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Take a Cruise on the Nile
Many companies operate cruises on the Nile River... 3 days, 5 days, and 8 days. If you have the time and the money, it is strongly recommended that you take the 8-day cruise, or you'll always wish you had. There's so much to see as your ship goes up or down the Nile... small villages, camels, oasis, minarets, and the people as they go about their life. You are always able to see land on both sides of your ship... day and night. At some villages, you'll see brightly painted fronts of houses. This means that the inhabitant has made his pilgrimage to Mecca. This cruise became so popular that today you'll find the Nile too crowded with the ships docking side by side.

Luxor: Today, Luxor is a sleepy little town. Once, however, the great capital of Thebes stood here. Do walk through the town. It's very interesting, and you'll love it... even through all the dirt. In all probability, your Nile Cruise will begin here (some begin in Aswan), and you'll be docked here for two days.

Luxor Temple: The first great sight of Luxor is Luxor Temple. It was dedicated to the powerful God Amon-Ra, and was built by several Pharaohs. The first of the builders was Amenophis III, and later the young Tutankhamon undertook to complete the work. In the 19th Dynasty, Ramses II made his own additions. The front pylon and the first great court were his contributions. In front of the Pylon stood several huge statues of Ramses and two obelisks. One of the obelisks still remains. There are some unusual features in the courtyard. On the second story above the colonnade is the facade of a newer building. This is the Mosque of Abul Haggag, and the facade was the original front wall and entrance. The present entrance is on the far side of the building, up a very long flight of stairs. This mosque shows how succeeding generations have utilized the ancient temples for their own devices. Also in the courtyard are two groups of statues...Ramses II seated with his wife Neferatari, on a smaller scale, standing by his side, and Ramses II standing. In the front right corner of the courtyard is a small chapel erected by Tuthmosis II. It originally stood some distance from the front of the temple, but when Ramses II decided to add to the temple, he decided to incorporate the chapel into his design rather than tear it down. To do so, he had to change the angle of the new part of the building. As you go into the colonnade behind the courtyard, notice how the alignment shifts.

Karnak Temple: This temple is about 2 miles north of the center of Luxor. Your tour will probably take you their in the unique Egyptian buggies. Karnak was the work of over 2000 years of builders. It was the very heart of the Amon Cult. The palace is enormous and confusing... full of duplications and repetitions... and simply fabulous. The minute you see the front of the temple, you know it's special. The first pylon is tremendous...and the Avenue of Sphinxes gives it a grand quality. Originally, this Avenue of Sphinxes ran down to the Nile River, and another avenue ran southward to Luxor Temple. Beyond the first pylon is the first courtyard. Along the sides are colonnades, as well as some spare Sphinxes. On the left, is another temple built by Seti II. Across the court, in the far right corner, is another temple built by Ramses III. Out in the center of the courtyard is a solitary Sphinx. This is the only remnant of any additions made by Tutankhamon to the Karnak Complex. Beyond the second pylon is the most splendid part of the temple... The Hypostyle Hall. It's formed of 134 columns in two groups. The 12 huge columns flanking the center aisle have open papyrus-flower capitols. To each side, the smaller column capitols are closed papyrus buds. Some of the colossal columns and the remaining stone lintels still have traces of the brilliant colors that once decorated the hall. Beyond the courtyard are the oldest parts of the temple dating back to the Middle Kingdom. There are two pylons built by Tuthmosis III and another by Tuthmosis I. Ahead, and a bit to the right is a fallen obelisk. Just beyond this obelisk is a large granite scarab. The scarab, or dung beetle was a symbol to the Pharaohs eternal life and resurrection. A scarab was always placed over the mummified Pharaoh's heart. The last great sight of the temple is the Sacred Lake. This was presumably used in some of the purification ceremonies of the temple. On the immense grounds of Karnak Temple, there are a number of other structures, including The Temple of Knons, Opet Temple and Temple to Ptah. There is a light and sound show at Karnak Temple... but it goes on too long (Be prepared for mosquitoes).

