Most of us have wanted to see the pyramids since we were kids. After all, they are the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still extant. Finally standing on the Giza Plateau, I was struck by a comment from a New Yorker: "Once you've seen Manhattan skyscrapers, the Pyramids are no big deal." I bet he has never actually stood next to them. They are impressive! And everywhere we went around Cairo, our eyes were always drawn back to the pyramids. Their distinctive shape and massive bulk stand out amidst the merely vertical skyscrapers, apartments and minarets that dot Cairo. Even from other sites farther down the Nile, you could look back and see the Great Pyramids in the distance. The more we traveled in Egypt, the more we understood the Pyramids and the people that built them. All the mysticism gave way to a profoundly human story, and made the achievement of their builders 45 centuries ago even more awe inspiring.
We flew into Cairo from London, and were met by our tour guides from the venerable Ambercrombie & Kent agency (A&K). We had debated when to get a visa: onsite or beforehand. The process is much less convenient and more expensive beforehand. What we learned is how easy it is at the Cairo airport - before going through customs, walk up to a booth, pay a nominal fee, and voila! I had even gotten a clean passport for this trip, worried over the Israeli visas in my prior one. Not sure the passport control at Cairo would even have noticed.
Last time I came to Africa, on safari, I worried about the right cameras and lenses to bring. The best viewing times being in low light (dawn and dusk), the distance of the animals and need for catching speedy predators and frightened prey led me to a digital SLR with a long lens (75-300mm with image stabilization). This time I brought a digital SLR with the fantastic new 18-200mm image stabilized lens from Canon (Nikon has the same). It worked extremely well; but given the bright light in Egypt, the limited ability to take photos inside (due to the flash harming the colors on the walls of tombs and temples), a good point and shoot should work fine, especially the Canon G series or their new S1.
What I would strongly recommend bringing (or listening to in advance) are the History of Ancient Egypt lectures of Prof. Bob Brier from The Teaching Company. We condensed them to an iPod file and listened during the trip. Bob brings Egypt to life, and is especially interesting on the murder of King Tut. Our guide from A&K was quite personable and very experienced, but was more focused on the schedule and logistics than information. This came home to me at the great monument of Abu Simbel, with the Battle of Kardash on the walls. Our guide gave us a high level overview, and shooed us on to go inside. When I came out, I overheard another guide who gave his own group a much better preparation, walking them scene by scene around the carvings, and bringing the battle to life. He mentioned such details as where the pet lion that Ramses brought into battle was drawn at his feet, and where the artist showed Ramses holding what seem like two bows but actually one bow drawn back really quickly, to portray Ramses' prowess with the bow. You cannot predict the richness of stories of the guide, but you can always listen to Bob Brier. Some of his history (from memory) I lay out below.
For those of you who are time-challenged, you can manage a really good four day visit and see almost everything, including a Nile cruise.
Day 1: Fly into Cairo, visit the Citadel, Cairo Market and Coptic neighborhood.
Day 2: First visit the Egyptian Museum - A&K tours offer a private tour two hours before it opens ot the public, a huge benefit. Then off to Giza, lunch at the Mena Hotel, and drive to Saqqara. Skip Memphis. See the Step Pyramid, then drive further to Dahshur to see the Bent Pyramid, where you can now go inside. Back to Cairo.
Day 3: Early in the morning, fly to Luxor. See Karnak, Luxor, Luxor Museum, Valley of the Kings and the remarkable Queen Hapshepsut Temple. Finish with an evening carriage ride around the temples.
Day 4: Boat that night to Edfu, see the great Temple of Horus, then cruise the Nile down to Aswan. Quick trip to the Obelisk quarry, fly to Abu Simbel, then fly back to Cairo.
Where to Stay
There are some nice four-star hotels in the shadow of the Pyramids, but most tour groups stay at the Four Seasons or Intercontinental Hotels. Cairo has two Four Seasons, a newer one ("Nile Plaza") on the Nile near the Egyptian Museum, and an older one ("First Residence") on the Giza side near the Pyramids. For some odd reason, A&K booked us at the Nile one when we visited the Giza Plateau, and the Giza one when we later visited the Egyptian Museum. Having been at both, I like the newer one better. We had a balcony over the Nile, and could see the Pyramids during sunset. The food at the older one was a bit better. In neither hotel should tourists drink the tap water.
(click on any picture to enlarge)
Then off to the Pyramids. Traffic in Cairo is unbelievably awful, but we were fortunate to arrive on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath (Saturday for the Jews, Sunday for the Christians), and had slightly lighter traffic. As we approached the Pyramids, the road became crowded and a bit unassuming. At one time it was a tree lined boulevard into the desert, and quite compelling. Since then the city has grown into a vast sprawl around the Pyramids. The route there is now full of little shops and drab apartments. The city is building a center divide with trees that should give it a modicum of style.
A turn and little climb up a hill and bang! The Pyramids. Next to a parking lot and a bunch of tourist dives and fast food joints. (McDonald's, Hardees, KFC and Pizza Hut were all too prevalent throughout Egypt.) A short walk and you are there, at the edge of the north side of the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu to the Egyptians). Surrounded by tourists, hawkers of cheesy souvenirs ("One Dollah! One Dollah!"), and tourist camels. A slight breeze blew up dust and trash.
Disneyland this is not. Run down and low rent, with trash blowing about and annoying hawkers harassing you at every step. The first words of Arabic we learned were "La, shukran", meaning "No, thank you." The hawkers mockingly threw it back in our faces, so we eventually moved to "Yalla" which normally means "Let's go" but in context "Go away!" Or just a stern expression and not looking at them. The more brazen would walk up and say "No hassle!" as they were hassling us. Oh well, I gather from reading Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile on this trip that it has always been so. A nation of hustlers.
Ah, but the pyramids! The stones at the base are massive. Feel how smooth and flat they were made. See how tight the vertical cuts were. Master masons made this, with instruments no more complex than a plumb line and several types of levels. Around the plateau you can see the quarries, with stones still sitting intact, partially cut. Also remains of workmen's houses. The only mystery is how they got the blocks up. Most likely, they used a ramp that wrapped around and around to the top; remains of such a ramp are still visible at the Great Temple at Karnak.
Next to the Khufu Pyramid is the Khafre Pyramid, his son's tomb, which was built 20 feet shorter. He could have matched or exceeded his dad's pyramid, but he chose not to. A son for the ages! Remains of the limestone covering still crown the Khafre Pyramid. It must have been a stunning sight in its time - all these pyramids were covered with a bright white limestone cover, smooth all the way to the top, glistening in the bright sun. For miles around they would sparkle in the sun and glow in the moonlight. No one has ever said Manhattan skyscrapers sparkle. Only in Vegas, where they have their own pyramid, the Luxor casino.
