Sunday, May 4, 2008

GRAND TOUR OF EGYPT #2 - Old Cairo, Memphis, Sakkara, Luxor

The organized tour was somewhat hectic, and most mornings we were up by 6, and a couple of mornings earlier at around 4 a.m. The reason for these early wake-up calls was not just because of the number of places we had to see, but because it was very hot in Southern Egypt. Our Tour Director tried to get the sightseeing done in the morning with a break mid-day (the hottest time of day), and resumed sightseeing around 4 p.m. The best way to dress for that heat was to wear long sleeves, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and apply sunblock on your face and the back of your hands. Our Tour Director, who was Muslim and wore the veil, even wore white gloves to protect her hands. Strappy sun dresses and shorts were not right clothes to wear in that scorching heat. Really, the Arabs have it right when they wear the long flowing robes and head covers - a la Lawrence of Arabia.

All right, back to what we did. From Cairo, we drove southwest to Memphis, which used to be the capital of ancient Egypt. There we saw the colossal statue of Ramses II and the great alabaster Sphinx. By now I'm getting the idea that BIG, COLOSSAL, HUGE are what the ancient Egyptians liked. From there we drove to Sakkara, the cemetery of Memphis. We saw pyramids older than the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Step Pyramid of Zoser in Sakkara is similar to the the Mayan pyramids. Funerary sites started out as benches (mastaba), then became step-pyramids, and later evolved into the smooth-sided pyramids like those in Giza.

From Sakkara, we flew to Luxor where we saw the Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and the Colossi of Memnon. We also visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens - more funerary sites. By this time, dear Readers, you will sense that we saw quite a lot of temples and statues and sphinxes. For more information about Luxor and these place, click here.

For now they have not yet blended in my mind, and I can still picture Luxor Temple, right beside the River Nile, lit up at night, with it's massive columns and the mosque and remnants of a Christian church in it's midst.

Karnak was near the River Nile as well, and in fact, there were flood line markings on columns. The walls also had graffiti by Napoleon's soldiers. Karnak stays in my mind because of the ramp (pile of soil, rocks, etc) in front of an unfinished wall; this shows how the ancient Egyptians may have built their temples. Karnak also has a couple of unfinished columns, showing how the Egyptians built these massive columns - simply by piling blocks of stone, one of top of the other, and later rounding the edges and applying a finish to smooth it out or to allow the application of hieroglyphics.

The Valley of the Kings and Queens was unreal. Set in the dry sandy mountains, which ancient Egyptians perceived as natural pyramids, the ancient pharaohs built their funerary sites right into the mountains. They haven't dug them all up; in fact our Tour Guide said only 10% of Egypt's ancients sites have been uncovered. The Valley of the Kings has 65 known tombs, including Tutankhamun, the boy Pharaoh - click here for more information about King Tut. We visited three tomb sites. You walked down a ramp and all along the sides were pictures and hieroglyphics, and chambers which had contained food or oils and other things for the magical afterworld of the dead Pharaoh. At the end of the shaft was the sarcophagus, which was usually layered, that is one sarcophagus placed within another and housed in several containers - somewhat like a Russian stacking doll. At the very core of the sarcophagus was the mummy, although the mummies have now been removed.

What I found most interesting was the belief of the ancient Egyptians of the 12-hour journey to the afterlife. At a particular hour, a specific entity such as a four-legged cobra would attack the spirit, and the spirit had to be ready with the right dagger or weapon. The prayers and weapons are done in hieroglophics and pictures to assist the dead. Click here for more information about the 12-hour journey after death.

Queen Hatshepsut's temple and her story dominated the Valley of the Queens, which lay on the other side of the mountains where the Valley of the Kings was. She was the daughter of a pharaoh who married her younger brother, Thutmose II. When her brother the pharaoh died, she became regent to his son by another wife, Thutmose III. Hatshepsut ruled with this son, but later declared herself the Pharaoh. She ruled for 20 years. She was hated by her step son who,when he became pharaoh, went out of his way to deface her statues, and remove her cartouches (her name)- thus compromising her joyful afterlife, per ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.

Read Grand Tour of Egypt Part 1;
and Grand Tour of Egypt Part 3

tags: travel, Egypt, Cecilia Brainard

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