Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt

The day after Petra we were up early again, this time in Egypt. We were “sticker” people today, doing a ship’s tour. It was going to be a full day…we would be leaving at 7:30 a.m. and weren’t expected back until 10:30 p.m. On today's itinerary, a visit to the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and the Luxor Temple.

A little bit about Egypt:

• The population of Egypt is 88 million. Only 4% of the country is habitable, along the Nile and seacoast, with 96% of the people living in these areas.

• It is a country of major contrasts: 12% of the population are millionaires and 49% are below the poverty line.

• Unemployment is 35% with 67% underemployment. Education is free and many people stay in school to increase their job opportunities. But because everyone goes to university, few people end up actually working in their field.

• 40% of work is in the tourism industry.

The mountains looked red in the background as we sailed in. Egypt gets almost no rain.

The star partway down the map indicates Safaga, where we would be docking before heading to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, a 3-1/2 hour bus ride. Our next port is Alexandria to take us to Cairo and Giza.

Here is the tugboat pushing us into place on the pier.

I put on sunscreen because we had been warned it would be very hot. We went out to get onto the bus right in the middle of a little dust storm. Hmmm…sunscreen and a dust storm. I was gritty in a minute!

All the buses would be travelling in a convoy today. That meant that if one person was late, all the buses would have to wait. Each bus was assigned a security person. There was one empty bus in the convoy, which quickly became useful when the air conditioning in a bus stopped working.

A very different landscape already…the rock looked very porous.

This became a common sight during the day…many security checks.

The first of many donkeys that we saw during the day.

The landscape quickly changed to sand. Egypt is 96% desert with almost all of the developed areas along the Nile.

And then it was sand with a few hills…

This area had a lot of housing under construction.

We noticed quite a few of these buildings that seem unfinished. Our guide, Dina, explained that they do not have to be finished, and they are often left this way so that additional space can be added if needed. We noticed that even houses were like this. She said that way if a son marries, there is room to add another level for him and his bride.

A nice house…landscaping is not so much an issue.

Lots of greenery as we got into the city of Luxor…

A little conflab on the side of the road…

The golf club…can you imagine how much irrigation it takes to keep it green?

And then we passed the airport…

They grow a lot of different varieties of dates…Egyptians love their dates.

We were quickly noticing that parts of Egypt were not doing that well.

Lots of fresh fruit for sale…

There were a lot of donkeys…people riding donkeys, donkeys pulling carts…

Look at how lush and green it is near the Nile…

We could see we must be getting closer to the city with these horse and carriage rides for tourists.

And this was the first amazing sight of many during the day. This is the Avenue of the Sphinxes, which ran for two miles with over 1350 individual sphinxes.These were built in 300 BC to replace ones built by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500 BC. As late as last year, there was still an ongoing project to restore them.

Doesn’t the Nile look quite fresh and clean? Some strict environmental laws have been put in place to clean it up, with prosecutions of companies and individuals who violate the laws.

Beautiful Nile which runs for 4132 miles.

Our guide, Dina…she was excellent. All guides must study Egyptology for at least 4 years.

Our big bus for the day…very comfortable with a bathroom on board. Thanks heavens as it was a long drive to Luxor from the port.

Our first stop was the Temple of Karnak, one of the world's great temple complexes. It is at the northern end of the Avenue of the Sphinxes and has the massive 50,000 square foot Hypostyle Hall. There are many archaeological teams from different countries working in Egypt and new discoveries are being made regularly.

Dina stopped to show us the model.

Outside the temple Roman Baths were recently uncovered. They would have been built 1700 years after the temple.

The two mile paved road between the Temple of Karnak and Temple of Luxor was lined with these sphinxes.

Can you imagine two miles of these statues? They had the head of a ram and the body of a lion with a figure of Ramesses II under the chin. He was the third Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled from 1279 to 1212 BC, and was considered one of the great Egyptian builders.

The high walls were built using a ramp to pull up blocks. This portion of the ramp remains.

The Hypostyle Hall was started by King Seti I and completed by his son, Ramesses II in 1200 BC. Over time, 30 pharaohs contributed to the hall and buildings as it grew in size.

Two statues of Ramesses II.

This wall was covered by pictorials, which would have originally been coloured.

An image of what the hall might have looked like...

  There are 134 of these columns representing the papyrus flower. The roof on the temple is long gone. 

The decoration was put on the columns after they were in place. How did they manage this with the height of some of the columns at 80 feet?