Many people have speculated on how the pyramids arose. It is almost as if we cannot grant that the Egyptians were every bit as smart as we are, and were able to perform miracles without technology such as the wheel or the steam engine. Books and movies speculate that aliens build the pyramids (Stargate). We have New Agers attributing mystical properties to pyramids, of healing, sharpening razor blades, and generating electricity. A recent speculation is that the pyramids were aligned with stars - the Giza three matching the Belt of Orion, and other monuments at key star locations related to the Belt. And some have argued that the Sphinx is older than the pyramids, a remnant of an earlier, long-forgotten civilization (Atlantis?).
All bunk. The history of the pyramids is written across the west side of the Nile. Let me walk through the core myth of Egyptian Civilization and the progression of trial and error that led to these great structures. I think you will conclude as I did that they were built with great skill and patience by the Egyptians themselves.
Osiris Myth and the Obsession with Death.
The myth that drove the Egyptian obsession with death was the story of Osiris and Isis. Osiris created the world, and was killed by his evil brother Set, who dismembered him into fourteen pieces and scattered them. Osiris's wife Isis brought these pieces back together and Osiris resurrected, impregnating Isis and moving on to the afterlife. Their son Horus (the falcon headed god) fought Set and pushed him to the nether realms of evil. From this the Egyptians believed that if their bodies were preserved and buried on Egyptian soil, they would be resurrected in the next life. Hence Egyptians from the Pharaoh on down yearned to be mummified whole and buried with the possessions they would need in the afterlife.
Egyptians lived primarily in mud brick huts, and they used the mud bricks to build their tombs. They tended to live on the east bank of the Nile - the side of the rising Sun - and be buried on the west side - the side of the setting Sun. The west side touched the Libyan desert, and sometimes the desert sand would cover those mud brick tombs, and sometimes the desert winds would blow the sand off them, opening them to the ravages of the jackals. So they learned to dig into bedrock, with a vertical shaft leading to a burial chamber (or chamber after chamber for the wealthy). These shafts were marked occasionally with beehive shaped tops, and much more commonly with flat tops, called mustabas from the Arabic 'bench'. The mustabas grew in size and glory, and presented rooms for relatives to visit and honor the dead - much like crypts in cemeteries today. Inside the mustaba the walls could be brightly decorated with scenes of what the deceased would like to find in the after life - today for example you might paint wine-making, or golf.
When Menes unified the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, he was still building mustabas. A marvelous piece of art is in the Egyptian Museum, dating back 5000 years, showing on its two sides the conquest of the Northern Kingdom (Lower Egypt, since the Nile was lower there) by Menes, the King of the Southern Kingdom (Upper Egypt); and the unification. On one side, Menes wears the crown of Upper Egypt (a big white crown, somewhat like the Pope's today), and is holding the former Northern King by his hair, with his arm raised and holding a mace - a classic Egyptian picture of the King smiting his enemies. On the other, he wears the crown of Lower Egypt, a smaller red crown with a cobra head. Don't miss it. The style of art of Menes will persist for the next 3000 years.
Step Pyramid - The First Pyramid!
A generation or so after Menses (who is also known as Namar) comes the Pharaoh Djoser, sometimes spelled Zoser, who has a genius architect called Imhotep. When a Pharaoh comes to power, he begins building his tomb. The longer he lives, the larger the tomb.
Imhotep builds a large burial area at Saqqara, south of Giza on the west side of the Nile, and digs the requisite shaft for the burial rooms. He also builds a grand mustaba on top. The Pharaoh lives on. So Imhotep enlarges the mustaba and builds a second, smaller mustaba on top. The Pharaoh lives on. So Imhotep builds up the mustaba into a four layer cake. The Pharaoh lives! So Imhotep builds a second shaft down and burial chambers, and enlarges the mustaba. Eventually he builds a six-layer pyramid - the first true pyramid, called the Step Pyramid.
This is also the first large-scale stone structure known to civilization, pre-dating Stonehenge by several centuries. A remarkable achievement.
It sits within a huge complex, complete with cobras lining the walls.
Perfecting the Pyramid
Djoser's son may have started his own pyramid, but the next Pharaoh after the son, Snefru, one of the great Pharaohs, perfected the pyramid. His first attempt failed - he may have been trying to finish the pyramid begun by his Djoser's son. It was a seven or eight layer stepped pyramid with a smooth limestone exterior. The exterior appears to have slipped off. You can still see it, the Failed Pyramid, crumbled, at Meidum south of Saqqara.
Undaunted, Snefru picked a new spot south of Saqqara called Dahshur and started again, this time with many small steps rather than a few big ones. This attempt also failed, although not as badly; the foundation may have been too soft, since there are cedar logs propping up the inner chamber from collapsing on itself, and the top is at a shortened angle to reduce weight. This Bent Pyramid was nonetheless finished with smooth limestone. You can now enter into the Bent Pyramid - an essential stop on the Egyptian tour.
Snefru tried a third time, and got it right. To the west of the Bent Pyramid is the Red Pyramid, named for the color of the stone. It is the first true pyramid, with smooth limestone sides, and the proper dimensions and foundation. It is a little over 300 feet high, while the Great Pyramids are a little under 500 feet. Once Snefru got it right, it was a matter of scaling, not design.
We can now see in the pyramids themselves the trial & error evolution that led to the Great Pyramids. No need for aliens, Atlantis or more fanciful speculations. A huge human achievement laid out for all to see in the Step Pyramid, Failed Pyramid, Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid.
The Red Pyramid set other trends. Its sides face the four cardinal directions. Its entrance is on the north side, about a third of the way up, its shaft in alignment with the Pole Star. It has a burial chamber inside, and uses an interesting stepped design to manage the huge weight above: the stones are stacked with each higher one a few inches inward until they touch about 40 feet up. This reduces the stress and makes the lines of force largely travel down stone.
The Stele of Snefru
Snefru was known for opening up turquoise mines in the Sinai, and trading with Lebanon for the famed cedars. Egypt has few trees, and wood for boats and doors was rare and expensive. This cedar logs would be reused, perhaps for as long as the next thousand years. A stele of Snefru sits outside the Egyptian museum. Steles were shaped like a headstone (with a curved top), and used to make pronouncements throughout Egyptian history. On this stele is a picture of Snefru. Unlike the imposing Ramses statues with their well-developed pectoral muscles, Snefru looks more like an accountant than a Pharaoh. He has a kindly face and a receding chin. Don't miss it - to the left of the main entrance, outside in the courtyard, just beyond a small obelisk.
