Luxor! It’s the first thing people think of after Cairo when talking about Ancient Egypt. We docked early enough for Mohammed to start beating the crowds for us again. First stop: Karnak. Karnak is actually a massive complex with many temples, shrines, and even a sacred lake. It was consistently enlarged by subsequent kings during the reign of the Pharaohs, and is now the largest temple complex in Egypt. It’s a bit crumbly these days, but that doesn’t really minimize the impact.
One of the focal points of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall. No, that doesn’t mean it’s shaped like a hippo (though that would be pretty cool). It means that the roof is supported by interior columns. After 3200 years, most of the roof is gone, but the structure is still pretty impressive. So much so that another chunk of The Spy Who Loved Me was filmed here.
On the way out, we discovered that the original path into Karnak was lined by sphinxes with rams’ heads. How did we miss that the first time?
Up next – the temple of Luxor. (Okay – gotta ding the Greeks again. Luxor was known to the ancient Egyptians as Thebes.) Unlike most of the ancient temples, Luxor was not dedicated to a god, but rather to the living pharaoh. It was not as big as Karnak, but still held some pretty amazing stuff. Note the missing obelisk from the entrance. It was carted off to Paris by the French in 1833, and now stands in the Place de la Concorde.
The temple of Luxor was largely buried in sand for centuries, so there are parts of it that are still intact and there is plenty of color. In one spot, there’s a carving of Min – the fertility god. He is depicted with his arm thrust into a V (gee, what’s that supposed to symbolize), and actual sperm coming out of him. How the ancients knew what sperm looked like is still a mystery. His erection is a bit blackened from centuries of people touching it as they prayed for fertility.
One interesting feature of the temple is a mosque that was built on the ruins before they were excavated. It is still in use today, and is accessible from the street behind Luxor Temple.
We had one last night on board, docked in Luxor before our last day of sightseeing. That night on our ship we were treated to a dancing show. First was the requisite belly dancer who would drag men on stage and let them look silly. She even got Stephanie up there and showed her a move or two. After she finished, there was a whirling tanoura dancer with his huge, layered skirts swirling. First he had baskets that would magically multiply while he danced, then the lights went out and his skirts lit up for a mesmerizing, twirly display. All of this was very similar to the show we saw in Dubai on our desert safari – but this time we got to sit much closer and see much more.
In the morning, we chose an extra tour – a sunrise hot air balloon flight over Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. We had always wanted to take a balloon ride, and here was our chance. They asked us not to tell people what they charged us, but it was about a third of the cost to fly in a balloon over the Pennsylvania countryside – and although Pennsylvania is beautiful, we found this scenery much more exciting! .
They were supposed to take us to 400 meters, but we flew up to almost 900 before gently landing in someone’s backyard. And the scenery with the sun rising over the Nile was unbeatable. Here, take a look….
We felt like we’d already had a full day, and it was only 9:00 am! Next Stop: The Colossi of Memnon. These are two G-I-A-N-T statues of Amenhotep III. Built in 1350 BCE, they are over 60 ft. tall. Imagine if Amenhotep had been standing instead of seated.
It was here that we met Mohammed for our day of touring. In advance of the blistering sun (it was supposed to be over 106°F) he had his head wrapped up in a turban, and I commented how he had the right idea. A little bit later he asked me to give him ten Egyptian pounds (about $1), and wouldn’t tell me what it was for. He negotiated with a local vendor, and bought me my very own turban. He even showed me how to wrap it. Now *that’s* service!
After the colossi, we went to the temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was a queen who became pharaoh in 1478 BCE, when her husband died and her son was too young to rule. Although not the first woman to rule Egypt, she was one of the most successful. Way to go, Ancient Egypt, for not discriminating based on gender!
Anyway, her temple to Amun-Ra was built so the people could worship her after she died and became a goddess. It’s still under renovation, but is one of the more impressive monuments of ancient Egypt. Oh, and my favorite goddess, Hathor, makes an appearance.
The famous Valley of the Kings came next. This is a canyon under which there are over 60 tombs of ancient pharaohs. Most have long since been looted, but this is where the tomb of King Tut was found underneath another tomb. Interesting side note: King Tutankhamun was not a very important, accomplished or even old king. He reigned for only 10 years, from the time he was 9 until he was 19. What makes him seem so special to us is that his was the only tomb found undisturbed and full of all the treasures with which he was buried. One can only imagine what the tomb of a major king must have been like before it was plundered, since the building and filling of a king’s tomb continued throughout his entire reign! You can pay an additional fee to visit Tutankhamun’s tomb, but our trusty guide advised against it, saying it was pretty bare inside and not worth the money.
Only a few tombs in the valley are accessible at any given time, but, alas, we were once again not permitted to take photos. We have no photos of our own of the Valley of the Kings itself because it’s pretty boring once you’re inside it. You need to be up in the hills to get a more majestic photo. Like this:
After lunch we bade farewell to our fantastic guide, Mohammed. (Did we mention how great he was?) The last thing our tour company did for us was arrange a transfer to El Quseir, four hours away on the Red Sea for a different kind of Egyptian experience, and our next adventure.