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Thursday, November 10, 2016

10/23: Luxor Temples & Felucca Ride on Nile

We flew from Cairo to Luxor, located near the southern part of Egypt, getting there at the ungodly hour of just 7 am. We were picked up by Hass, the owner of Love Egypt Tours, with whom I had had exchanged extensive emails about our travel plans for the next four days. He introduced us in turn to Abdul, who would be our guide and constant companion, and to Khalid, our driver. 

The Nile, Abdul told us, divided Luxor into the West and East Banks; the former was known as the Death Side which we would visit tomorrow. Luxor has been described as the world’s biggest open-air museum. There were just two temples on the East Bank which we would be seeing today. 

We first visited the Temple of Karnak located just ten minutes from the center of the downtown area. The name Karnak, Abdul explained, means sacred house. It took 2,000 years to build the great palace as each king or pharaoh added onto the temple during his reign. This was an overview of the model to give a sense of how vast the site is.

Many people know that Luxor was once Thebes, but 'Thebes' was not what the ancient Egyptians called it. Ancient texts show that it was called t-apt, which means 'the shrine,' with the ancient Greeks calling it tea pie. The Arabs had problems with pronunciation and so it became Thebes to them. By the 10th century, Arab travelers thought the ruins were of grand buildings so they started to call it Al-Oksour, or 'site of the palaces' which slowly became Luxor.
Karnak is a complex of sanctaries, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of pharaohs. The site was big enough to contain about ten cathedrals while its main structure, the Temple of Amun, is one of the world's largest religious complexes. 
The obelisk at the entrance:
The Quay of Amun was the dock where the large boats that carried the statues of the gods moored during festivals.
A ramp sloped down to the processional avenue of ram-headed sphinxes.
It was riveting seeing the grand parade of sphinxes. There had been 42 sphinxes but all had been covered by water. 
This one was still very well preserved even though mud had once enveloped the entire area. 
The sphinxes led to the massive unfinished pylon, the last to be built during the reign of Nectanebo during the 30th dynasty.
The inner side of the pylon still had the massive mud-brick construction ramp up which blocks of stone for the pylon were dragged with rollers and ropes. 

Standing in the largest area of the Karnak complex was the Great Court where we learned that ancient Libyans and Nubians also lived in Luxor. Part of the Court included the Temple of Seti II. It had three small chapels that held the sacred barques or boats that belonged to Amun, his wife, Mut and  their son, Khonsu.
The hieroglyphics indicated this was a sacred house. 

These symbols represented three flags according to Abdul, our guide again today.
 The 'A' symbol translated into ‘beloved man.’ 
The alabaster was brought from the West Bank and the limestone granite from Aswan, further south in Egypt. 
Ramses II and his favorite wife, Nefertari: As you may remember from the post of our visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo a few days ago, Ramses II had 111 sons and he died when he was 92! (It’s important to note that the numbers and certain facts on specific people or places may vary from one post to another as the sources for the information vary, i.e. from Abdul, travel guides, other tour guides, online, etc.) 
One of the Nubian kings added ten columns to the temple. Only one remained in the middle of the Court as a flood in 1887 was so strong it destroyed the others. 
The Great Hypostyle Hall was one of the greatest religious monuments ever built and an unforgettable forest of 134 towering stone pillars. Their papyrus shape symbolized a swamp which was a common feature along the Nile. 

Ancient Egyptians believed that papyrus plants surrounded the mound on which life was first created. Each summer when the Nile began to flood, this hall and its columns would fill with several feet of water. Originally, the columns had been brightly painted and roofed.

The hall was planned by Ramses I and built by Seti I and Ramses II.
It was remarkable seeing the color preserved through the millennia.

The size and grandeur of the pillars and the endless decorations were overwhelming. I was glad that Abdul gave us time to just stare at the dizzying spectacle.
As so much of the original paint still remained, it was still possible to imagine the spectacular vision this place must have been for the Egyptian people of the time.