Some elaborate pictures and script describing many facets of Egyptian life. It would be something to see this in colour.

Here we can see some of the original colour as this area would not have been exposed to the sun.These architraves or beams on top of the columns were each estimated to weigh 70 tons.

A cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. Usually they were done vertically as in the smaller ones below, but if the name fit better horizontally, it would be completed that way.

There were originally three of these obelisks. The tallest one is 97’ high and made of one piece of granite. It told the story of the famous Queen Hatshepsut. The third obelisk is in Istanbul, Turkey which we saw on our visit there. I love it when stuff ties together!

This wall shows the elaborately carved hieroglyphics honouring many different gods.

The Sacred Lake is 200 m long and 117 m wide and is a natural depression filled by the water table. For the ancient Egyptians it was a direct contact with Nun, god of the primal oceans where all life originated. Priests bathed daily and a sacred barge navigated during religious ceremonies.

This walk down the centre aisle shows the immense size of the building and columns.

Jim in front of some statue. We weren’t sure who they were. By now Dina had left us to our own devices to wander for a while.

A statue of Ramesses II and his wife, Nefertari.

The doggies had found some shade. It was extremely hot, at least 35 degrees that day, with little escape from the heat.

Whew…we were sweating up a storm. It was time to leave the Temple of Karnak and head to our next stop. We went out through these shops. Sadly, quite often you would like to stop and look at some of the items, but the vendors are so aggressive that you don’t want to give them any opening for discussion.

Cairo and Luxor…I love signs! When I see it in writing, it really sinks in that I am there!

A Christian church in Luxor...

We saw many men wearing the traditional dress called the Jellabiya.

Lots of horses and carriages. They work hard!

We drove by the Luxor Temple, but we weren’t stopping there now. We’d be back later, when it was super hot!

This fountain was pretty and looked refreshing...

You would quite often see clusters of men talking and always in the shade of the trees.

Sadly, this light standard sort of symbolized Luxor and Egypt…dirty, broken and not well maintained.

We stopped at a nice hotel for lunch. These were the security guys who accompanied us everywhere that day. They had a separate van, but in some cases were on board the buses as well.

And they all had guns…

I felt bad for the horses…they work so hard and it was so hot. He didn’t have much extra meat on his bones.

The laundry would dry quickly!

Initially, the black dress and face covering were necessary in the desert for protection against windstorms. It is a cultural thing now where women may dress like this so they do not attract the attention of men.

The Bedouin tents in Jordan looked luxurious compared to these.

Bananas are just one of the many crops that are grown near the Nile.

There had been gas shortages and cars and trucks were lined up for gas. Now the use of the donkeys was making more sense.

This looks like a rural scene, but in fact it was quite close to the city.

Notice how everyone finds a spot of shade…

This part was very pretty with the green fields and lovely mountains...

A typical street scene…

And then we arrived at the Valley of the Kings. This vast burial ground located on the west bank of the Nile River has yielded 62 tombs, including the tomb of Tutankhamen (King Tut).

It was first used by Thutmose I around 1500 BC, although it was his predecessor, Amenhotep I, who was considered as the patron-god of the valley by the actual builders of the tombs. The last known king to have built a tomb in the Valley was Ramesses XI, who reigned from 1129 to 1111 BC, although it is doubtful that he ever used that tomb.

A small number of tombs was also built for members of the royal family and their entourage. 

Most of the tombs are long galleries that were excavated into the rock with chambers at various intervals. What an undertaking…

And the usual crush of vendors. Some of them were really getting to Jim. I just tried to keep say “no thank you.” Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

No cameras were allowed inside, so we did buy postcards from one of the kids just so we would have some pictures. They were pretty worn and tattered, but what can you expect for $1. This is an overview of the Valley of the Kings.

The tomb of Tutankhamen was only discovered in 1922. The entrance to his tomb had been concealed for many years by an accumulation of dirt from the excavation of a tomb nearby. Many of the beautiful treasures found inside are now on display in the Cairo Museum.

Look at the size of these tombs and the drawings on all the walls and ceilings. It was just amazing. We were only allowed to visit three tombs and Dina recommended the ones we should spend our time in. This was one of them.

Originally built for Ramesses V, it was taken over and enlarged for Ramesses VI.

Can you imagine excavating all this? They then stuccoed the walls and drew on them. Most of the drawings depicted scenes from the life of the Kings.

