Egypt – Cairo and Luxor

Egypt – Cairo and Luxor

Part 2, Luxor

We arrived in Luxor from Cairo late at night not expecting to see much of interest in the dark. We were wrong. Driving along the Corniche, alongside the River Nile we could see a lot of activity on the river, which was well lit along the shoreline. Cruise boats of all sizes, mostly lit up, were moored alongside the river bank, side by side. A lot of cruise boats – some looking quite derelict. Felucca’s were bobbing about on their moorings, and small brightly decorated passenger boats were chugging in and out across the river.

The Temple of Luxor loomed up out of the darkness on our left alongside the Winter Palace Hotel, where we were staying. The Winter Palace, a historical British Colonial era hotel looked magnificent. A gin and tonic, on my balcony overlooking the Nile was called for. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the balcony door open, so I sipped my gin and tonic, looking at the activity on the river through the window, and wallowing in the luxury of my very grand room.

The early morning view from my room may not have had the same impact as pulling the curtains aside and seeing a pyramid, but it was nevertheless spectacular. Watching the hot air balloons rising up from the West Bank was magical. Viewing the mountains across the Nile changing colour as the sun rose reminded me of my hot air balloon experience on my previous visit to Luxor. Hot Air Ballooning – Nile Valley

There have been many occasions on which I have contemplated that perhaps I should have studied archaeology. Visiting the tombs, temples and monuments of the Theban Necropolis, I also thought that studying archaeology and becoming and Egyptologist would have been a perfect way to spend my life.

Driving past the Colossi of Memnom, the entrance to Amenhotep III mortuary temple, on our way to the Valley of the Kings, I noticed that excavations had uncovered more of the mortuary temple than had been apparent on my last visit.

The landscape around the Theban Necropolis is that of a desert. A perfect setting for Tombs and ruins of Mortuary temples and palaces. We had several tombs to visit in the Valley of the Kings, and those of Nefertari and Titi in the Valley of the Queens.

Each of these tombs could be the subject of their own story, describing the art and history depicted. Egyptologists, Archaeologists and Historians, among others, have written more erudite accounts than I could ever hope to do. What follows is a mainly pictorial record of our visit to the Valley of the Kings and Valley of Queens.

Rameses IV, 20th Dynasty (1153-1147BC) was the first tomb we visited. Ramses IV Mummy is in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, having recently been moved from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. See Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor part 1 to read about our visit to NMEC.

The following images are from the Tombs of Rameses IX 19th Dynasty, 1126-1108BC and Rameses I, 19th Dynasty, 1295-1294BC.

The tomb of Nefertari (19th Dynasty), in the Valley of the Queens is reputed to be the most spectacular of all Tombs in Egypt. Nefertari was the chief Queen of Rameses II. Nefertari’s Tomb had not been open on my previous visit to Luxor, so I was very happy to discover that it was open when we were visiting. We were very fortunate to have the Tomb almost to ourselves, and although the there is a time limit of 10 minutes to visit the Tomb, we were able to stay longer. The wall paintings were indeed as spectacular as described.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut (New Kingdom – 1473-1458BC, 18th Dynasty) was a woman. So how did this happen? She became Regent for Thutmose III, her stepson as he was a child when he became Pharaoh. Rather than co-rule when he came of age, she ultimately proclaimed herself Pharaoh, and ruled in her own right.

After she died, an effort was made to remove her from history. Her images and titles were erased, and statues of her were destroyed – possibly by Thutmose III, though late in his reign. She was lost to history for around 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the erasers of history, they could not totally obliterate her, and archaeologists and historians ultimately pieced together her history from remaining images and statues. The story varies, but the basic facts remain the same.

Powerful women have frequently been written out of history, as was Hatshepsut, even in modern times. Discoveries by women scientists have been attributed to men and women often pretended to be men to be taken seriously. Hatshepsut had herself portrayed as a male Pharaoh in statues. Did she do this in order to be taken seriously?

Her Mummy is one of the Mummies transported in a grand parade from the Egyptian Museum to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Cairo.

Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahri lies at the foot of a mountain, and appears to have been hewn out of the mountain, although it was not. We approached the Temple along a long causeway, which had once been lined with Sphinxes, and unlikely as it seems in this arid landscape, there were trees and gardens.

