Journey into Ancient Egypt, Part 1: Luxor


One of the more popular ways to travel in Egypt is to take a four-day or five-day cruise from Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor. We embarked in Luxor, where we were able to visit the Karnak Temple and Luxor temple, Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut Temple, the Colossi of Memnon, and visit more temples along the way such as Edfu or Horus Temple, Kom Ombo until we reached Aswan. In Aswan, we visited the Philae Temple, the High Dam, and the Granite Quarries. I think it’s safe to say that most cruises have pretty much set itinerary because our boat was docked parallel to six other boats in the same port at one time. So, we had to walk through 6 different lobbies to get to our boat.

Glad that I took the Luxor to Aswan route for it was in Luxor that I saw the brightest and the most beautiful sunrise. The sunrise was a great introduction to the story of Egypt and the sites I was about to see - from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Nile – a real journey into ancient Egypt.



Karnak Temple

Our first day was long. We visited the Karnak Temple in the East Bank before embarkation. Known to ancient Egyptians as Ipet-isu (most select of places), Karnak was built over 2,000 years and dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. It is the largest religious building ever made and covers about 200 acres or as the guide would say, 1/6 of all the temples in the world combined. It’s one the most visited site in Egypt, second only to the Pyramids of Giza. Needless to say, it was crowded and hard to take photos without the people. Passing through a row of Sphinx, we entered the gate to the Hypostyle Hall, said to be the largest room of any religious building in the world, covering 54,000 square feet and featuring 134 columns. So, we spent a great deal of time listening to our guide’s narration about the different columns, carvings, and hieroglyphics. There was the main sanctuary and smaller temples and a man-made lake said to be a sacred lake where the sacred barges of the Theban triad once floated on during the annual Opet festival.  

Luxor Temple

We toured the Luxor Temple late in the afternoon, so the lighting was perfect for taking pictures. The temple was built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). An obelisk and six statues of Ramses (3 original) stood at the first pylon. Behind the gate was a courtyard where we saw the remnants of the Christian church and the minaret. We learned that the temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship right to the present day. During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was converted into a Christian church, and the remains of another Coptic church can still be seen. For thousands of years, the temple was buried beneath the streets and houses of Luxor. Eventually, the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built over it. The mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and became an integral part of the site today. The newly uncovered Avenue of the Sphinx was across the Luxor Temple gate.

Avenue of the Sphinx

I walked towards the enclosed colonnade of seven pairs of 52-foot high open-flower papyrus columns, said to be the original entrance of the temple before the building works by Rameses II.  

The Court led into a Hypostyle Hall, which has thirty-two columns. At the rear of the hall are four small rooms and an antechamber leading to the birth room, the chapel of Alexander the Great, and the sanctuary. 

Valley of the Kings 

The second day was longer and even more incredible. We headed to the West Bank of the Nile to visit the Valley of the Kings. Getting off the boat just after sunrise was perfect. The scenery of a lush valley, sand-colored hills, the balloons over the Nile and the pinkish shade from the sunrise reflection was gorgeous. 

The Valley of the Kings was the main burial place of the Egyptian New Kingdom (18th – 20th Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) royalty. We took the tram and headed towards the pyramid-shaped mountain. It was believed that the valley was chosen as the burial place of the royals because of the pyramid-shaped mountain.



Almost all of the tombs were looted or robbed of the tomb furnishings or the most precious “heart of scarab”, so what the visitors see today are the decorations or paintings that depict scenes from Egyptian mythology, their beliefs, and funerary rituals. The rock-cut tombs are numbered KV1-KV63 with the layout posted before the entrance. 

KV2, the tomb of Rameses IV,  was the first tomb along the center of the valley. It had a long corridor and the most extensive decorations from walls to ceiling, predominantly texts with scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’, the “Book of the Gates”, and the “Book of the Caverns”. 



At the end of the corridor was a chamber containing Ramses IV sarcophagus. So I highly recommend not to miss KV2 if you’re visiting. Check before visiting though because not all 63 tombs are open to the public at all times. The tombs I entered were more or less alike: with an entrance cut into the rock wall, a sloping corridor about a three hundred feet long, opening on niches and various rooms, the ceiling supported by pillars, and a sarcophagus room at the end. 

I had to pay extra to enter the tomb of Ramses XI and the tomb of Tutankhamun (the most famous archeological site in the world). Although I paid a camera fee for the whole visit, photography in the tomb of Tutankhamun was strictly prohibited.  However, there were a few informational postings about the tomb: layout, and pictures of Howard Carter, the archeologist and the treasures found such as chariots, furniture, weapons, pottery, etc. Most of the treasures found in the tomb are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. King Tutankhamun’s tomb was smaller than all the other Ramesses’ tombs and had the least decoration. I entered a doorway that led to a descending corridor that led to a second sealed door and a rectangular chamber where his mummified body was resting within a temperature-controlled glass case. On the other side of the chamber was a lower floor or a small burial chamber with granite sarcophagus, the burial chamber had a golden background and was decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’, and with depictions of Tutankhamun with various gods. 

Valley of the Queens 

The Valley of the Queens was known in ancient Egypt as Ta-Set-Neferu or “the place of beauty”. The tomb of Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II (19th Dynasty of the Modern Era) is the most famous tomb in the valley for its colorful murals. It’s said that the mural scenes are still considered today one of the most beautiful murals ever known in the history of mankind for their beauty and vivid colors. Visitors need to pay extra to visit the tomb of Nefertari. Our guide said that the Ministry of Antiquity kept raising the entrance fee (1200 EGP at present) and limit the visit to 10 minutes with no photography, to protect the paintings.



We visited two other tombs where the decorations/paintings were enclosed in glass. One tomb included a mummified fetus. The Valley of the Queens was not just a burial place of the wives of pharaohs, but also of other members of the royal.

Hatshepsut

Not far from the Valley of the Kings, we visited the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, another Egyptian architectural masterpiece. It was designed by Senmut and ordered by Queen Hatshepsut as a funerary monument for her father and herself. It was abandoned and later became a Christian convent called the Convent of the North “Deir el-Bahari”. The stretch of ocher-colored rocks behind it seemed to be part of the design. It was a long walk from the entrance. Plus we had to walk up a series of stairs to see the sanctuary. An avenue of the Sphinx and an obelisk led to the first terrace. There were bas reliefs on one of the walls that narrate the stories of the queen’s childhood.  And of course, a bunch of pillars.

We returned to the boat to sail into the sunset.  To Be Continued...


NOTE:  All photos and video by the author


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