The Great Pyramids
Snefru's son was Khufu, and he built the Great Pyramid. The grandson was Khafre, and he built the second Great Pyramid, slightly smaller in respect of his father. Khafre's son built the third and much smaller pyramid. Maybe he ran out of money. Or died too soon - he may have only ruled 12 years.
These three pyramids also had other buildings. A Funeral Temple sat next to each, which served the function of the mustaba - the place to pay respect and make offerings to the former Pharaoh. The funeral temple was connected by a covered causeway to a Valley Temple below, where the king would be embalmed and mummified.
Diggings around the Pyramids continue at a slow pace. A funeral boat was found next to the Great Pyramid, and now sits in a really dreadful structure which I expect to be removed soon. The boat seems to have had one mission: ferry the Pharaoh across the Nile to be embalmed in the Valley Temple.
The Lost Pyramid
A recent History Channel documentary has speculated that they have found the legendary Lost Pyramid at Giza. I saw the documentary, and found it intriguing, but there is a pile of speculation to get to their conclusion. There was a Lost Pharaoh between Khufu and Khafre: another son of Khufu, Djedefre, who ruled for either 8 or 11 years before Khafre took over. He did build a funeral monument, but not at Giza; at a hill about five miles north. The remains suggest it could have been a pyramid about the size of the third pyramid at Giza, and by being built on a hill, would have been taller than the Great Pyramid. Like the third pyramid, it seemed to have been covered in polished granite at its lower levels, so would have had a striking two-toned look, dark granite and white limestone, topped by a sparkling silver-colored metal cap (as all the Giza pyramids were topped).
Why was it lost? Speculation is that it was torn down by Djedefre's half-borther, Khafre, in some long-lost sibling rivalry. It lies as rubble, so to argue it was a pyramid seems a bit of a stretch. Takes a lot to build then, and a lot of effort to tear them down, which could have been better spent building the Khafre pyramid. The angle of the stones suggests a 60 degree slope, which Snefru had found was too steep to maintain the smooth limestone coverings - the Failed Pyramid. Instead all subsequent pyramids were angled at 52 degrees. To get from 60 degrees to 52 degrees, the speculation is that the big stones were not flat but angled sloping into the center, something seen at Saqqara in the Step Pyramid to a small extent, but not seen in any others.
Djedefre was also noteworthy as having been the first to claim to be Son of Ra, indicating Sun God worship. A simpler explanation of his rubble is that he built a Sun Temple, which could have a 60 degree slope, not a pyramid, and it collapsed over the centuries.
There are other "lost" pyramids. One was just found at Saqqara. There is a lot more archaeology still to be done in Egypt, and given the size of the tourist trade, probably well worth looking for.
When Khafre was digging his causeway, he came across a great sandstone block, and decided to carve an imposing statue - the Sphinx. Despite all those theories of how old the Sphinx is, it is clear it was built by Khafre, or at least in Khafre's time. It has his face; or the face of a royal relative, such as his father - some of the speculation around the Lost Pyramid is that the Lost Pharaoh, Djedefre, built the Sphinx to honor Khufu. It has weathered pretty well, probably because of being usually covered with sand. At some point before Napoleon arrived in 1799, the nose was shot off.
The perspective of the Giza pyramids from the Sphinx is awe-inspiring. At night they run a light show, and we thought of attending, then saw the DVD. Must have been scripted in the 50s. A little Disney Magic would go a long ways to improve the experience. We skipped it.
The Pyramid Builders
We learned the Egyptian calendar had three seasons of four months: Inundation, when the Nile overflows (usually July), Sowing and Reaping. Pretty simple. During inundation there wasn't much for the farmers to do, so they would come to the pyramid site for a little extra work, then go back to farm. Ancient Egypt did not have money, but barter; so you could imagine the farmers being sent to the site and paid with food and shelter. Unlike Hollywood movies, the Pyramids were largely built with free labor. Criminals and slaves would tend to be used for the really nasty work, like quarrying obelisks.
As we prepared to leave the Giza Plateau, we looked south, and could see the Step Pyramid in the distance, at Saqqara, and could make out others as well. They are truly massive structures, stretching down the west side of the Nile.
In the Old KIngdom of Djoser, Snefru and Khufu, the great period of pyramids wound down to a small one built by Unas. You can see it at Saqqara, close to the Step Pyramid. Noteworthy is that Unas inscribed on the walls the Pyramid Texts, essentially requests of what he wanted in the next life, and spells to help him find his way and ward off evil. When the Old Kingdom collapsed after Unas, Egypt fell into a period of social turmoil or revolution, the First Intermediate Period. The pyramids were robbed, and the common folk broke into Unas' Pyramid and saw the secret writings. This appears to have set off a trend to put similar writings on the tombs of the nobles.
A second phase of pyramid building arose in the Middle Kingdom, but those pyramids never rivaled the former glories at Giza. Also, to fool tomb robbers, one of the later pyramids switched the entrance to the southern side. With the limestone cover, it was hard to find. That tomb was robbed, so it didn't fool the grave robbers (who were probably the very people who built the tombs in the first place). But it did frustrate later archeologists, who kept slashing the northern side trying to find the entrance.
The next day we visited Memphis, the former capital of the Northern Kingdom. It held huge stores of treasures, which Cleopatra intemperately showed to Caesar. They were hidden in a maze, but Caesar remembered the path, and later told his heir, Octavian, how to find it. When Octavian took over Egypt around 30 BC, he also took the treasure. Unfortunately for us, old Memphis is largely underground and not excavated. We saw a few minor objects - a statue of Ramses on its side, a Sphinx and another statue. Hardily worth the visit.
We also began to understand how Egypt has been excavated; indeed the whole Middle East. It is not being done by the Egyptians, who instead are looking for largess from abroad. It is financed largely by US, British and European Museums and Universities on their own nickel. Again, fitting our growing view of Egypt, a poor nation on the hustle. These excavations are slow and a bit random. Hence a lot may be findable in Memphis but there seems to be little desire to do the work.
We then drove over to Saqqara and saw the Step Pyramid. Unfortunately, our tour did not include Dahshur, and I had to see the Red and Bent pyramids from a distance. (See picture above.) I would have preferred to skip Memphis and visit Dahshur to see the trial and error that led to the pyramids. We could also look north and see other pyramids, and of course the Great Pyramids in the distance.
