombs are open to the public and even of those that are open, not all of those are open at all times – some cost an extra entrance fee for like Tutankhamen’s).
We took an electric vehicle to the main entry into the valley.
The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, rock-cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom.
The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis.
With the 2005 discovery of a new chamber and the 2008 discovery of two further tomb entrances, the valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers ranging in size. It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, as well as a number of privileged nobles. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary practices of the period. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs.
Since the 1920s, the valley has been famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, 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.
The usual tomb plan consisted of a long inclined rock-cut corridor, descending through one or more halls (possibly mirroring the descending path of the sun god into the underworld) to the burial chamber. In the earlier tombs, the corridors turn 90 degrees at least once and the earliest ones had cartouche-shaped burial chambers. This layout is known as “Bent Axis”. After the burial the upper corridors were meant to be filled with rubble and the entrance to the tomb hidden. Later on the layout gradually straightened, with an intermediate “Jogged Axis”, to the generally “Straight Axis” of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasty tombs.
So once again based on the recommendation we were given we visited three (we’d been given four or five names, but he knew that the ticket included three and all might not be open).
In all cases you enter via a gate, show your ticket which gets punched and then walk down a narrow sloping access which has walls covered in coloured pictures and hieroglyphics.
This was the only one of the three where we could visit where the sarcophagus was available to view.
By early afternoon we had “brain overload” and had Iman drive us back to our hotel. Enroute we took this video passing by the restoration of the large temple:
We enjoyed pizza and beer on the river bank for a late lunch.
And spent some time speaking to some Brits seated near us; we then opted not to do a felucca ride today as again wind was not strong although it was stronger than yesterday.
We chilled in our room after happy hour on the balcony and hit the hay early as we had an early flight the next day.