May 12 and 13, 2017
Here we are in Egypt, our first trip here. We arrived at the port of Safaga (large port but small town of 5000). It is 143 miles from here to Luxor and takes about 4 hours. We opted for the overnight trip. Here’s the port of Safaga and the tugboat pushing us into our dock.
Our guide for the whole trip was Magdy, who is an Egyptologist with bachelors and masters degrees in the subject and also in heiroglyphics – so he was such a wealth of information, our heads could not possibly remember it all.
Egypt is the oldest tourist destination on earth. Ancient Greeks and Romans started the trend and during colonial times, Napoleon and the British looted Egypt’s treasures to fill their national museums. Now people come to visit the monuments of the Nile Valley as well as going to see the pyramids and the fantastic coral reefs and fish found in the Red Sea.
Luxor is part of ancient Thebes, which was called “The Hundred-Gated City” by the Greek historian, Homer, because of its large gates. As the city grew over the years, the Arabs renamed it Luxor or “City of Palaces”.
Our trip to Luxor was so interesting. For about half the trip, we traveled through desert, with big stone hills and really no people at all. We did see the group of houses in the third picture and Magdy told us it is Army housing. 85% of the land in Egypt belongs to the army. 98% of the Egyptian population lives in the Nile Valley which constitutes less than 4% of the land. In fact, they say that without the Nile, Egypt as we know it would not exist.
After the dry almost uninhabited desert, all of a sudden we were in fertile farming areas, with lots of donkey carts and fruit markets to be seen along the roadsides. And, there were more speed bumps than I have ever seen – sometimes it was almost every mile. At the intersections, there were armed police, sometimes in uniform and sometimes in traditional dress. They had AK 47s and Magdy warned us never to take pictures of them. Often there was a brick enclosure or two, one high and one at road level, and armed guards were in them.
We got to Luxor at lunchtime and had a wonderful lunch at the Steinberger Nile Palace – Nubian restaurant, right on the Nile River. What a beautiful place!
After lunch we went to the Karnak Temple. First let me say that the entire visit was mind blowing in that these places are over 5000 years old. 75% of Egypt’s artifacts are in Luxor which also has 40% of the artifacts in the world. Magdy says that excavation identifies new discoveries every week and only 30% have been unearthed. One farmer was discovered planting eggplant to cover his digging – which is strictly controlled by the government. I wonder what his punishment was?
The Karnak Temple is the most important sanctuary of ancient Egypt and the heart of the cult of the god Amon. Each pharaoh added his own contribution to the temple over the ensuing 2000 years. There is a pair of huge statues of Ramses II and then a great hall, the largest hall of any temple in the world. It spans 50,000 square feet and contains 134 enormous columns, some of which still have traces of the brilliant paint that originally covered them. At the south end of the temple is the sacred lake where ceremonial boats took part in the worship of Amon.
Magdy told us that there are 1500 gods in Egyptian history!
It was 107 degrees out, so we made sure we had lots of water to drink.
Next we went to the Luxor Temple. It is on the east bank of the Nile River. It was originally built during the reign of Amenophis the III and then expanded by Ramses II who added a statue of himself and two obelisks. Today only one of the statues remains; Mohamed Ali gave the other one to Louis Philippe in 1831 and it is displayed at the Concorde in Paris. After Alexander the Great rebuilt the sanctuary in the 4th century BC, the Romans subsequently rebuilt portions of it and then the Muslims built a mosque in the temple.
After a hot day, we went to our hotel, the Sonesta St. George, to check in and then some of us went shopping!
We then went back to the Karnak Temple for the sound and light show at 7 PM. It was really well done and it repeated some of the history we had heard from Magdy.
We returned to the hotel for a late dinner overlooking the Nile before our early start on Saturday. Here is our table and friends April and Robert.
It is hidden in the foothills of the Gourma Mountains. There are 69 tombs that have been discovered there and it is estimated that 6 more will be found. The king’s formal names and titles are inscribed in their tombs along with their images and statues. Between the 18th and 20th dynasties, the kings abandoned the Memphis area and built their tombs here in Thebes. We were not allowed to bring cameras, we heard stories of the kinds of fines people get if they take photos, but later we heard that if you pay the guards you might be able to take some. We didn’t try, but here are some pictures from postcards of what you see in these magnificent tombs. I think Norm is right that if they allowed pictures no one would ever get through in a timely way – there is so much in there. Magdy did a lot of explanation so we could understand what we were seeing.
This is King Tut’s tomb.
These are some pictures of the Ramses VI tomb, one of the most spectacular. Again, hard to believe that these images have not been enhanced over the years.
We visited the Hatshepsut Temple whose unique design features a series of grand terraces extending up a cliff with rows of square granite columns blending in with the mountainside. And the photo with the holes that is first – those holes are tombs.
We visited the Medinet Habu. This was built by Ramses III and is among the most interesting of the funerary chapels on the West Bank. The reliefs on both sides of the doorway depict battle scenes of Ramses III. Some of the carvings are deep enough to put your hand inside.
We had a last photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon. It was originally built as a mortuary temple in Thebes and guarded by two gigantic statues on the outer gates. All that remains today are the 75 foot high, 1000 ton statues of Amenhotep III. Though damaged by nature and ancient tourists, the statues are still impressive.
We went back to the hotel for lunch and checkout, and then made our way back on the 4 hour trip to Safaga port. This guard at the hotel allowed me to have a picture with him and our bus driver.
We had a lot of vendors trying to sell us things – tourism in Egypt is down 90% since all of the political, financial and social problems that have occurred. We saw grand houses and some that are just built of woven reeds.. again, the contrast is striking.
We had wonderful meals and no one got sick. We got back to the ship by 6 – luckily because no tourists are allowed on the road after 6, and believe me those guys with guns check. They write everything down and will stop you if you make the next checkpoint too soon, and arrest you for speeding.
Our dinner in the terrace was an African buffet and chef Farid outdid himself again.