We also missed other attractions in Saqqara, although I am unsure how open they are to tourists. The most compelling story goes back to the great architect, Imhotep. He also was known as a healer, and indeed is to Egyptian medicine what Hippocrates was to Greek medicine (and our modern medicine). His tomb has not been found, but excavations to find it have uncovered a remarkable aspect of Egyptian thinking - a tunnel that goes for a long way and is filled with alcoves of jars, a million or more, inside of which are mummified Ibises. Some fragments of notes of an ancient priest have been found, and fill in the story.
Apparently when Egyptians go to temples, they make sacrifices. Rather than bring the goat, they buy it at the temple. (That Egyptian hustle again.) For healing, the sacrifice of choice is an Ibis, the bird of Thoth, the god of wisdom and learning. As today with Lourdes, pilgrims would come to the tomb of Imhotep and buy an Ibis in a jar, to seek healing from the great man himself. A priest would accept the jar and carefully place it in an alcove. The notes of the one priest showed he was concerned over fraud. Apparently many of the Ibis vendors sold the jar with chicken bones (yesterday's meal) wrapped like a mummy, fooling the rubes. And indeed, archeologists have found fake Ibises in some of the jars.
I would have like to have seen this. Instead, off we went to cruise the Nile and see the Temples.
We flew to Luxor, formerly known as Thebes, the grand capital of the Southern Kingdom. We first visited the great temple complex at Karnak, the largest outdoor museum in the world. Each major Pharaoh (and many minor) added their own particular temples or monuments to Karnak. It is a sprawling complex, half rebuilt. It provides a grand introduction to the temples we would later see that are largely intact.
You enter Karnak down a causeway lined with rams heads, with little Pharaohs between the legs. The only intact one is a small Ramses, so I suspect he built the whole causeway and put his face under every ram. It has a dramatic effect. There was also a grand boulevard between Karnak and the nearby temple complex called Luxor, lined with sphinxes. They are slowly excavating and restoring that street, and eventually visitors will be able to walk down the same concourse that served as a dramatic venue for processions of majesty and power.
You enter Karnak through a large portal. We would see this design at other temples - most spectacularly, the Temple of Horus at Edfu. Past the portal is an open courtyard, colonnaded but open to the sky. Crossing it comes to the temple proper, with a dramatic Hypostyle hall of 134 massive columns, carved with hieroglyphs and brightly colored.
Through the Hypostyle you come to a crumbled inner area and then into a new courtyard, centered on a huge obelisk from one of the striking developments in Egyptian history - Queen Hatshepsut, the first historical female ruler of a major nation.
Queen Hapshepsut took over after the death of her husband, Pharaoh Thutmoses II, as regent for the younger Thutmoses III; and after a short regency declared herself Pharaoh. She put two obelisks at Karnak, one of which still stands. Both proclaim that she had them quarried, carved and installed in a mere seven months.
The granite is quite hard, and the carvings are still in great condition. Obelisks are an engineering achievement that rivals the pyramids. The question has been, how are they erected without hydraulic lifts and pulleys? Even with all of our machines, we have had a difficult time pulling them down and moving them to Paris, London and NY. Most likely the ancient Egyptians accomplished this miracle with the clever use of sand. Imagine the obelisk being pulled up a ramp, and then tipped down towards the pedestal below. A dam has been built around the pedestal and filled with sand. The obelisk comes onto the sand, and through sifting the sand out and pulling on ropes, can be gently bent down towards the base while supported by the sand.
We also have a good idea of how they were quarried without metal tools. (The Egyptians had bronze but not steel, and bronze is too soft to quarry granite.) A red granite quarry has been found at Aswan, and in it is a partially quarried obelisk that has a defect and was left unfinished ages ago. They take a harder rock than granite and drop it on the granite, then brush away the dust. Steadily it grinds down. A long and tedious task in the sweltering sun. Typically done with slaves and criminals. A tourist slave showed us how near the obelisk, and said "You try! One Dollah!" I declined.
Thutmoses III and Queen Hapshepsut
Queen Hapshepsut was followed by her nephew, Thutmoses III, perhaps the greatest of all Pharaohs. He is called the Napoleon of Egypt for his many forays into conquered land. He went into Syria for 18 straight years to seek tribute. A bit odd that; why not post a garrison and just do it once? It seems the Egyptian obsession with death conquered the conquerors. The soldiers did not want to be posted outside of Egypt in case they died and weren't carried home for burial and resurrection, which can only happen on Egyptian soil. This rigidity of belief explains why Egyptian art was so static for 3000 years.
Thutmoses III did his best to wipe out records of the Queen from the lineage of Pharaohs. Ironically he did not remove her most phallic monument, the obelisk at Karnak. He also left alone her stunning funeral temple, across the Nile on the West Bank. It has a very modern look; one could imagine walking up to, say, the Getty Museum of similar design. (Of course, the Getty is a replica of the famous Villa of Papyrii at Hercaleum, but you get the idea.) A must see for that alone.
The Lure of the Scarab
After the Obelisk we wandered through Karnak. Many parts of it could use additional evacuation and restoring. We walked by the Sacred Pool, common at all Temples. We stopped at a small coffee shop and watered ourselves.
Continuing, we came to the crossroads between the entrance from the Nile (the way we first came in) and the concourse towards the Temple Complex of Luxor, two miles away. In one direction, the gate; in the other, the obelisk of Hapshetsut. In the middle, a scarab on a pedestal.
There we saw a very funny sight, and an insight into human nature. We can look back on the Egyptians and their religious views and static art of 3000 years, and shake our heads at animal worship, at gods with heads of cows, birds and jackals, and at the obsession with death. And then we come to the scarab monument. The story goes something like this: if you circle three times, you get good luck; and seven times, you become fertile. Superstition? Yet hordes of tourists were mindlessly circling the monument, 4000 years later! I went up to one and asked, how do they know the proper way is counterclockwise? Maybe the other way is proper. I got a dull stare back of a somewhat tired and certainly not amused tourist, gamely continuing around and around.
Cruising the Nile
After visiting Karnak, we repaired back to our boat. For over a hundred years, tourists to the Luxor area have used cruise boats as the best way to visit the sites, which are of course close to the Nile. These boats have evolved into a relatively similar form: four levels, central opening on the 2d floor, lunchroom on the 2d floor, lounge on the third and a wonderful rooftop covered area with a pool (a really small pool).
They dock connected to each other, sometimes five or six abreast, with the central area on the 2d floor as the common passageway boat to boat to dock.
The higher levels cost more, but we found the 2d level the most convenient combination of size and location. Unfortunately, we found this out due to a serious problem. We started on the second floor, and found the small room roomy enough. We could easily head off through the central opening for site visits, and found the eating area convenient as well. We were on the flagship of Ambercrombie & Kent's fleet of four ships. Yet, my wife was having headaches and not sleeping well. She is like the princess and the pea - sensitive to quality of the bed and the room's air.