The source I used for the dates of Pharaohs is The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Ian Shaw.

What better place to plan one’s own Tomb, and journey into the afterlife than a botanic garden. How fortunate for me that Matty B had chosen the Winter Palace Hotel, in part because it has its very own botanic garden. The garden was started in 1886, and covers some 33,000 square metres. It now contains more than 50 varieties of trees, some of which are over 100 years old. It also has a very magnificent pigeon house. A perfect place to relax at the bar beside the pool. I had planned to have a swim, but after lunch by the pool, indolence overcame me, so I just indulged myself and ordered a glass of wine and watched less indolent people swimming, while enjoying listening to the birds and thinking about my journey to the afterlife.

When you come towards the end of a perfect day, what do you do. Well for us it was a gin and tonic on the terrace of the Winter Palace, overlooking the Nile and watching the sunset.

We visited the Karnak Temple twice, once by day and then for a sound and light show in the evening. Karnak Temple feels like a vast open air museum, and covers about 2sq km. It was built as a cult centre by Seti I (1294-1279BC), dedicated to the god Amun, extended by various Pharaoh’s and completed by Rameses II.

Sphinxes, with the body of a lion and head of a ram, line the entrance to the first Pylon of Karnak Temple. They look very impressive, and when lit up at night are quite lovely.

The site contains sphinxes, temples, obelisks, sanctuaries, columns, pylons, some impressive statues and a lot of tourists.

The great Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun-Ra contains 134 columns, the centre 12 being 20 metres tall with open capitals so large they could hold around 50 people. The columns represent papyrus stalks, and they are topped by very large papyrus flowers. Cleaning of several of the columns was recently completed, which has revealed the engravings and colours in greater detail than I had previously seen.

Three obelisks survive on the site, two erected by Hatshepsut (one of which had been partly destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity, leaving only one third intact, the intact portion having been re-erected in April 2022 in its original position) and one by Thutmose I. Hatshepsut’s obelisk is 30 metres in length, and is said to be the tallest in Egypt. The obelisk of Thutmose I is 21.7 metres in length. Hatshepsut’s re-erected obelisk is 11 metres in length. By day the obelisks are impressive, by night they are magical.

I had been looking forward to the light and sound show at the Temple. On my previous visit to Egypt I had experienced a light show at Luxor Temple, and a sound and light show at Abu Simbel, both of which I enjoyed. The light part at Karnak was spectacular, as was walking through the site lit only by the colourful lights. The sound part not so spectacular. The sacred lake, constructed by Thutmose III, looking back towards the Temple of Amun-Ra was the venue for the show. The magic melted away at the commencement of the sound part. The sound part, with supposedly ancient voices narrating the achievements of some of the great Pharaohs and stories of their gods, was what I would call cheesey. Another critic described the performance as “highly Kitsch”.

I have to confess that we had attended a performance in German, which perhaps sounded more dramatic than the English version, although I doubt it. How beautiful the experience would have been if the sound part was classical music, perhaps Verdi’s Aida. The lights around the lake were however beautiful, and if I concentrated on those visions, I managed to block out the dramatic sound parts.

To banish the cacophony of the sound show, which was still reverberating in my head, I wandered into the hotel garden to relax, and have a quiet drink. The trees and plants in the garden were spectacularly lit up, and also decorated for Christmas.

Luxor Temple is connected to Karnak Temple by a 3km long processional Avenue of the Sphinxes. The Avenue is thought to have been commenced in the New Kingdom (1550-1069BC) possibly by Amenhotep III (1390-1352BC) and not completed until during the Late Period (644-332BC) during the 13th Dynasty by Nectanebo I (380-362BC) (dates quoted are again from The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt). It is believed that the Avenue was built to celebrate the annual Opet Festival, which promoted fertility.

After being covered by sand and silt for centuries, the Avenue was fully reopened in November 2021, with a Grand Parade.

What an incredible feeling it was to walk along this Avenue reflecting on the processions of times past. Parades of the Gods, out of sight inside their sacred boats, feasts, coronations, Pharaohs in their chariots providing entertainment for the commoners, who would have been chanting, clapping and cheering. There were no commoners clapping and cheering us – clearly a procession of 2 tourists is little consequence.