The symbol of the Tree of Life is preserved in every temple, Abdul assured us. 
In 1903, 700 statues and 17,000 bronze items were discovered underground, Abdul explained.
The Open Court had two massive obelisks; one weighed 145 tons and measured 19 meters high. The second obelisk was even bigger, at 323 tons and over 29 meters and was made from just one piece of alabaster.

During Tutmosis III's reign, 142 towns were under his control with the geographical area from present-day South Africa all the way to Turkey, Abdul explained. His eyes faced his enemies on the wall behind him.

In the Sanctuary, the holiest place in any temple, we saw the symbols for papyrus representing the Lower Kingdom and the lotus for the Upper Kingdom.

In the offering wall, there would have been jewelry and vases. Queen Hatsheput’s face was sadly destroyed by her son, Tuthmosis III, as was her name and record of her achievements.

 The scarab was not destroyed as that was a sign for good luck. 

The Akhmenou was an independent temple on the eastern side of the temple built by Tutmosis III during the 23rd year of his reign. The nail-shaped column of Akhmenou was never repeated elsewhere, Abdul told us.

Abdul pointed out the Virgin Mary halo on one of the columns indicating the area had been lived in by Christians.
Abdul told us that Champoleon deciphered the hieroglyphics in 1822. 
The bright yellow stars on the pale blue background were a scene we’d see time and time again in many tombs. We had first seen that design on the carpet being woven in Giza but neither of us knew then it would soon become a familiar sight. 
The Tree of Life symbol was replicated here too. We could also see indications of the first 'botannical gardens' here with depictions of many non-Egyptian plant and animal life.

The water for the king's purification area came from the Nile.

The deep carvings indicated they were done during the time of Ramses III.

As we walked back to the entrance, we took time to see the columns in more detail. 

We looked again at the walls of blocks that had fallen down in the 19th century as a result of the massive flood.

As we left Karnak Temple, we could see the crowds of tourists just coming in. Abdul said we should feel like this had been a presidential visit as there had been so few people! 
The sheer scale of the ancient monuments at the Temple of Karnak was breathtaking. Our next destination was Luxor Temple which we reached at 11. Largely built by the New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), the temple was a striking monument in the heart of downtown Luxor. 

The pink granite obelisk was added by Ramses II. There had been a second obelisk but it was given to France by Mohammed Ali (whom I wrote about in the Islamic Cairo post), in exchange for a clock. The obelisk is now in Paris’ Place de la Concorde; the clock, however, never worked. Sure sounds like Egypt got the raw end of that deal!
In ancient times the temple would have been surrounded by mud-bricked houses, shops and workshops which now lay under modern Luxor. After the decline of the ancient city, people moved into the partly covered temple complex and buit their city within it. 

The ankh symbol on the left meant life and the bull indicated power.
In the 14th century, a mosque was built in one of the interior courts for the local sheik or holy man. Excavation works, begun in 1885, cleared away the village and the debris of centuries to uncover what tourists can see today. The mosque remained and was recently restored after a fire.
The main door of the mosque which was discovered in 1940: Everything we were looking at had been underground, Abdul explained. There had been four churches found under the mosque.
The Great Court of Ramses II was surrounded by a double row of columns with lotus bud designs at the top.

The pylon was originally fronted by six colossal statues of Ranses II, four seated and two standing but only two of the former and one of the latter still remained. The heads had been destroyed by the Persians, according to Abdul. The seated figure was a sign of peace versus the left leg facing forward indicating he was marching toward war.

One of the Ramses II statues with the very small statue of his wife Nefetari:
Look at the leopard-style dress!

Steven with Abdul:
In the Colonnade Hall, we saw a statue of Ahmenhotep II, the grandfather of Tuthmosis II, and his wife. He is the only king shown with his wife at the same level.
There were two rows of seven columns per side as seven was the lucky number for Egyptians. The walls behind the columns were decorated during the reign of Tutankhamen.
Part of a depiction of The Last Supper indicating the Christians' strong influence on the area.
Some of the blocks in the former mosque's stable area had fallen down and were then put up feet first!
This whole area had been black from cooking fires until it was cleaned four years ago, Abdul said.

