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This is the so-called Avenue of Rams or Ram-headed sphinxes leading to the 1st pylon (monumental gateway) of the sprawling Karnak Temple in Luxor. Like the famous sphinx at Giza in the north of the country, these sphinxes have the body of a lion. The figures between their legs represent Ramesses II, one of the country’s most influential ancient kings.

 

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Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

Abydos is among the most important archaeological sites in Egypt, with remains of structures and tombs from predynastic times into Ptolomaic times, 3,000 years of Egyptian history.

Abydos began as a royal necropolis of the pre-dynastic capital Thinis and cult center of the regional god Khentiamentiu. Royal burial was well-established here by the time Egypt was unified under Narmer (or Menes, possibly the same person), founder of the 1st dynasty around 3,100 BCE. The kings of the 1st dynasty and two from the 2nd dynasty were buried here before the capital was moved north to Memphis.

The local god Khentiamentiu eventually merged with the god Osiris, king of the dead. Osiris was believed to be buried at Abydos, and the religious significance of Abydos as cult center of Osiris continued after the capital moved. For thousands of years, an annual procession reenacted stories from the life and death of Osiris and drew pilgrims from all over Egypt. A Great temple of Osiris was built, rebuilt, expanded and embellished by successive pharaohs across three millennia.

Egyptians with means sought to be buried near Osiris. Short of that, a personal burial monument (cenotaph or stelae) was placed near the tomb of the god. Thousands of these cenotaphs have been found. A number of pharaohs built mortuary temples at Abydos, although entombed elsewhere. The Temple of Seti I, is one such temple, and the best preserved monument at Abydos today.

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

wall painting in the Rameses II Temple, Abydos

wall painting in the Rameses II Temple, Abydos

Because nearby accommodations are limited, we usually offer Abydos as a day trip from Luxor, about 3 hours drive one-way. An Abydos visit from Luxor is often combined with a stop at Denderah, which is about midway between.

 

The Most Dramatic Monument in Egypt IS… ABU SIMBEL

Way down in the far, far south of Egypt stand the temples of Abu Simbel, my pick for the most dramatic monument in Egypt. That’s saying a lot, because, as you know, Egypt is full of dramatic monuments. I think the impression of Abu Simbel is amplified by its lonely, barren location. It’s really in the middle of nowhere, raised in the 13th century BCE by Ramesses the Great to impress visitors on his southern frontier. Traders and ambassadors knew they entered a rich and powerful nation, potential invaders knew what they were up against if they chose to push forward, like a border sign reading, “Welcome to Egypt, Don’t get on our bad side.”

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt,

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt (120 degrees that day!)

The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses, as well as the three main gods of the time, Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah, and features four 65-ft. colossal statues of the seated pharaoh on the facade. Inside the temple, two hypostyle halls lead to the spooky inner sanctuary with seated statues of the pharaoh and gods. The halls through the temple are covered in bas-relief and painted scenes of Ramesses doing kingly things, like crushing his enemies and consorting with the gods, and colossal statues of the pharaoh line the walls on either side.

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

The Small Temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses’ queen, Nefertari.
It’s less grand but more elegant, with six 33-foot standing statues on the facade –  2 of the king and 1 of the queen on either side of the portal. Never before or after was a queen shown the same size as the king in Egyptian art.

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

The setting of the temples really enhances their impact. Blue water, blue sky, brown earth is pretty much all you see for hundreds of miles – forlorn, forgotten, untouched and then suddenly the temples are there like a smack in the face, in a good way.

In the 1960s, the temples at Abu Simbel were moved from their original location, which was due to be flooded after the construction of the Aswan High Dam down river.
The temples were cut into 20-ton blocks and moved about 200 feet to higher ground. The temples were originally carved into the face of a mountain, so part of the move included building an artificial mountain. The hollow mountain is open to visitors and contains an exhibit about the temples’ rescue.

abu_simbel_move

Abu Simbel is reached from Aswan by about an hour flight or a 3-4 hour overland convoy of motor coaches and mini vans. It’s also possible to cruise from Aswan across Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.

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The most famous remains of ancient Thebes is the rambling Karnak Temple. Within the temple, the Hypostyle Hall is a forest of massive columns, some 70-feet tall. The columns are covered in carvings detailing adventures of ancient kings. The columns were originally also covered in brilliant color, traces of which still remain in some areas.

 

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The Red Pyramid of Dahshur, Third Time’s the Charm

the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, Egypt

the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, Egypt

The Red Pyramid at Dahhsur, built by the pharaoh Senefru, was the first successful smooth-sided pyramid. Senefru’s first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid, the Meidum Pyramid, collapsed. Next, he built the Bent Pyramid, which alters its angle of inclination part way up, probably as a precaution after the collapse of the pyramid at Meidum. The Red Pyramid was built at a cautious incline to avoid the disaster of Meidum and appears rather squat in comparison to the famous pyramids of Giza, which were built by Senefru’s son, grandson and great grandson, after developments in pyramid engineering.

the collapsed Meidum Pyramid (left) and its successor, the revised-midway Bent Pyramid

the collapsed Meidum Pyramid (left) and its successor, the revised-midway Bent Pyramid

The Red Pyramid gets its name from the exposed red limestone blocks, once hidden by a white limestone façade, which was looted for other buildings long ago.

Dahshur is an hour’s drive from Cairo and is usually combined with a visit to the Bent Pyramid, a few kilometers away. Meidum is about an hour from Dahshur.

Visit www.yallatours.com/egypt/ to see tours that include a visit to Dahshur.