One afternoon she stayed behind from a jaunt on the local sailing vessels. The boat went upriver to Elephantine Island, so named for being the former center of the ivory trade. It turned and cruised past Aswan back to the boat. A drop in the wind made it problematic to get back before the sun set. We barely made it.
While I had my sailing trip, she stayed in the room reading. After a few hours, she had a terrible headache. It turned out that the window (which was designed as a sliding door) didn't close properly. It was supposed to be permanently shut, but we could move it; they must have missed this room when sealing the sliding doors. When docked alongside other boats, with those other boats stacked up, their exhaust fumes made its way into our room. Although she felt uncomfortable at times, and had smelled the fumes before, we were rarely in the room during the day, and at night the ship was normally moving to a new site, blowing the fumes astern. She complained, but she was told that the boat was full, and there was nowhere to move us. On our last night, someone checked out in the evening, and we were moved late at night to the fourth level. We found the smaller size of the new room claustrophobic, but at least we had the only good night's sleep of the cruise. This room's window either shut tight or was high enough above the fumes. Another passenger also complained of having fumes in her room. Be forewarned.
Still, the cruising itself was enjoyable. During the day we watched the banks of the Nile slide by. We saw a slice of the daily life that must have occupied people here for 5000 years. Cutting sugar cane, farming, fishing, sailing, boating, lazing around.
We had understood that the sailing was mostly at night, while during the day we would journey out to see sites. We had a schedule largely consistent with that, but found the A&K guide winging it at times. He was likely trying to avoid the hordes from other boats. They all tend to go to the same places at the same times, and like any cruise ships in other places, flood the sites. He told us that the number of cruise ships has increased dramatically in his time to 300 today. Given the economic downturn and the recent terror incidents in Cairo, I expect the number of tours to drop, maybe by as much as 50%. Bargains should abound, and fewer hordes. If you are not concerned over terrorists in Egypt, you might find the next few years opportune to see the sites.
Yet to us the boat part of the trip was a huge disappointment, The food was overcooked; the boat was usually docked crammed together with other boats, blocking the view; some nights we were parked too close to nightclubs with music blaring into the wee hours; and of course we had our terrible experience with fumes. All in all, not even close to the five-star experience that is being marketed.
One afternoon we had a fairly long sail, and found it utterly delightful to sit on the rooftop and enjoy. We saw birds, people rowing and fishing, and a variety of scenery. Here are some of the scenes.
Valley of the Kings
After Karnak we boated across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. The era of pyramid building was over, but the lure remained. The Middle Kingdom had given way to the Second Intermediate Period, and Egypt had become occupied by a foreign invader, the mysterious Hyksos.
Wilbur Smith in the novel River God tells a fanciful and informative story of Ancient Egypt under the thrall of the Hyksos. He describes them as an Asiatic horde from the Steppes, the later source of the Huns who terrorized the Roman Empire, the Mongols who conquered China, and the Moguls who conquered India. Like these later horse people, he has the Hyksos with the small but powerful curved bow of the Steppes and chariots. At this time, Egypt did not have horses, nor use the wheel (nor camels, which also came much later). The technology of the horse and chariot devastated the Egyptian armies, and the Hyksos ruled the Northern Kingdom, sacked Thebes, and drove the Pharaoh and his remaining army far south into Nubia, only to emerge later with superior chariots and knowledge of the horse. Great book to read while cruising the Nile!
A more conventional view is that the Hyksos were Semites from Canaan. Intriguing is that the Roman writer Josephus, who also wrote of the historic Jesus, thought the Hyksos were the Jews of the Exodus. While the dates do not correlate very well with the time of Ramses II and Moses, attempts have been made to square the two periods. A fairly speculative 'forensic archeology' analysis in the book The Hiram Key creates a plausible timeline. That book argues that the rituals of Freemasons connect back to an historic incident between the King of the Hyksos, Apophis, who ruled the Lower Kingdom in the North, and the Pharaoh of Egypt, Seqenenre, who ruled the Upper Kingdom at Thebes in the South. Both fought for supremacy, and it appears that Apophis inadvertently caused Seqenenre to be killed by three Apophis supporters who may have been trying to gain secret knowledge of the rituals of resurrection that presumably were not known to the Hyksos.
The Masonic Third Degree ritual purports to recreate the murder of Hiram, the builder of Solomon's Temple, by three conspirators; but the ritual actually replicates the historic murder of the Pharaoh, as demonstrated by the still-existing mummy of Seqenenre. (That mummy was found with a mutilated body next to it, which might be the traitor within the Pharaoh's priesthood that let the conspirators in.) They speculate that the ritual was created a thousand years after the incident, and was conflated with Hiram's death. The authors go on to correlate the dates:
- the time of Apophis was the time of Joseph and the initial migration of the family of Jacob (later called Israel) to Egypt, and
- the Exodus of Moses happened hundreds of years later after the Hyksos leaders were expelled and the rest of the Hyksos were taken as slaves.
They also believe that Apophis was the Pharaoh that Joseph served, and believe Joseph may have been one of the three conspirators, along with his two brothers. Genesis 49:6 mentions that the brothers of Joseph were involved in a murder while trying to worm a great secret out of 'a man'.
When the Hyksos were pushed out of Egypt after a long and difficult struggle, the greatest period of Ancient Egypt began - the New Kingdom, the time of Ramses and King Tut, as well as Queen Hapshetsut and Thutmoses III. This kingdom had seen the ravages of the Pyramids, and decided to build their tombs in a more safely guarded spot.
(Interesting speculation is that another reason for abandoning those pyramids may have been the loss of the real secrets of resurrection. When Seqenenre died, the conspirators had also killed his two high priests - and those three may have been the only keepers of the deep secrets)
The Valley of the Kings has a narrow, defensible entrance, and a natural pyramid high above the Valley. During the New Kingdom a whole village of diggers, painters, sculptors and guards sat near the entrance, and robbery was deterred. When the New Kingdom decayed, the village fell into disuse, and the robbers came. Sic transit gloria.
We took a little tram up, something like the ones that you find at Disneyland to take you from the vast parking lot to the entrance. Those are labeled "Goofy" or "Mickey" or "Tinkerbell." I yearned to see a little of that here, such as the "Tutmobile" or the "Ramses 'Rod", but no such creativity here. We got off, shirked off the ubiquitous hawkers ("One Dollah! One Dollah") and headed towards the tombs.