A cartouche, i.e. his name as written in hieroglyphics, of Alexander the Great dating from 330 BC:

Graffiti of a bygone era: Carlo's 'signature' was also eveident at many other sites, Abdul mentioned.
The Sacred Road was paved with sandstone blocks, many of them used from earlier monuments, and bordered by hundreds of painted sandstone sphinxes bearing the king’s head with a lion’s body symbolizing his strength and kinship over all of nature, according to Abdul.

After lunch at a traditional Egyptian restaurant, we stopped at Habiba, a fair trade shop I had read about in one of the travel guides I had consulted months ago. 
The shop was run by an Australian woman to promote the best of Egyptian crafts.
We crossed over the Nile from the West Bank to the East Bank as our last activity of the day was to take a felucca ride on the Nile River at sunset. A felucca is a traditional sailboat that has remained the primary transportation on the Nile.
Another of the police checkpoints that we had seen so much of around Giza near Cairo. Abdul explained that the tour company was required to provide our contact information to the police which could be verified as we traveled through checkpoints.
Felucca boats lined up at the shore:
We noticed another boat being pulled along by a tugboat and realized we also would be pulled down the Nile a ways like that. We didn’t quite know what to expect when we knew we’d be taking a felucca ride but you can be sure this wasn’t it! Our boatman had to throw a line out to connect our boat to the tugboat.

The adjacent felucca boat:

Our boatman:
Abdul said this far grander felucca had been used by actress Naomi Campbell to travel down the Nile to Aswan, a distance of about 220 kms.
This was one of the few birds we saw along the shoreline. 
We passed a small island in the middle of the Nile that was large enough, though, for some crops to be grown and animals to graze.

Bye bye tugboat! It set us adrift as we neared the southern tip of the island and we just drifted in the slow currents of the Nile for a while.

A number of cruise boats passed by but they were all almost empty these days because tourism levels had dropped so drastically since Egypt’s October Revolution in 2011.
Net fishing:

Sunset is very early in Egypt, occurring about 4:45. When the boatman moored the boat at the island, I got off and waded to shore.
The Nile, whose source is Lake Victoria in Tanzania and Uganda, is 6,638 miles long. It was an amazing experience being on just a very small stretch of the mighty river.
Steven joined me shortly, albeit a tad reluctantly! We wandered there for a bit but there was so much trash that both of us felt quite uncomfortable walking there and instead walked back to the boat.  
The boatman made tea for us as we drifted along.
Another cruiseboat - it reminded us of the paddle steamers that ply the Mississipppi River.
Enjoying his tea:
A nice shot of Abdul who didn't really enjoy the boat trip as he didn't know how to swim.

Sunset with the island in the background:

Adam: This one is for you as it was the Adam Boat.

This scene reminded us of our time last December when we were in Varanasi, India and saw all the fires burning at night along the Ganges.
Abdul said that for some reason Bob Marley is popular in this part of Egypt and that his image is seen often, particularly in Luxor.

Since we had been up since before 3 this morning in order to get to the Cairo airport and fly to Luxor and then had a full day sightseeing, we were tuckered out by the time Abdul and Khalid, the driver, dropped us off at our hotel on the West Bank. Our room was infinitely smaller than the one we had just had at the hostel in Cairo and the noise from other guests and the owners most of the night did not help make a good night’s sleep. Our twin beds were made with very young children in mind as they had cartoon characters – now that was first in any hotel we have ever stayed in!

But we had just been privileged to see some amazing sights and enjoyed a ‘cruise’ on the legendary Nile River and had three more days of more tombs and temples to look forward to discovering. 

Posted from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on November 10th, 2016.


  1. WOW, I remember some of the scenes from James Bond movies were shot in the Luxor area. I need to add Luxor to my bucket list. Lil Red

  2. Mum,
    I love the views of all of these, especially the Nile at Sunset!😀😀😀😀😀😀😀😀✈✈ these pictures remind me of the Mummy. Can't wait to see you soon!

  3. It's great to see an appreciation of the name around the world. Egypt seems like a fascinating place and the cruise seemed like a great way to relax and take in the scenery.


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