This national museum houses objects from 5,000 years of local history. Artefacts from prehistory, Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom periods, Intermediate periods, and the Greco-Roman period. On display are enormous statues and opulent burial items of ancient kings such as the Amenhoteps (including the heretic Akhenaten), the Ramesses and the Setis; objects found at the ancient capitals of Memphis and Thebes and much, much more!
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Everyone knows about ancient Egyptian attractions in the Cairo area – the pyramids at Giza being the most famous, by far. While there were important settlements nearby for thousands of years, the city of Cairo proper originated with the Roman Fortress of Babylon in the 3rd century. The fort was built on the banks of the Nile around a harbor and the Nile-end of a canal that connected the river with the Red Sea. This had long been a strategic area, the border of Upper and Lower Egypt, where the river begins to spread out into the delta, only a few miles north of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, which dates back to 3,000 BCE, at least.
The Roman fort still stands, surrounding the area known as Old Cairo or Coptic Cairo. Coptic Christians settled within the fort very early in the Christian era and it remains a Coptic enclave still. The fort encloses numerous churches, monasteries and convents, as well as the Ben Ezra Synagogue and Amr Ibn al-As, Cairo’s oldest mosque.
The main attractions:
St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Church/The Hanging Church (El Muallaqa) is the most famous church in Old Cairo. It’s built atop the bastions of one of the fortress gates, with the nave hanging over the passageway.
Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) stands on ground where, according to tradition, the Holy Family stayed on their flight away from the murderous Herod the Great.
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George is built around a tower of one of the fortress gates. A peaceful cemetery stands within the grounds of the church.
Originally a church, the Ben Ezra Synagogue was established in the 9th century, when Abraham Ben Ezra purchased the building from Coptic Christians who needed to raise money for taxes.
Amr Ibn al-As Mosque is Cairo’s oldest mosque. It was built in the 7th century for the commander of the first Arab army to conquer Egypt.
This quiet, atmospheric area feels worlds away from the surrounding chaos that is Cairo. It’s well worth a few hours of exploring.
Click to see Egypt tours that include visits to Old Cairo.
Known as the Colossi of Memnon, these two statues of Amenhotep III have stood on this spot for well over 3,000 years. They were dubbed Memnon by ancient Greek tourists after their mythological hero. Memnon was the son of Eos, the goddess of dawn and it was said that sounds came from one of the statues (the one on the right in this picture) at or near dawn.The statues are 60ft tall and weigh over 700 tons, each.
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Southern Egypt is called Upper Egypt because it’s upriver from northern (Lower) Egypt. The Nile is one of the rare rivers that flows northward, from central Africa to the Mediterranean Sea.
Here are our suggestions of 5 things to see or do there:
Over 60 acres of colossal statues, obelisks, relief carvings of pharaonic adventures and pylon after pylon after pylon (10 in total) make up Karnak Temple. The Hypostyle Hall is Karnak’s most famous feature, where the central aisle is lined with 70-foot columns, backed on either side by a forest of 30-foot columns. It’s literally jaw dropping. Relief carvings cover the columns and traces of original paint are not hard to find, especially if you look up.
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
The mortuary temple of one of Ancient Egypt’s very few female pharaohs is located at the base of towering cliffs at Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis, across the Nile from Luxor. It’s a stunning setting and the temple design is quite different from other Nile Valley temples.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
A valley deep within the mountains on the west bank of the Nile, across from ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), holds the burial grounds of New Kingdom pharaohs, their families and members of the nobility. To date, over 60 tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings. In many of the tombs, walls and ceilings are painted in scenes from the life of the tomb occupant, happy experiences to be carried into the afterlife, as well as prayers and spells. The way to the afterlife was treacherous; and tomb paintings envisioned a successful passage, with the help of various gods.
TEMPLE OF ISIS AT PHILAE
The temple of Isis, also known as Philae Temple, was originally located on Philae Island in the Nile. In the 1960s, Philae Island was largely submerged in the new Lake Nasser reservoir, so the temple was dismantled and moved to higher ground on Agilka Island. Nevertheless, the temple is still known as Philae.
We don’t recommend swimming in the Nile. But a quiet sail on a traditional felucca will get you close enough to the water to dip your fingers.