Our first was Ramses VI, which is from a Pharaoh long after the great Ramses II, and unrelated. A whole slew of Pharaohs beginning with Ramses III used the revered name as the New Kingdom fell into a long decline. Nonetheless, we found the tomb remarkable. The colors were still vivid, and the many frescoes and carvings still visible in reasonably recognizable shape. The tombs have a similar look and feel, and after progressions of the Pharaoh meeting various gods, we came to the sarcophagus itself. Over it was the goddess Nut, a common ceiling pattern. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is her picture. She is the strange elongated shape, arms down one side, legs up the other and her body across the ceiling. Stars surround her, and in this tomb she is shown swallowing the sun at night and birthing the new sun at morn. Several respectful guides lurk in the tomb, and for a mere Dollah are happy to point out the best viewing angles. Worth it, actually.
We then went to the deep tomb of Seti I, one of the great Pharaohs and probably familiar to Westerners from the movie The Ten Commandments. He is the father of Ramses II and the adopted father of Moses. (Moses by the way is a derivative of a common Egyptian name, Mses, meaning Son Of. Ramses is Ra-Mses, son of Ra. Thutmoses and other pharaohs have this suffix as well.) Seti lived a long time, and his tomb is deep. When a new Pharaoh takes over, the tomb is started, and the longer he lives, the deeper and more spectacular the tomb. Think of how Imhotep built the Step Pyramid - Pharaoh Djoser lived a long time. We can only imagine how incredible the riches in the tombs of the longest lived Pharaohs must have been.
We then saw King Tut's tomb. A shallow and inconsequential dig (for reasons I will explain below), yet it held over 5,000 spectacular pieces for exhibition in the Egyptian Museum (and on tour) - a huge amount of stuff crammed into a small space. It wasn't the only recovered tomb, but the only one in the Valley of the Kings that had not been long robbed.
Other intact tombs have been found, mostly from a later period, and the riches are also on display in the Egyptian Museum. For some reason the tour guides tend to skip a room (beyond the jewelry room) with beautiful silver caskets of some of these Pharaohs. Silver was more precious than gold during the time of the Pharaohs, so it is particularly disappointing that we didn't get to see it. I only heard of this after our visit to the Museum, so we didn't know to ask the guide.
King Tut and Ahkenaten - the Pharaoh of Monotheism
King Tut may have been murdered. [Note: since I first wrote this, a near theory has emerged, that Tut died of malaria. How prosaic! I like the murder story better.] He certainly was almost written out of Egyptian Pharaoh lineage, and a relatively mysterious character until his tomb was found by Howard Carter in 1922. An odd tomb it is, given how small it is and how hastily it seems to have been prepared. Very few carvings on the walls, and some frescoes over his sarcophagus. He ruled for around 10 years, so it should have been bigger. His successor only ruled for four years, and has a much bigger tomb further up the Valley of the Kings. He may have stolen Tut's tomb for himself.
The story starts with one of the most extraordinary Pharaohs, Ahkenaten, Tut's father. Ahkenaten began as Amenhotep IV, but shortly after becoming Pharaoh, he changed his name. He worships a newish god, Aten, the rays of the sun. He asserts that Aten is the only god. Ahkenaten was the first major figure to assert monotheism, well before Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He likely gets kicked out of Thebes, given the many temples and myriad of priests whose livelihood depended on many gods.
Ahkenaten builds his own city. The court moves with him. Innovation thrives, especially in art. We see a flowering of new art forms in this depiction of the Pharaoh in the light of Aten's rays (courtesy of Wikipedia). Compare the portrayal of this Pharaoh with the style of a Pharaoh with Isis, above; or on the obelisk at Karnak; or of the many Ramses statues shown below: his belly is distended, his chest slim, he has breasts that would never land him in Playboy. Near him is little Prince Tut, then called Tutankhaten.
When Ahkenaten died, Tut was 8 and ruled by the regent Ay and probably Ahkenaten's beautiful wife, Nefertiti. Very soon Ay moved back to Thebes, and Tut changed his name. No more Atenism! Back to the old ways.
He died suddenly at 18, with a hasty burial. (Mummification takes 70 days, and so the whole tomb and furnishings had to be prepared within a short period.) The physical evidence of his mummy is unclear about the cause of death; it may have been a blow to the back of his head. Was he hit, or did he fall?
The circumstantial evidence, however, is more compelling. The only surviving royal person, Tut's half-sister and wife, writes a letter to the Hittite King, the long-time enemy of Egypt. (The name she uses in the letter is Dakhamunzu, rather than her wifely name Ankhesenamen, but it is likely the same person.) This is an extraordinary thing to do, and showed her desperation. She says: my husband died suddenly, please send me a prince to marry, I will make him Pharaoh. (In the New Kingdom, Pharaohood came from marrying the right princess.) Then she added: I will never marry a servant of mine. The speculation is that the Vizier, Ay, killed Tut and was insisting on marrying his wife, to become Pharaoh. The prince sent by the Hittites was killed at the border. Clearly the Vizier is a killer. Ay became Pharaoh, and even in Tut's tomb (70 days later) he is shown as both chief priest and the new Pharaoh. How could a commoner become King? A ring was found which showed that indeed Ay had married her. Sadly she fades from history, and may have been killed, too. Wilbur Smith should do a treatment of this story!
After Ay dies, the army commander Horemheb becomes the last Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. He systematically carves out the names of the Pharaohs from Ahkenaten through Ay, with poor King Tut lost in the middle. He is wiping out the error of the monotheistic heresy. Besides making Tut a mysterious figure, there is a fourth Pharaoh wiped out, about whom we know very little.
The final three Pharaohs - Tut, Ay and Horemheb - left no heirs, and after a brief reign of Ramses I, a new dynasty emerged with two of the Great Pharaohs, Seti I and Ramses II. Much of the sites we would see from then on were full of statues and reminders of Ramses.
Valley of the Queens
We left the Valley of the Kings and got on one of those Tutmobile trams to take us back to our bus. The hawkers were particularly annoying. I foolishly sat at the very rear, and an enterprising hawker jumped on the back, rode all the way down with us, and peddled some small statues. He started at $100 for three but by the bottom I had him down to $1 for four. I turned to one of our group who had been buying little souvenirs, and offered the deal to him. The hawker withdrew it hastily. As anyone dickering would find, often the lowball offers are not adhered to.
As we got off the tram, we heard a heated exchange between a Russian tourist and a hawker. Our tour guide tried to mediate, to no success. Apparently the hawkers used a typical trick to offer some of the goods as a 'gift.' In this case the Russian accepted, and paid nothing. A huge cultural misunderstanding ensued. With the hawkers, no deal is done until the money is exchanged. If you even touch or hold the goods, they insist upon payment. The squeakiest wheeler-dealers wear down the time-poverty tourists. But not this time. The Russian stood firm, and walked away.