The Valley of the Kings: There are over sixty tombs in this valley, and not all of them belong to Pharaohs. Especially favored noblemen and relatives were occasionally granted permission to rest here. You will probably take a ferryboat from Luxor to the other side of the Nile... and then a motor coach to the Valley of the Kings. As you drive along the road, notice the domed house on the top of a hill to your right. This was where Howard Carter lived while he worked on the King Tut diggings. The most famous tomb in the valley, is of course that of Tutankhamon, and is located almost directly opposite the entrance gate, in a low, walled enclosure. No cameras are allowed in the tomb, so you'll be asked to hand them over to the guard at the door. It's safe to do so. The ramp down to the tomb is a short one, and the tomb is also small. The room you enter was found crammed with all sorts of funerary equipment. The room to your right, which is the only one that was painted, originally was filled with the nine nested gold wood and stone sarcophagi in which the Pharaoh was buried. The colors in the paintings on the walls are lush and well preserved. In the center of this little room is one of the three original stone sarcophagi. Tut's mummy is still inside this sarcophagus. The Tomb of Seti I is by far, the best tomb in the valley. It goes down quite a way into the earth. The walls of the descending tunnel are covered with reliefs. Eventually you'll come to a square chamber. Each of the four pillars in this room contain representations of various Gods. The colors are very rich. The best part is last...the funerary chamber itself, with a spectacular astronomical ceiling with constellations painted on it. It's all in gold on black, and is wonderfully preserved. The highlight is the painting of a Hippopotamus God sporting a crocodile on his head. Other tombs in the valley... Amehophis II, Tuthmosis III, Ramses VI, Ramses IX. Currently, the Egyptian Government is considering closing these tombs to the public. Even if that should happen, it's worth the trip to see the valley.

The Valley of the Queens: This is the last major burial place on the west bank. In reality, just as many princes and princesses were buried here as queens. The most famous tomb in the area belongs to Nefertari, wife of Ramses II. However, this tomb suffered a great deal at the hands of vandals and has been closed for a number of years. Other tombs include Tomb of Amunherkhepshef, who was the son of Ramses III, Tomb of Queen TitI, who was the wife of a later Ramses, and the Tomb of Khaemweset, who was also a son of Ramses II.

Funerary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut: This famous temple occupies a splendid position in a narrow cliff at the edge of the Mountain of Gourna. The unusual temple is constructed of Pink granite, probably brought from Aswan. Each tier is faced with rows of square columns, behind which are long, decorated colonnades. The second tier has a few surprises. From the far left, past the colonnade proper, is a small Temple to Hathor, the Goddess of Love. Each of the column capitals is a representation of Hathor, who has the face of a woman and the ears of a cow. On the right wall of the temple, you can see a relief of a cow, suckling from a figure whose face has been mostly obliterated. This "erasure" is the work of Tuthmosis III. When his hated aunt/stepmother Hatshepsut died, he ordered all of her images removed from the temple.

Colossi of Memnon: These two huge statues sit by the side of the main road from the river, and it's hard to miss them as you drive by. Originally, they flanked the entry to the Funerary Temple of Amenophis III. They got their Greek name from an old legend. Once, they were cracked and broken by an earthquake. One of them started to emit a humming noise every morning at dawn. It is now known that this sound was caused by the sharp change in the stone as the first rays of the sun struck it and started a vibration. But the Greeks, who were then ruling Egypt, decided this must be a statue of Memnon, son of the Dawn Goddess Aurora, joyously greeting his mother as she appeared in the early morning. You will have a photo stop here. There will be vendors around. Bargain, and buy fast.

Deir El Medina: In this area are the remnants of some of the tombs of the commoners, or laborers, who did the actual work on the royal tombs. You'll see the tombs as "caves" on the side of a cliff.

Temple of Ramses III (Medirat Habu): This is a group of temples...the most interesting being the Pavilion of Ramses III. As you pass through the gates, notice the statues of Sekhmet, the lion Goddess of War. Also the undersides of the gate still hold some of their original color. On the right is the Temple of Tuthmosis and Hatshepsut. On the left are two small temples for the Priestesses of Amon. Across the square is the Temple of Ramses III. This temple has a huge front pylon decorated with battle scenes. Behind the colonnade is the Window of Appeapance, where the royal family appeared to the public on festival days.

Funerary Temple of Ramses II (Ramesseum): The temple's two pylons are mostly in ruins. Around the main temple, buildings remain which served as the workshops, storerooms, and residences for the workers.

As you head back toward the ferry to luxor, vendors will begin to follow you... and follow you... and follow you. Glance at their merchandise quickly to see if anything pleases you, but keep walking. Look over your shoulder and make an offer. It will be refused. Keep on walking. If you continue this, you'll generally get the item at your price.

