14.01.2010 - 19.01.2010
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After the long ride here on a very slow and painful train ride I finally arrived in Luxor, home to the temple of Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. As far as antiquities go it is hard to argue that Luxor didn’t win the jackpot, this was however the site of the famous ancient city of Thebes. Sadly with this bounty comes also the ever presence of both touts and tour groups in spades both of which test even the best travelers patience.
The township actually surrounds the Luxor temple which has been influenced by the pharaohs, Romans and Muslims alike. The temple was first built during the new kingdom by Hatchesput, the first female pharaoh, as a tribute to the god Amun, king of the gods. Later great leaders such as Amenhotep III, Ramses II and Alexander the great all left their mark producing this Egyptian/Greek/Roman temple that is now complete with a mosque in the very centre. The temple has also been used in such movies as the “Spy Who Loved Me” and “the Mummy” series. The entrance to the temple itself is marked by a giant obelisk and contains among other things a colossus of Ramses II as well as a giant corridor demarcated by some incredibly imposing roman columns. These also provide an amazing spectacle when lit up at night.
As you leave the Luxor temple you walk down a road lined by sphinx statues that lead the way to the nearby Karnak temple. As you walk along, its best to imagine the great Opet festival where the statue of Amun made its way along this very road.
Karnak another in honour of the god Amun was started during the middle kingdom and changed by everyone that conquered the area right through until emperor Constantine. The centerpiece of Karnak, the mighty Hypostle hall is incredible with over 100 giant columns placed together providing an incredible spectacle. As you walk through it is impossible not to feel dwarfed by the sheer size of the temple and it makes you wonder how they managed to achieve all of this over 4000 years ago. The complex also contains two giant obelisks which are impressive again for their sheer size (and makes me wish I could read hieroglyphs). The complex also contains the great gate of Ptolemy and the sacred lake.
The next day it was off to see the centerpiece of Luxor’s antiquities, the Valley of the Kings. Apparently this was chosen as a resting place after they decided that the pyramids were too easily identified as a source of treasure and thus the pharaohs sought somewhere they could be buried, still near a natural pyramid (mountain) and keep their treasure. Here the centerpiece should undoubtedly be the tomb of Tutankhamen discovered in 1922 by Harold Carter largely intact. However most of the tomb now resides in the Cairo museum and owing to his relative unimportance as a pharaoh (only 18 years) the tomb is on the less impressive side (this doesn’t stop them from charging more than the entry fee for the one tomb though). Here the entrance fee allows you access to only three tombs that however do allow you to get a good feel for the resting place that the valley provided. Egyptian beliefs are complicated but basically the pharaoh is buried with the things he needs in the afterlife. The tombs are then decorated with the story of who he is and the details of the journey he must now take so that when he wakes up and has forgotten everything he can get himself up to speed (presumably in forgetting everything he still remembers how to read!). The tombs show case how deep and complicated some of the tombs were (depending on how long the pharaoh lived) and also some of the engineering mistakes made when tombs ran into other previous tombs,
Next it was off to see the valley of the queens located on the other side of the mountain, which was originally started by Ramses II to honour his favourite wife Nefertari, This tomb is also said to be the most impressive tomb here containing original hieroglyphs that are not see anywhere else here. True to form this is closed to public viewing – unbelievable. The remaining tombs remain quite small and largely unimpressive.
Next it was off to the temple of Hatshepsut, the first three leveled temple in Egypt and was built by the first female pharaoh of Egypt. The temple is introduced by a large ramp that takes you up to the multi layered columned entrance to the grand temple which is in impressive condition given its age and recent history. The way home featured a quick stop in at the colossus of Memnon which now stands alone as two giant statues whilst providing a nice overview of the valley.
Sadly only the colossus and Hatshepsut temples allow you to take photos so basically you leave only with memories. The plethora of tourist police are apparently not only there to collect backsheesh for pointing out any god they know but also to fine anyone seen with a camera 1000 egyptian pounds.
The final destination for me here was the little visited Greco-roman temple at Dendera, supposedly one of the best preserved ruins in the country. The main temple is dedicated to the Hathor, goddess of pleasure and wife of Horus. The main temple which still remains intact is simply enormous and greets you with six giant columns that bear the (now defaced) portraits of Hathor. The walls and roof inside contain such detailed hieroglyphics that are so well preserved that it is quite easy to make out who is who and we spent a great deal of time trying to decode the scenes from the little Egyptology that we knew. The temple also contains various paintings of the goddess Nut, who is responsible for swallowing the sun at night and then giving birth to it again the next day. This combined with an astrological star chart and various depictions of the astrological symbols give the temple a unique feel, as does the very special paintings depicting the great Cleopatra. Most amazingly for me however is that contained within the wall carvings lie hundreds of cartouches set aside for the current rulers name that are left blank indicating the political instability at the time. The complex also contains a temple dedicated to Isis, the goddess of motherhood and a sacred lake that is now filled with palm trees. In the background lies a mud brick wall that looks very Roman if one relies solely on the arch design.