The Valley of the Queens was nearby, and is a junior version of what we had just seen. Some of our group begged out seeing another tomb. Similar wall carvings and colors, similar annoying hawkers, similar dusty walk. Seen one tomb, seen them all?
We did stop at the marvelous funeral temple of Hapshetsut (pictured above). Her bust is also striking.
Inside are storyboards of her accomplishments and conquests. Outside are various statues of her.
Many of these staues are in her funeral pose (hands across the chest).
We then passed by the Colossi of Memnon, two huge statues of Amenhotep III, the father of the notorious Ahkenaten. They are in quite a state of disrepair, and sit off the road by a bunch of farms and a small parking lot. The former palace or temple is sunk in the muck. At one time an odd sound came from them - probably whistling from wind whipping through cracks. The sound is gone. So were we. We didn't get off the bus, just a quick look and onwards. A colossal waste of time.
We drove past bucolic scenes of Egypt on the Nile and returned to our cruise ship to visit a whole series of Temples. That night we cruised well down the Nile, from Thebes towards Cairo, until we came to our first intact temple.
Temple of Hathor
There are several temples still standing. They all seem to have been built or rebuilt by the Ptolemies, late in Egyptian history. The Ptolemies become rulers after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt around 333 BC. Unlike other recent conquerors - the Syrians, the Persians, and more - the Greeks revered Ancient Egypt, and Alexander wanted to be Pharaoh. He even journeyed to an oracle in the desert - and almost got lost - in order to have the proper answer to his question: who is my father? The oracle said "Ra", and it passed the test for whether Alexander was of divine origin. The Egyptians embraced him as he respected them and their traditions. When Alexander died and his Empire split into kingdoms, the Ptolemies took Egypt and ruled for 300 years, until the death of Cleopatra.
We came to the Temple of Hathor, walked through the reconstruction of what passes for the Portal (we would later see a spectacular portal at the Temple of Horus at Edfu), and entered the temple. We were able to walk inside up to the room which held the holy of holies, the statue of the god, and even take stairs up to the rooftop.
Although the Temple Model was described ti us at Karnak, this was the first time we could really experience it:
- the large portal outside;
- the open courtyard, often colonnaded;
- the entrance into a hypostyle (multi-columned) room;
- the step up into an audience chamber, sided with statues of (in this case) Hathor; and
- a further step up into the inner sanctum, where the goddess herself was kept,
- surrounded by side rooms for preparation and worship.
We also began to notice that the column capitals (tops) were usually papyrus in various stages of flowering. Here is an example from the outside of the Temple of Hathor.
As you enter the Temple, the floor rises the deeper one goes, the light from the outside dims, and the ceiling gets lower - all setting up a feeling of mystery. It would be heightened by the incense, chanting and ritual. The floor rising is meant to mirror the Nile - lower at the entrance (the Delta) and higher nearer the source (Aswan). You can see how dark it gets as one enters the Audience Chamber of Hathor, between columns of statues of the goddess.
Hathor (pronounced more like hoot-hor) is the cow goddess, and the goddess of happiness. Those of us from California are quite familiar with this theme - we see California cheese commercials where "the best cheese comes from happy cows!" So with Hathor. Her temple is a happy one, with many columns showing her head at the column top.
The goddess looks directly at you, an unusual pose for an Egyptian goddess - most gods are shown in side view. The columns themselves are a representation of a shaker that the priests must have used - a rattle with Hathor head on top. The columns would look like large rattles. The Temple also maintains some of its colors, and must have been a spectacle of happiness!
On the walls we see the traditional reliefs. Here is one of the Pharoah (small) approaching the goddess Hathor and the god Horus. Hathor often looks like Isis, so at a quick glance this could be the pose of Isis with her son Horus.
When we entered the Hypostyle, our guide pointed out many of the wonders. Here he is in full force, with our tour group surrounding him.
He pointed out many of the aspects of the Temple, and drew our attention to the ceiling. The colors can still be seen, even in the low natural light.
Temple of Luxor
We cruised back to Luxor, a very nice relaxing time. We saw the Luxor Temple complex, with many statues to Ramses. As you approach the Temple, note the impressive Avenue of Sphinxes. In time the whole avenue will be re-created between Karnak and Luxor, providing a dramatic morning walk.
Much of Luxor Temple replicates what we had seen before, but a couple of scenes stood out. First, the Coptic period had tried to claim the Temple as a Church, and painted this fresco over the older drawings:
Also, some of the other images had been desecrated. Cartouches from Queen Hapshetsut and the discredited Pharaoh Ahkenaten have been scrubbed out. Perhaps the prim Coptics tried to eradicate this visage:
We did see some remarkably well-preserved carvings, including this masterpiece of ritual offering:
(Again, as with all these images, click on them to see a larger version.)
The Temple would be a marvel at night, all lit up. Not to be missed is an evening carriage ride around the Temple and the surrounding city.
Edfu and the Temple of Horus
We cruised south of Luxor (Thebes) and came to the remarkable Temple of Horus. This Temple was rebuilt by the Ptolemies from around 250 - 50 BC. It sits on an older temple, and may sit on an ancient Megalithic site (much like Stonehenge). As described above, Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis, and is at the center of the Egyptian resurrection myth. The Temple itself gives the full package of the traditional Egyptian temple. It starts with a grand portal; sometimes two or three would grace the walkway into the temple proper.
Inside the portal, we come to the colonnaded outdoor plaza:
Statues of Horus guard the entrance:
Inside is the grand hypostyle hall, with colors still visible on the columns and ceiling:
We get hints of how colorful the walls would have been, two millenia ago:
We can glimpse at the Holy of Holies, normally hidden from all but the top priests and Pharaoh:
The walls outside the final chamber show the procession giving offerings:
Many of the carvings inside are well preserved and striking:
Ken Ombo and the Nilometer
We continued our cruise south, and saw the Temple at Ken Ombo at night, all it up. The temple has not weathered well, but it has a peculiar dual-entrance style. One side is dedicated to Horus, and the other to the crocodile god. There is even a collection of mummified crocs nearby. Apparently the Ptolemies had a peculiar fascination with animals.
The Temple also has a fine example of a Nilometer, a place to measure the Inundation level and determine whether they would enjoy the Cubits of Plenty, or would suffer either the Cubits of Death (low Nile) or Cubits of Surfeit (over-flooding).
