Nile Cruise Diary – Day 1

This morning we flew from Cairo to Luxor for a 4-night Nile cruise. Flight time was exactly one hour.

Luxor airport is pretty low-key. We had our bags and were on our way within about 15 minutes of landing. The drive from the airport to the center of Luxor, where our boat was docked, is less than 5 miles.

Although some of the cruise boats were double parked so cruisers had to walk through a boat or two to reach their vessel, we were lucky to find ours parked right alongside the dock. We were cruising on the deluxe 5-star Amarco, in a junior suite.

our cruise boat

our cruise boat

Continue reading

Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

The capital of the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt (approximately 1550-1070 BCE) was Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Upper Egypt, about 300 miles south of Cairo. 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. The 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties ruled during the New Kingdom.
It was the golden age of ancient Egypt, with expanded territory and increased political stability, wealth and power. The pharaohs of the New Kingdom used the resources they might otherwise spend on warring to build massive temples, colossal statues and obelisks. They also began to hide their tombs rather than advertise them with pyramids.

A valley deep within the mountains on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes was chosen as the burial grounds of New Kingdom pharaohs, their families and members of the nobility. In general, burial places were located on the west bank of the Nile, where the sun “died” each day and temples on the east bank, where the sun rose. To date, 62 tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings, ranging in size from a single chamber to sprawling networks of passageways with over 100 chambers.

Ancient Egyptians believed they would live on after death in an idealized version of the life they had known. They were buried with all the furnishings and fixtures of their life because they would need them. (That is, if they made it through the rigorous tests of character that led from death to the afterlife, but that’s a subject for another post.) Tomb robbing was quite an industry in those days. In the New Kingdom period, even common people took their worldly goods to the grave but, of course, the pharaoh had the best goods of all and royal tombs were hunted with singular focus by smart and daring thieves. The remoteness of the Valley of Kings was part of its security system. As a further precaution, the tombs were cut deep into the mountains and then constructed in complicated layouts, with the valuables stashed in the deepest, most out-of-the-way crevice. Despite all that, very few tombs survived unmolested into the modern age and most were pillaged within a few years of being sealed.

The tomb of Tutankhamun is the most famous intact tomb discovered. King Tut’s tomb can be visited in the Valley of the Kings and the tomb treasures can be seen at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.

Not all tombs in the Valley of the Kings are open to visitors and those that are open rotate to protect them from the impact of the thousands of tourists that come through every day. Admission tickets include three tombs. The admission to King Tut’s tomb is not included in the general admission to the Valley of the Kings.

What you’ll find in the tombs are intricately painted corridors and rooms. Walls and ceilings are covered in scenes from the life of the pharaoh, happy experiences that he would like to carry with him into the afterlife, as well as prayers and spells to help ensure that he reached his destination. The way to the afterlife was treacherous and tomb paintings envisioned a successful passage, with the help of various gods.

Click here to see tours to Egypt that include a visit to the Valley of the Kings.

Mummification Museum, Luxor, Egypt

a cat mummy at Luxor's Mummification Museum

a cat mummy at Luxor’s Mummification Museum

For those interested in mummies and/or ancient Egyptian religion, the Mummification Museum in Luxor is well worth a visit. Most of the mummies on display are animals (currently there is just one human mummy), which gives insight into the reverence ancient Egyptians held for animals. The museum is dedicated to the process of mummification and the belief system behind it. Exhibits are well organized and include beautiful examples of mummification tools, sarcophagi and canopic jars, which held organs removed from the embalmed body. Thirty to forty minutes is plenty of time to see everything and leave with a good understanding of ancient Egyptian mummification. The museum is right on the Nile Corniche in the center of Luxor, just north of the Luxor Temple.

Tel el-Amarna, lost city of Egypt

Aten Temple, Tel el-Amarna, Egypt

Aten Temple, Tel el-Amarna, Egypt

In the middle 14th-century BCE, the 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV broke with many centuries of tradition, when he proclaimed the sun disk Aten to be the god of gods. (This is sometimes referred to as the first instance of monotheism, but it’s more likely that lesser deities continued to be worshipped.) The pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his devotion and moved his capital from Thebes (modern Luxor) to a previously unsettled site 250 miles to the north.This social-cultural-political blip in the timeline of ancient Egypt is known as the Amarna period (named for a later regional tribe).

The city, named Akhetaten, was built and abandoned in little more than a decade.
After Akhenaten’s death around 1334 BCE, his son Tutankhamen moved the royal court back to Thebes and reinstated the traditional religion. Subsequent pharaohs did their best to destroy the memory of Akhenaten and his reforms by defacing royal tombs and scrubbing records of his reign. He was lost to history until the late 19th century, when archaeologists discovered the city at Tel el-Amarna.

The distinctive art of the Amarna period is a tantalizing window on the time but may raise more questions than it answers. In general, it’s more naturalistic than the formal conventions of earlier and later Egyptian art. However, portraits of the royal family, with elongated, pronounced features have caused a lot of speculation. Were they actually deformed or were their figures symbolically stylized? DNA testing on Akhenaten’s remains did not find evidence of any genetic disorder.

Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum

Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum

stele of the royal family touched by the rays of the Aten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

stele of the royal family touched by the rays of the Aten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

Tel el-Amarna is way off the standard tourist track (about 200 miles south of Cairo and 250 north of Luxor) and is really for those with a strong interest in Egyptology. Much of the city was carted off and recycled as building materials in other places, leaving foundations and some mud brick walls. Despite vandalization, the most vivid remains are royal and noble tombs in the cliffs at the north and south ends of the city. The site is quite spread out, about 6 miles from one end to the other, and not particularly well-marked. A licensed guide is recommended.

 

 

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 109

A great way to see our mystery country is to cruise its legendary river. Weekly 3 and 4 night cruises travel between Luxor and Aswan in the south of the country. Cruises spend the better part of each day in port to allow passengers to see the sites. These cruises are not destinations in and of themselves but floating hotels moving passengers between the centers of touring along the river. Daily group tours are included in the cruise fare. Tour highlights include some of the most awesome cultural/historical remains anywhere. Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings top that list. Traditional life, little changed through the millennia, continues on the river banks, and is as impressed on my memory as any of the country’s grand monuments.

Can you name that county? 
See below for answers.

Continue reading