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