The long reign of power of the Pharaohnic regimes can be seen as the result of a water monopoly. There are many ways the elite can hold onto power with such a monopoly. The Inundation comes as a surprise; there is no rain storm or other indication it is coming. It first comes as green water (plants) and later as red (clay) - both of which could be surrounded by religious symbolism - and then rises an unpredictable amount. The priests would certainly be expert astronomers, and would be able to calculate when it is supposed to come again, wowing the rubes. The Nilometers help them predict the Cubits, impressing the wealthy. The Inundation also swamps the land, and boundaries, barns, homes and the normal markers of land ownership would disappear in the mud. A whole bureaucracy of civil engineers and surveyors would be required to rediscover the plots of land and mark the boundaries. The rituals required during the Cubits of Death or Surfeit would be ministered by the priests. Offerings would have to be made; believers would be scared into submission. Even the Pharaoh would not be immune. Colleen McCullough in her stunning Masters of Rome series speculates that Cleopatra felt compelled to bed Caesar to appease the gods, for Egypt had suffered several years of the Cubits of Death, and the priests told her she had to get pregnant. Lacking an available Ptolemy with the proper bloodline, she seduced the most powerful man in the world, who claimed a divine bloodline back to Venus, via Aeneas of the Trojan War (later immortalized in Virgil's Aeneid to cement the rise of Caesar's heir, Augustus).
We continued up the Nile, and saw more activity as we approached Aswan.
Aswan and the Island of Philae
Aswan has a lot of sites around it. We didn't do this, but I have heard that a visit to Elephantine Island is interesting. It sits in the middle of the Nile, and for many years was the center of the ivory trade out of Africa.
Instead, we made an obligatory visit to Aswan Dam, which was almost a complete waste of time except we could look down on the First Cataract, an area of rocks that proved an obstacle to any traffic trying to sail upriver from Aswan. This marked the end of the Egyptian Kingdom and the start of Nubia. We also visited the obelisk quarry, which is well worth the time, and is described above.
We then boarded boats and set forth for the Island of Philae in the great Lake Nasser created by the Dam. In the 1960s as the Dam was being finished and the Lake growing, the world community came together to save several important monuments of the Egyptians. Most notable is the Abu Simbel temples of Ramses II, discussed shortly. The Island of Philae contains several temples whose original island is now flooded. Unfortunately for history, many other sites are now lost, including a string of forts built to keep the Nubians out.
There is nothing particularly compelling about these temples other than their setting, which is spectacular. Our guide did point out a most peculiar carving, more reminiscent of Mayan art than Egyptian.
We then flew on to one of the must-see spectacles of Egypt - Abu Simbel.
Ramses II built two temples into the rock that now lies below Lake Nasser. In a heroic effort, UNESCO successfully built a new cliff and moved the two temples there in situ. UNESCO did such a fine job it is hard to tell that the Temples have been reassembled. The fake cliff, however, is a bit odd - tourists park behind the cliff, and it is clearly an artificial structure. But coming around to see the temples is an amazing experience.
We first saw the temple to his queen, Neferteri, and went inside. On the front walls are carvings of Ramses smiting Nubians - the message is clear.
We then came up to the huge statues of Ramses. We went inside and saw the whole storyboard of the Battle of Kardash laid out in the first chamber. Again, the message to any visiting Nubians is clear - here is the fearless Pharaoh winning a great battle. We were profoundly disappointed in our guide, who gave little insight and virtually no preparation into what we would see inside, particularly in comparison with another guide I overheard outside giving very detailed advice on how to view the panels and what to look for.
The battle itself was over-hyped by Ramses. As best as can be pieced together, he led four legions of troops northward to recapture Kardash from the Hittites. He found some Hittite soldiers on his way, and in true Jack Bauer style, tortured them to determine where the main force was lying in wait. Ramses was told that the Hittites were nowhere near Kardash, and he took the bait. He raced ahead with only one legion, and got there near sunset. His troops were then surprised by the very-much-present Hittite army - the soldiers had been a ruse, and the great Pharaoh had fallen for it.
Facing a rout, Ramses got on his chariot and rallied the troops. This may truly have been a moment of great bravery. He may have simply plunged into the enemy lines, and his rash bravery caused his broken legion to regroup and support him. He drove the Hittites back over the river, and events settled down as night fell. That evening the rest of his army joined him, and the next day they met the Hittites in a great battle, outnumbered 40,000 Hittites to 20,000 Egyptians. Ultimately, the fight ended in a draw, which speaks well of the smaller Egyptian army. Ramses cut some sort of face-saving deal and went home a hero.
In the Abu Simbel panels, you can see this story unfold. In one panel, Ramses appears to hold two bows - the artist is portraying him as being able to shoot multiple arrows quickly. In another you can see Ramses' pet lion at his feet (yes, he brought a lion on the trip!). While this art follows the general style of Egyptian panels, it also shows more life and innovation than most 'smiting panels' on temples elsewhere. Only later during the Ptolemies reign can a more complex art form be seen, as Greek influences expanded the Egyptian repertoire.
We flew back to Cairo, and visited two must-see sites: Cairo Market and the Citadel. Cairo Market is the old downtown, and like other bazaars in the Middle East, is full of narrow walkways and meandering paths. On the way in you will see lots of shops, such as this one:
We saw lots of locals, and caught this pretty little girl watching us from a shop front:
Sometimes we saw the craftsman hard at work:
I will place a collection of these shots in a companion photo album.
Our visit was not without incident. The bazaar is structured so that at one side are a series of hookah bars with outdoor seating, where tired tourists rest at the end of the day. Our guide faithfully brought us to an inside coffee shop, surrounded by locals.
The next day, a terrorist bomb went off in the tourist area near where we had been. Almost immediately bookings to Egypt dropped 50%, according to our A&K guide. Fortunately, nothing of that sort marred our trip. While we were wandering through the bazaar, however, one of our party left early and went back to the hotel on her own without telling us. Our guide was a bit frantic, and looked everywhere for her. Eventually we put two and two together and were able to return to the hotel. Forewarned is forearmed - friendly as the place may seem, don't be too casual. Stay with the tour group and keep the guides apprised of your whereabouts.
We also visited the Citadel, the high point in central Cairo, and saw the great Mosque.
While there, we met up with a group of Egyptian school kids, and our guide asked them to sing us a song. Our tour group was largely Canadian, so we returned the favor, belting out Oh Canada! A fine moment. Away from the tourist trail, the Egyptian people were quite friendly,
As we were leaving the Citadel, and preparing to leave Egypt, one last site caught my eye. From anywhere in Cairo, my eyes were drawn to the Pyramids. Even from the edge of the Citadel, they stand out, unmistakable amidst the apartments, offices and minarets that dot Cairo.