Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

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Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Temples of Karnak and Luxor

Altogether too early in the morning of the 27th – we’re awake and ready to go but there’s NO COFFEE!!!!!! The guy who is supposed to deliver it to the Nabila forgot. They ran out of Omar Khayam (the only semi-drinkable red wine made in this country) a couple of nights ago. Hope they have food for the next day and a half or we’re really in trouble. We have a very full day ahead of us in beautiful Luxor. (The Greeks called it Thebai (Thebes) because of the Coptic name for it, Tape.

Deir El-Bahari was our first stop. The temple lies in what used to be an inaccessible valley and was built by Queen Hatshepsut to honor her father Thot-Mosis I. It is consecrated to Hathor who welcomed the dead in the next world. On one of the walls, bas-reliefs relate the birth and childhood of the queen and her expedition to Punt (probably Somalia because of pictures of giraffes, monkeys, panthers and ivory). Also unusual, are the statues of Hatshepsut. She is dressed as a man and even wears the ceremonial beard.

The Valley of the Kings or Biban el-Muluk (which means the Gates of the Kings) holds the pharaohs of the 18th-20th dynasties and was started when Thot-Mosis I wanted his body buried in a secret place. We rode through the lush agricultural areas and across the bridge to the western side of the Nile. The bus let us out at the base of the mountain and we had a fairly long walk up to the tombs. The first one we entered was that of Ramses IV. It is magnificently decorated with intense colors and scenes from the Book of the Dead, the Book of the Gates and the Book of Caves. There had been an attempt to clean the dirt and soot off of the walls and ceilings that had eroded some of the brilliant paints. The tomb of Ramses IX was somewhat faded in comparison. It had the distinction of having an enormous pair of runners to transport the sarcophagus, and documentation of the hours of labor and supplies used.

Most impressive and one of the best preserved was the tomb of Ramses VI. It is another long hallway or tunnel style. The high point of the tomb is the great vault of the sarcophagus room. It is entirely decorated with astronomic scenes and frescoes narrating the creation of the solar disk. The ceiling is the sky goddess Nut repeated back to back covering the eastern and western ceilings. She is gold and on a deep lapis lazuli background and arches her body over constellations. The room retains the intensity of its original colors and literally took our breath away.

A ride through the villages at the edge of the valley showed us the proximity of an established base of tomb robbers. They claim it as their heritage and right because their families have been there since about 1300 BC. We stopped briefly at an alabaster factory for a cool drink and some shopping, had a good look at the Colossi of Memnon (60 foot tall monolithic blocks of sandstone), and passed the Madinet Habu complex that is under reconstruction before returning to the Nabila for lunch. We were definitely experiencing sensory overload from all that we had seen this morning.

As if we had not done enough, the afternoon began with a visit to the Temple Of Karnak. This gigantic temple is dedicated to the god Amon-Ra and began being built in the 1300’s BC. It’s colonnade of 134 columns, the temples and gateways were of mammoth proportions. The avenue of the sphinxes leads the to the entrance pylon (350 feet wide and 46 feet thick) – apparently these sphinxes lined the 3 mile road to the Temple of Luxor in ancient times. The temple is the largest with columns in the world (Notre Dame could fit inside). The grounds of the complex are covered with pieces waiting to be reassembled. On the ground lies the pink granite obelisk built by Queen Hatshepsut with its ornate inscriptions – small holes at the top mark the spot where its electrum top was once attached Deep carvings of Amon-Ra decorate the walls. Inner courtyards hold statues of Ramses and Amon.

Since Hanan is an archaeologist (teacher and about to get her Ph.D.) she has worked on this site. Her connections allowed us to visit a small temple at the side of the complex dedicated to the goddess Sekmet. Here we found a perfectly beautiful statue of the goddess. A large red granite scarab is said to bring luck to those who circle it seven times and overlooks the huge (375’X240’) sacred lake which was used by the priests for their morning ablutions.

The Temple of Luxor started construction by Amon-Ofis in the 14th century BC and was completed by Ramses II. Its 450 foot wide entry pylon is 45 feet thick and still has one of two pink obelisks standing (the other is in Place de La Concorde in Paris) and two seated colossi representing the pharaoh (48’ tall). This temple is smaller than Karnak but certainly not small by our standards – in fact, the size of everything we have seen on our exploration of Egypt is amazing.

The courtyard of Ramses II with its open lotus columns leads us to a pylon built by Alexander the Great with its black granite colonnade depicting the Opet Feast. (The Opet festival lasted about fifteen days, and started nineteen days after the second month of flood, August) and was highlighted by thirty priests carrying the sacred boat of Amon-Ra back and forth to the Karnak Temple.) The next courtyard is framed with closed papyrus shaped columns and offers a view straight through to the sacrarium. There was an impressive red granite pylon and court with seamless giant slabs of intricately carved walls and ceilings built by Thot-Mosis III to honor Ramses II – it is impossible to imagine how this was accomplished.

With all that we have seen today, there is still much more in this area. We were too exhausted to go to the Luxor Museum, and did not have the time on the West shore to visit more tombs in the Valley of the Queens. It is obvious that a stay of three or four days would be much better. We could probably say the same about the Aswan area and Cairo.

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