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.
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.
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.
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.
The Luxor Museum is perfectly located on the Luxor corniche (Nile-front promenade) between Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple. This museum is much smaller than Egyptian Museum in Cairo but that’s not a bad thing. It’s well-organized and free of clutter, with beautifully displayed artifacts documented in both Arabic and English. (The Cairo Museum is not to be missed, for sure, but the contents seem to have been tossed about with little thought to ease of viewing.) Continue reading