Above left and centre: Sphinxes. Right: At Luxor, looking toward Karnak.

In the absence of commoners cheering and clapping we decided to terminate our procession and turned back towards the Temple of Luxor.

Although Hatshepsut was responsible for a lot of the initial construction in the Luxor Temple most of her buildings were replaced. Amenhotep III constructed parts of what can still be seen today. The Temple was added to over the years, including by Tutankhamun, and completed by Rameses II. The Temple was dedicated to the dieties Amun-Ra, Mut and Khonsu. The facade is very impressive. The Pylon is flanked by two seated statues of Rameses II – each being 14 metres tall. There are four standing statues, also of Rameses II. There was originally two obelisks, but one now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Facade of Luxor Temple.

Left: Seated Statue of Rameses II. Right: Two of the Standing Statues of Rameses.

The first court of the Temple (Peristyle court of Rameses II), is surrounded by 74 papyrus columns, with many standing statues of Rameses II and a large seated statue, with a small statue of Nefertari standing beside him.

The mosque of Abu al-Haggag, constructed during the 13th century, and still in use today is in the eastern corner of the first court, on the site of an earlier Coptic Church. Quite a surreal experience to hear the call to prayer (adaan in Egypt) ringing our across the court.

The court of Ramesses II is exited through the Colonnade of Amenhotep III which is lined by seven pairs of open flower papyrus columns, which leads into the peristyle court of Amenhotep III, with its double rows of papyrus columns on three sides. If that grandeur is not sufficient, that court leads into the hypostyle hall, which has 32 papyrus columns in four rows of eight columns. So many columns, such splendour and so impressive that the pomp and ceremony of the time had a magnificent backdrop. Imagine the procession from Karnak, along the processional avenue of the Sphinxes, entering Luxor Temple. Karnak Temple had its own very impressive columns, but how good would it be to arrive at Luxor Temple and seeing more splendid columns.

Sailing on the Nile in a felucca is the stuff dreams are made of. We planned a late afternoon sail, to round off a magical long weekend in Egypt. That did not happen. We were advised that there was not going to be a breeze that evening, so perhaps we should consider an earlier sail, like now, while there was a breeze. Right then, lets do it. A felucca was hailed (just as I might hail a taxi). Clambering over several moored boats, we managed to fall into the felucca – well I fell, Matty B, jumped. All good. Except there was no breeze. Feluccas were being towed by motor boat across the Nile. We did manage to move a few hundred metres – maybe we had a big fish towing us.

It was still magical, the magic maybe assisted by the felucca operator producing a sheesha. Perhaps our felucca operator had a better offer for a late evening sail.

Another wonderful sunset viewing, followed by one final walk around the garden, and a drink in the bar, ended what had been a perfect long weekend in Egypt. One final view of the Nile from the plane taking us back to London was a bonus.

Part 1 – Cairo can be found at Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Articles about my previous visits to Egypt can be found at Siwa Oasis Egypt., Alexandria – Egypt and Hot Air Ballooning – Nile Valley

Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Egypt 2022 – Cairo and Luxor

Part 1 – Cairo.

A very special long weekend with Matty B.

I fell in love with Egypt some years ago when I spent 3 magical weeks exploring the country “from Alexandria to Abu Simbel” in the company of a very special Egyptologist, who had attended primary school with Adam Ant – Matty B’s older brother.

I was determined to learn more about Egypt, and acquired a large number of books about Egypt, from history to coffee table pictorial publications to novels – modern and historical. Unfortunately I am a bit of a travel tart, so my attention span moved on to Iran, Eastern Turkey, Hittites, Mesopotamia, Caucasia, the Balkan States, Russia and Iceland – to name a few distractions from Egypt.

Nevertheless, a return to Egypt had always been a dream – though diminishing over the years. Imagine my delight and excitement when Matty B proposed a long weekend in Egypt during my visit to London in 2022.