Continuing the cruise, you'll pass thru the interesting Locks of Esna. Note: Because of the numerous ships now on the Nile, it may take many hours before it's your turn.

Esna: The next stop on your cruise will be Esna, a small town on the Nile, whose main industry is derived from agriculture. It is however, best known for the little temple in its midst. The Temple of Esna was dedicated to the ram-headed God Khnum and the present temple was built on the site of a number of older structures. This temple is in a huge pit, with its base about 30 feet under the level of the present street. It's astounding how much the level of the Nile bank has risen in 2000 years. The temple is a charming piece of Greco-Roman Egyptian architecture. It is delicately built. Across its facade are six large columns, joined by a wall. In the center is the gateway to the temple. The columns have beautiful, intricate, and flowered capitals. The roof of the hall is still intact...Look up, and see how black it is, from the fires of early Christians, who used the temple as living quarters, and as a church.

Edfu: The next stop will be Edfu, on the west bank. It is also a small agricultural town. Its prize feature, The Temple of Edfu, is the most intact structure left from the time of the Pharaohs. It dates from the Ptolemaic era and took nearly 200 years to build. The temple was dedicated to Horus, the Falcon God, who was the protector of the Pharaoh. Since the temple of Edfu is complete, it is easy to get a feeling of the awe that the average Egyptian must have felt in the presence of his gods. All Egyptian temples were constructed in such a way that one progressed from the open, airy courtyard to the dim inner Hypostyle Halls, to the even dimmer Offering Rooms, and finally to the hushed and gloomy sanctuary where the god rested. At the very front of the building is the typical pylon, and beyond it is the courtyard surrounded by a colonnaded gallery. The facade is formed by six columns, joined by a wall. On their capitals rests the roof of the first Hypostyle Hall. In front of the hall is a large black granite statue of the God Horus, manifested as a falcon, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Rites and festivals were a major focus of activities at any temple. Many of these rituals involved special unguents and oils. To the left of the 2nd Hypostyle Hall is a small chamber that is often called The Laboratory. The walls of this room are covered with the formulas of secret ointments known only to the high priests.

Kom Ombo: This temple is different because it does not rest on flat ground, but occupies the top of a small plateau overlooking the Nile. It is dedicated to two gods... Sobek, the crocodile god and Haroeris, one of the solar manifestations of Horus. The interior design of this temple is unique, having two corridors surrounding the Hypostyle Halls and the chapel areas, and two offering chambers. The underside of some of the remaining roof is covered with designs, which still retain their old colors.

Aswan: Aswan has maintained a position of relative importance throughout most of the history of Egypt. It was a major trade center and a major supplier of granite for the building of temples. For most of the 20th century, it reverted to the status of a small town, but with the building of the second HIGH DAM, the town again became into national and world prominence. Aswan will probably be the last stop of your Nile Cruise. Your day in Aswan will include visits to the following:

Island of Elephantine: This is the original site of the town of Aswan. At the southern tip, there are remnants of temples honoring the local God Khnum. To the northwest of the ruins is a small temple dedicated to Hega-Ib, one of the early rulers of Elephantine. At the very tip of Elephantine is a tiny little temple almost hidden in the reeds. It is mostly reconstructed.

Mausoleum of the Agha Khan: Agha Khan is the hereditary title of the ruling family of the Ismaili sect of Islam. The family originally ruled Pakistan, but were exiled and took up residence in other parts of the world. The grandfather of the present Agha Khan died in 1957, and was buried according to his wishes in Aswan. From the outside, the building is rather unprepossessing, but beyond the huge brass doors, it's quite impressive. You first enter a small, roofless courtyard of white stone with an open, airy, light feeling. On the far side is the domed tomb chamber, with the Agha khan's white marble sarcophagus at the center. Every day, a red rose is placed on the sarcophagus.

Kitchener's Island (Geziret El Nabatat): Your tour will probably include an Egyptian "Felucca" ride to this island. The island was originally owned by Lord Kitchener, but today is a beautiful botanical garden, covered with trees, plants, and bushes from all over the world. It's a wonderful place to wander down paths under the trees.

Note: During the Nile Cruise, you might want to take along a supply of make-up items, ballpoint pens, and cigarettes. They are useful as gifts, as tips, and especially for "bargaining". School children want the ballpoint pens, which apparently are in short supply in Egypt. If you give items to children as gifts... use discretion. Many parents do not want their children to accept gifts for fear that it will turn them into beggars.
About the Author
Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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