All of the characters are part of the Hieroglyphic alphabet and, once deciphered, told the archaeologists so much about life at that time.

This was another of the tombs...the detail was phenomenal.

The security guys waiting for us. I tried to get a picture of his gun peeking out of his jacket but I never did succeed. Since the massacre of 62 tourists in 1997, the Egyptian government has mandated that buses travel in convoys and be accompanied by armed guards.

This was the home of Howard Carter who discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922 after many years of searching. The opening for the tomb was found under a pile of debris that had been excavated from another tomb.

These alabaster factories are some of the few still existing where they actually make items by hand rather than machines. They used alabaster thousands of years ago for making vases to store the organs that were removed from bodies before they were mummified. They would be stored near the mummy as their belief was that when they were resurrected, they would need them again.

This is the headquarters of the Belgian excavation team, which discovered and restored the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

This is the gate to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut showing the degree of weathering compared to the Temple itself which was mostly covered.

This is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which was built as a series of grand terraces, with rows of square granite columns blending with the mountains. The walls are adorned with scenes from her expedition to Somalia in search of incense trees. She was the first great woman leader in recorded history, the forerunner of such figures as Cleopatra, Catherine the Great and Elizabeth I.

These houses were expropriated from the people who lived there so that further excavations could be carried out. The people have never been happy about this.

An ongoing archaeological dig...

Here are more digs. The ancient Egyptians basically worshipped the same gods for 4700 years, resulting in a stable, sophisticated society with emphasis on massive buildings and statues.

Yet another dig showing recently uncovered statues...

Our next stop was the Colossi of Memnon. These 64 foot twin statues of Amenhotep III were at the entrance of a great temple, and are all that remain. They are 3500 years old and came from a quarry near Cairo. The blocks weighed 700 tons each and were transported over land for 420 miles. How did they do that?

Time has not been kind to the faces.

They always included drawings on the statues…

Amazing how they were constructed out of blocks…

We headed back over the Nile to visit the Luxor Temple…through another checkpoint. We lost track of how many we went through that day.

New Qurna is the area where people were moved to from their homes near the tombs.

A common scene along one of the canals from the Nile.

A nice home…notice the top left unfinished, just in case.

One of the many bridges over the canals.

We saw a lot of breakdowns or they may have run out of gas, which was in short supply.

As in India, they still work the fields by hand rather than machinery. It does keep a lot of people employed.

More hard working donkeys...

Sugar cane is one of their main crops. This lady was carrying a large amount on her head.

I love this scene as there is so much going on. Ladies in traditional dress, a donkey cart, a guy washing his car, and a vendor.

Back over the Nile, again…they call the boats on the side floating hotels.We would probably just call them river cruise boats.

You can see it was getting quite late. We were all pretty tired by now, but we still had one stop to make.

Here was our last stop for the day...

Luxor Temple was dedicated to Amon-Re, the Sun God. It was built by Amenhotep III in about 1400 BC and was later expanded by Ramesses II. Initially there were two obelisks at the entrance. The missing one is at Place de Concorde in Paris.

Ramesses II near the entrance...

Two more statues of Ramesses II, the greatest builder of ancient Egypt.

Some of the many statues added by Ramesses II. Some of the heads of the tall statues are missing or eroded because when the excavation of the temple began, the ground level was at the shoulders of the tall statues.

Three religions have used Luxor Temple. First the ancient Egyptians, next the Christians, and finally the Muslims. The door to the mosque was at ground level before the excavation.

Yet another statue of Ramesses II...

On this statue of Ramesses II is a pictorial of an attempt to bring the north and south of Egypt together. The god of the Nile is on both sides, with the left or north decorated with papyrus and the right or south decorated with the lotus flower.

These are statues of King Thutmose III and his wife Neferure...

These columns in the temple are more than 3300 years old!

A view of the area...

This portion of the temple was used as a Christian church. It is believed that this shows the 12 apostles and Jesus.

It is the only part of Luxor Temple where they have tried to restore the colours to show what it would have looked like.

Tired, but happy. What an amazing day!

The lights were on for the night viewings by the time we left. It had been a long day and now we had the 3-1/2 hour drive back to the ship.

Back on the ship! You can see how we’ve come up the Red Sea, gone up to Aqaba in Jordan and back down to Safaga in Egypt.

Now we have two great sea days before we see the Pyramids and Sphinx at our next stop in Egypt.

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