Redemption & Resurrection

Redemption, resurrection, renewal, promise and freedom are themes of our current season. Over the ages, countless traditions have marked the springtime miracle of life bursting forth from seemingly cold, dead earth.

I’m thinking of three traditions in particular, two of which are probably obvious to those of us in the West, Passover and Easter. This year, the week of Passover overlaps Christian Holy Week, the period between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. To add a hint of scandal, I’m also thinking of the ecstatic Dionysian Mysteries of ancient Greece. All three involve breaking free of physical and spiritual bondage of some sort and emerging as a more complete, connected and authentic individual, community member and earthling.

Passover celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, led by the divinely chosen but less-than-willing Moses. They are reborn as a nation and set on a path by the Lord to the Promised Land. The physical redemption of the Israelites is honored during the 7-day holiday and it is also a time of spiritual redemption. Along with house cleaning of the soul there is house cleaning of the house. The Israelites left Egypt in a hurry and, unable to wait for bread to rise, they took unleavened bread to sustain them on their journey. A big part of Passover tradition is to rid the home of all traces of leavened stuff and anything that might consider leavening if given the opportunity. Cupboards and pantries are cleansed of breads and pastries, pastas and most grains and, for good measure, the whole house is usually given a major spring cleaning.

the Sinai Peninsula, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years after leaving Egypt

the Sinai Peninsula, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years after leaving Egypt

the Sinai Peninsula, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years after leaving Egypt

the Sinai Peninsula, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years after leaving Egypt

the view of the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo Jordan, as seen by the Israelites after wandering in the desert for 40 years

the view of the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo Jordan, as seen by the Israelites after wandering in the desert for 40 years

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, a sign of redemption and liberation from death. Through Jesus we are shown that death is not an end but a new beginning, a passage to another life. Easter symbols are all about fertility and new life – eggs, chicks, bunnies, Easter Lilies…

the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where Jesus shared his Last Supper with his disciples before being arrested

the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where Jesus shared his Last Supper with his disciples before being arrested

the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Jesus was arrested

the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Jesus was arrested

the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows or Way of the Cross), the route walked by Jesus to his crucifixion

the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows or Way of the Cross), the route walked by Jesus to his crucifixion

the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows or Way of the Cross), the route walked by Jesus to his crucifixion

the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows or Way of the Cross), the route walked by Jesus to his crucifixion

the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, where many believe Jesus was buried and resurrected

the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, where many believe Jesus was buried and resurrected

the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, where many believe Jesus was buried and resurrected

the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, where many believe Jesus was buried and resurrected

Dionysian rites were held in the spring across the Greek and Roman world. Dionysus was associated with the season of rebirth because he was a twice-born god. His mortal mother Semele died while pregnant with Dionysus when she insisted that Zeus, the father of her baby, appear before her in his full godliness. Semele was not equipped for such a sight and perished instantly. Zeus provided the fetal Dionysus a substitute womb inside his thigh, from which Dionysus was born again some time later.

There were also strong liberation themes in Dionysian rites, which were characterized by wild abandon. Dionysus was god of the vine and wine was used to break down restrictive social barriers and inhibitions. Celebrants drank and danced into tranced-out frenzy, transcending the mundane world to be spiritually unified with the god. Woohoo!

La Jeunesse de Bacchus by William Bouquereau, 1884

La Jeunesse de Bacchus by William Bouquereau, 1884

NAME THAT SEA

 

Jordan’s only sea port and beach resort is the city of Aqaba on the Gulf of Aqaba at the country’s most southern point. Jordan shares the gulf’s northern coast with Israel and Egypt. These waters have been vital for regional trade for millennia and are also known to divers for their clear water, coral reefs and great variety of sea life, including many endemic species. Located within a 2-hour drive from Wadi Rum and Petra, Aqaba is a great spot for a few days of R & R after a full touring itinerary.

The Gulf of Aqaba is a northern arm of what sea?

 

 

Can you name that sea? 
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the Mandulis Temple of Kalabsha, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple from Lake Nasser, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple from Lake Nasser, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple, near Aswan, Egypt

Not far off the well-beaten-path of ancient temples in Egypt is the Mandulis Temple, also known as the Kalabsha Temple for the island on which it originally stood. This temple is one of several that was disassembled and moved to higher ground in the 1960s, ahead of the creation of the massive Lake Nasser reservoir, which would have submerged them. The reconstructed temple now stands on New Kalabsha Island near the western shore of Lake Nasser, just south of the Aswan High Dam.

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis (Kalabsha) Temple, near Aswan, Egypt

Mandulis is a late-Greek-early-Roman-era temple, built around 30 BCE. The temple is Nubian, not Egyptian, but Nubian assimilation into Egyptian culture was pretty much complete by this late date and the temple’s design is typically Egyptian. Mandulis was the Greco-Roman version of the Nubian sun god Merwel.

Lake Nasser cruises include Mandulis in their touring itineraries. Our Splendors of Ancient Egypt program includes a Lake Nasser cruise. If you’re not taking a Lake Nasser cruise, we can get you there by other means, just ask.

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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NAME THAT COUNTRY

 

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.

Take that Day Trip to Memphis

the colossal recumbent Ramesses II statue at Memphis, Egypt

the colossal recumbent Ramesses II statue at Memphis, Egypt

One of the most important cities of Ancient Egypt, Memphis was the capital of the unified country during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, which lasted about 1,000 years in the 3rd millennium BCE. (As a point of reference – the famous pyramids at Giza were built during the Old Kingdom.) The city was founded by Menes (or Narmer? it’s unclear, they may be one in the same), who united the country and became its first pharaoh.

Located at the head of the Nile delta in the north of the country, Memphis was a major port city and commercial and religious center and remained so, for thousands of years after the capital moved south to Thebes (Luxor today).

Alexander the Great took Egypt in 332BCE and made himself king in the great Temple of Ptah in Memphis. When he died 9 years later in Babylon, his body was brought to Memphis and later moved to Alexandria, the city he established on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The location of his tomb is unknown today.

When Egypt became a Roman province in 30BCE, the commercial power of Memphis was eclipsed by Alexandria, which was more accessible to the rest of the empire.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, the city’s status as religious center was finished and it descended into ruin.

the sphinx at Memphis, Egypt

the sphinx at Memphis, Egypt

Today, Memphis is an open-air museum with scattered remains, including numerous temples, palaces, statues and a sphinx. Memphis is about 12 miles south of Cairo and is usually visited in conjunction with Sakkara, the necropolis of Memphis and site of the Step Pyramid, less than 2 miles away. Most of our Egypt tours include a visit to Memphis.

NAME THAT COUNTRY

 

Kom el Shoqafa catacomb was carved from bedrock in the 2nd century CE and used for about 200 years. It was a time of convergence of three ancient Mediterranean cultures and the unique, hybrid style of architecture and art within the necropolis may be its most interesting feature. At the time, our mystery country was a province of the Roman Empire, but it had been a major power and distinct culture for 2,500 years.

The tradition was for families of the deceased to host a feast in the catacombs at the time of entombment and then periodically in the following years. The name of the catacombs, Kom el Shoqafa, translates to pile of shards, which refers to the large amounts of broken pottery found at the site. The pottery containing food for the funerary and memorial feasts was broken and left behind because it was considered tainted by the place of death.

Can you name that country? 
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