Matty B could only manage four days away from family and work. For me, a return to Egypt was so magical, it didn’t matter . The best plan was to fly to Cairo late on a Thursday evening, stay in Giza overnight to visit the Pyramids in the morning and spend the rest of the day in Cairo, then fly to Luxor that evening. Matty B had booked us rooms at Mena House with a view of the Pyramids. The Pyramids are lit up at night, and I had planned have a glass of wine looking out over the Pyramids on arrival. That did not happen due to our flight from London arriving three hours late.

I woke on Friday morning to Matty B’s message “hello pyramids”. Diving out of bed to open my curtain, I was quite overcome to see a pyramid looming through the early morning haze – seeing the pyramids for the second time was just as overwhelming as seeing them for the first time.

Breakfast, with not only a view of a pyramid, but to see its reflection in the pool, was a very special experience. I almost forgot to eat.

Matty B and I had a lovely morning in Giza, viewing the pyramids, the Sphinx, the desert and the camels. We also saw, from a short distance, the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) – I had been hoping that it would be open when we visited, but the opening date is now sometime in 2023. The building looked most impressive, and when it finally opens it will be worth another visit to Egypt. GEM will house over 4000 artifacts from Tutenkhamun’s Tomb, along with other collections from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other museums around Egypt. As GEM is only 2km from the Pyramids, I would be very happy to stay at Mena House again – this time for longer than one night – visiting GEM and seeing the pyramids .

With only an afternoon to spend in Cairo, we had to make every moment count – and we did.

As we had so little time in Cairo, we had considered that we could not do justice to a museum visit. I had spent many happy hours in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir on my previous trip to Egypt, and been quite overwhelmed by the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world, but we did not have that many hours.

A visit to Egypt without including at least one museum, no matter how little time we had did seem a touch of a sacrifice. We decided that whether or not we could do it justice, we must visit the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, (NMEC) which opened on 3 April 2021. Its collections cover all Egyptian history from prehistoric times to the present day, not just pharaonic time.

The NMEC also contains 20 royal mummies – 18 Kings and 2 Queens dating from the 17th dynasty to the 20th dynasty. The mummies had previously been in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. In April 2021, in a most spectacular performance – the Pharoah’s Golden Parade – the Mummies were transported from the Egyptian Museum to NMEC.

Descending down by way of a sloping walkway into a dark walled dimly lit hall is supposed to give the feeling of entering a tomb. It didn’t feel like that to me, in part due to the cacaphony emanating from the large number of excited happy schoolchildren, enjoying their heritage. They clearly did not see the sign requesting silence in order to show respect to the mummies.

The display and the signage was excellent and informative. The history of each King and Queen was displayed beside their Mummy. There were some CT scans, and exhibits of items considered necessary for life after death. A most impressive display. I am however torn between feeling so privileged to be able to see the Mummies and learn about the Kings and Queens to feeling that the display of the Mummies is a gross intrusion. The Kings and Queens went to a lot of trouble to prepare for their afterlife, and their tombs were sealed up – they would not have suspected that they would be displayed in this manner. Does it matter? It certainly ensures that they are remembered and after all what better afterlife could you have, being seen and remembered by so many people for so long after death.

LED screens on the floors and walls at the entrance to the Royal Mummies tombs give changing displays. There is a moving frieze above which show pictures of the Royal Mummies – seen left and centre below. Photo credit for image on the right Egyptian Museum Collection.

The Main Hall of the NMEC exhibits items which illustrate the evolution of Egyptian civilisation from Predynastic times through Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, Islamic and up to modern day Egypt. In the time available we could do justice to what appeared to be a very comprehensive display of items from each of these periods. contains images from the various civilizations, and a link to Pharoah’s Golden Parade, and is well worth a visit.

Images below: Left Mamluk Minbar from the Cairo Mosque of Abu Bakr bin Mazhar: Centre Islamic door of wood inlaid with ivory: Right Detail from door – the only photos I had time to take in the Main Hall, NMEC.

NMEC contains a lot more than we could see, including an Egyptian Textile Hall. An archaeological site beside NMEC contains a dye house, which dates back to at least AD969-1171.

