Back on Egypt I decided to take my children to on a last-minute holiday to Egypt. My partner was unable to make it do to work commitments (see my last post). I decided to take the munchkins to absorb some of the rich Egyptian history. At the request of family, I decided to steer clear of Cairo, given it was suggested it might not be completely safe at the time (due to an election that had just finished causing political tension) to be there.
That ruled out the pyramids, so we opted for the Luxor trip to see the Temple of Karnak, The Valley of The Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple.
Temple of Karnak
We were collected at 5:30am, and driven 4 hours by coach to Luxor, which was known as Thebes in ancient times and Biblical days, and was originally the capital of Egypt. Inland, the children and I felt noticeably hotter and at 40 degrees centigrade, it was pretty uncomfortable to wander around the ancient temples, we found ourselves ducking for cover in any shady areas. I had taken something to cover my shoulders and legs, but was told that it wasn’t necessary, since Egyptians do not worship any of the ancient Gods any more, this is no longer a place of worship that needs to be respected by covering up.
This site is one the largest religious buildings ever made and was featured in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation, The Mummy Returns, and James Bond – The Spy Who Loved Me, to name a few. It’s awe inspiring! …Or at least it was for me. The heat did unfortunately affect the children’s enthusiasm and attention span, and they really struggled to hold their interest.
Our Red Seas tour guide, George, was very knowledgeable and explained the history of the Temples to us. If you are planning on going, I think it is advisable to ensure you have a guide, given that it is in ruins that won’t make a lot of sense if you don’t. He explained that much of the temple was ruined due to flooding by the nile in the Egyptian summers, which sounds like nonsense, as this is when you would assume the river would be at it’s lowest level, but the Nile river, which passes close by actually runs through several African countries before reaching Egypt, melting snow and heavy summer rain in the Ethiopian Mountains would sent a torrent of water causing the banks of the River Nile in Egypt to overflow on the flat desert land. The Aswan Dam has put paid to the flooding, but the water damage is clearly evident.
The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut (“The Most Selected of Places”) and the main place of worship of the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad with the Sun god Amun as its head. The complex is a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world and is the second most visited historical site in Egypt. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere.
The entrance alone, lined by twin rows of these rams-headed-sphinxes that are lined the pass-way up to the entrance. This really was atmospheric for me, and really was the moment where I felt I had ‘arrived’ in ancient Egypt.
Crossing The Nile
After we had finished our tour of Karnak, we walked to these boats and ships moored up at the side of the nile to catch our boat for the short crossing up the river Nile. We were able to see kingfishers and other birds and wildlife and also experience a moderate welcome breeze. One across, we were harassed by men and boys trying to sell us souvenirs, fake alabaster ornaments and bottles of water. I actually fibbed and told them that ‘my husband’ was the one with the money and was following behind somewhere… Thankfully, the Egyptian men believed this and soon left me alone. In fact, this was the only advantage of being a ‘lone’, blonde, female traveller in Egypt. I cannot remember how many times I was asked where my husband was, or how many times I had to fend off a sleazy advances from men waiters and other men who did cotton onto the fact that I was travelling without my partner…
Valley of The Kings
Unlike the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom, most pharaohs of the New Kingdom did not build pyramids as their tombs, since these were robbed so frequently. The majority of the pharaohs between 1539BC and 1708 BC were buried in the Valley of the Kings.
The pharaohs believed that this valley was the ideal burial ground since the primary peak, al-Qurn, had a pyramidal shape and the valley had only one entrance, which could easily be guarded. Unfortunately, despite the pharaohs hopes, tomb robbers had managed to ransack most of the tombs before archaeologists began to excavate in the early 1800s. Since that excavation, 62 tombs, most belonging to royalty, have been discovered.
The huge statues of the sitting Sphinxes in the photo at the top of this post (19.5m tall), are the only part of the ancient mortuary temple built in Thebes by Amenhotep III (18th dyn) that remains today. Several floods have wiped out the other ruins of this temple. Only the soil remains.
This was the most exciting and memorable part of our day trip for the children, as we were able to visit several tombs of Pharaohs including Tutankhamen (for an additional entry charge), the famous pharaoh king who died before his 19th birthday, of what they now suspect was Malaria.
Unfortuanately, you are not allowed to take any photographs in the Valley of The Kings; I think to help preserve the tombs.
The 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and George Herbert received worldwide press coverage and sparked massive public interest in ancient Egypt. He ascended to the throne at the age of only 9 or 10 years old! DNA tests have shown that he was the son of Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV, who was the first advocate of a single God in Ancient Egypt) and one of Akhenaten’s sisters! Euw-though incest wasn’t uncommon apparently, Tutankhamun himself married his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten when he became king and, had two daughters, both stillborn.
The children were fascinated by the tombs, and especially at the chance to see Tutankhamun’s actual mummy and one of his sarcophaguses. My younger two were slightly puzzled that the mummy was thin and blackened, and didn’t resemble one of the bandaged figures you see in Scooby-doo cartoons.
Again, the intense heat, which was over 40 degrees in the Valley, did take the edge off our excitement slightly, as did the relentless harassment by tourist stall sellers on the way in and out of the Valley. One was so aggressive that when I declined to take his ornament, he forced it into my 13 year old son’s hands and demanded that he take it to me to look at. In the end, I resorted to walking close to George, our tour guide.
The final stop of note for the day was
Queen Hapshetsut was a feisty go-getter for her day-it was uncommon for a woman to reign as pharaoh. Her rise to power went against all the conventions of her time. She was the first wife and Queen of Thutmose II and on his death proclaimed herself Pharaoh, denying the old king’s son, her nephew, his inheritance.
To support her cause she claimed the God Amun-Ra spoke, saying “welcome my sweet daughter, my favourite, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Hatshepsut. Thou art the King, taking possession of the Two Lands.” She dressed as a king, even wearing a false beard, tanned her skin like a man and preferred to be depicted in a warrior’s pose to win the confidence of the Egyptian people who accepted this unprecedented behaviour.
In her temple, we were shown a depiction of her suckling from one of the Goddess Hathor’s udders, to add weight to the idea that she was a child to/had the divine blessing of the Gods.
Hatshepsut’s successor became the greatest of all Pharaohs, Thutmose III, “the Napoleon of ancient Egypt.” He had her name cut away and defiled her temple walls out of anger and bitterness of his auntie’s blatant theft of his monarchy. But the fact that she was able to contain the ambitions of this charismatic man for so many years, hints at the strength and quality of her character.
Having experienced modern day Egypt, I have to hold my hat off to this gutsy woman; it cannot have been easy to win the Egyptian people over!
On the way back, we were herded like cattle through an alabaster factory. This was fairly unpleasant, due to the ‘hard-sell’ nature of the ‘tour’. It is apparently something that the Egyptian government enforce all tour operators to do in order to support this trade. I actually thought it was quite nice to enable tourists to see this. This is a picture of my 9 year old having a go at making a pot, but once inside, you are given drinks, and it is very hard to walk away. On our way out, staff ‘gave’ up gifts of small chunks of unworked alabaster which I assume is the waste debris that has been chipped out of ornaments they’ve been working on; but if you accept these ‘gifts’, as my children did-they quickly expect payment.
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