Naguib Mahfouz is an Egyptian Nobel Prize winning writer, whose work I was introduced to by the special Archaeologist. I have since read a large number of his books, starting with the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) set in the Colonial period from 1917 and following three generations from World War 1 until 1952. On my previous visit to Cairo I shared a shisha at El Fishawy, where Mahfouz was said to be a regular, so I was happy to discover that we were having lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in the Khan el Khalili – dedicated to the writer after he won the Nobel in 1988. He apparently also frequented this cafe.

Entering the Cafe, we were greeted by Tarboosh wearing staff. The Cafe although modern had an exotic feel, with its old Arab style decor. There were photographs of Mahfouz on the walls, some said to be of him writing in the cafe. The experience was so special that I cannot remember what we ate.

I was looking forward to revisiting the Mosque of Muhammad Ali which is situated inside the Saladin Citadel (a medieval Islamic era fortification) on the site of the Mamluk Palaces. The building of the mosque was commenced by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1830 and was completed by Abbas Pasha in 1848 after the death of Muhammad Ali.

The mosque was constructed in the Ottoman style and is somewhat reminiscent of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The central dome is surrounded by four small domes and four semicircular domes. The windows around the dome, the ceiling decoration, the chandeliers and the lighting made for a vision splendid. The mosque has two Minbars – the original made of wood with green decorations, and the other made of marble. The Mihrab is most impressive, being three stories high.

Several bridal parties were being photographed in the open Courtyard. Apparently they come there for photos and celebrations – they actually enter into the marriage contract elsewhere.

The clock tower on the north western side of the courtyard contains a clock which is said to have been presented to Muhammad Ali Pasha by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845-46. In return, the Pasha presented to the King an Obelisk of Ramses II from the Luxor Temple. The Obelisk stands, rather sadly, in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. We were told that that clock had never worked, although there had been some attempts to repair it, none had been successful. There is some dispute around the facts – another story is that the presentation of the clock was not connected to the gift of the Obelisk, which had in fact been given to the King prior to the presentation of the clock. Whatever the truth, the clock doesn’t work, and the Obelisk looks totally out of place in the middle of Paris. I would suggest reverse presentations occur. The Obelisk would look so much more at home in Luxor.

No matter how little time is available, a visit to Cairo would not be complete without a visit to Coptic Cairo. Copts were converted to Christianity when St Mark arrived in Egypt in 62CE. Before Islam, the Coptic Orthodox Church was the dominant religion in Egypt, and we were to visit the Coptic St Virgin Mary’s Church, better known as the Hanging Church, (so called because it was built on the southern gate of the Roman Fortress) first built in 690AD.

Entry to the Church is through a courtyard, the walls of which contain modern mosaics depicting biblical scenes. I love old mosaics, particularly Roman, Greek and Byzantium mosaics, although I enjoy viewing all mosaics, and those in the courtyard were interesting. I have written about mosaics previously on this site – see An Obsession with Mosaics and Mosaics: Villa Romana del Casale – Piazza Armerina, Morgantina, Sicily.

I have always enjoyed Coptic Art, the typical features of which are also apparent in Byzantine art. The icons are superb, and those in the Hanging Church are no exception. people generally full front on with flat faces, round wide eyes set well apart, thick dark eyebrows and often appearing rather out of proportion.

I was keen to visit the Street of the Tentmakers – Sharia Khayamiya, which I had missed on my last visit. Traditionally famous for creating applique panels by hand to decorate tents and pavilions, the artisans now also cater for tourists, creating quilts, cushion covers and wall hangings, still hand made. There are very few artisans creating this work these days, as the demand for tents and pavilions has lessened, however those who still do can be seen hand stitching items in their stores.

The Street of the Tentmakers is one of the last medieval markets in Cairo. I found the architecture as interesting as the art of tentmakers. Overhanging latticed balconies bought to mind the female characters in the Cairo Trilogy – women watching life without being seen. The medieval gate of Bab Zuweila was impressive, as was the lighting of a mosque. The motor bikes, the donkey carts and the sheer mass of humanity in the area was not impressive. We risked life and limb to progress a metre in the area.

Fighting our way through a mass of humanity we finally found our driver. So ended a magical day in Cairo.

If you have enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my posts on my earlier trip to Egypt – visiting Alexandria, the Siwa Oasis and hot air ballooning in Luxor.