Having completed the Suez Canal, the Norweigan Jade landed in the port of Safaga, Egypt. We had arranged through our Cairo guide, Sam, for a friend of his to be our guide in Luxor, where we could visit the temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.
It was an crazy drive; Janice was scared that the driver was going between 90 and 100 miles per hour down a winding highway leading to the back roads that would take us to Luxor. It was about a two-hour drive. We were dropped off and introduced to our guide, Mario, for the day. He and Sam had worked together on several occasions and studied Egyptology in college, and he lives full-time in Luxor.
Luxor is the city’s present-day name; the ancient Egyptians called it Waset, and the ancient Greeks called it Thebes. Luxor, or Thebes, depending on who tells the history, was home to more than 40,000 people and served as Egypt’s capital during the Middle and New Kingdoms (2050 to 1100 B.C.).
The Temple of Karnak was excavated in the city of Luxor.
The Temple of Karnak
The Karnak Temple Complex consists of many temples, chapels, and other buildings in a village. It is for that reason that the name Karnak was given to this complex, as in Arabic, Karnak means ‘fortified village.’
We walked down the way to the entrance to the complex. The walkway was lined with Rams, in ancient Egypt, the ram was regarded as a symbol of protection, male virility, fertility, syncretism (an amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought), rebirth, and resurrection. The complex was vast; we had only allocated several hours, so even with our guide, Mario, we did not have enough time to see everything in the complex.
By the time of the Eleventh Dynasty, Theban kings had become rulers of all Egypt, the area of Karnak was already considered holy ground, some form of structure for the worship of Amun probably existed before the reunification, and it seems to have been located somewhere within the Karnak area. The unification of Egypt brought Amun (the god that created the universe), and he gradually merged with the sun god Ra to become Amun-Ra.
Karnak is currently the world’s second-largest ancient religious site; only Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the Hindu/Buddhist Temple, is more enormous. The Precinct of Amun-Ra is the only part of Karnak open to the public. Three additional sections —the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the Temple of Amenhotep IV—are still in progress and will eventually be open.
Thirty different pharaohs contributed to Karnak’s ever-changing landscape. Archaeologists date Karnak back 3,700 years to the reign of Senusret I, the second pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty. Many structures were demolished and recycled into other places based on the pharaoh’s requests and at his or her discretion. Although some buildings and columns have been rebuilt, the destruction does not interfere with the stunning architecture available as you visit.
Great Hypostyle Hall
At the heart of Karnak, the Nineteenth Dynasty pharaoh Sety I (reigned 1291-1279 BC) erected his Great Hypostyle Hall, a colossal forest of 134 giant sandstone columns supporting a high clerestory roof. Massive walls enclosed it. After 3,300 years, it remains substantially intact today.
The Great Hall is vast. It covers an acre of land, and its great columns soar to heights of 20 meters (65 feet). Not only does the scale and completeness of this monument remain a rarity among ancient Egyptian temples, but it is also the largest and most elaborately decorated of all such buildings in Egypt.
The inscriptions covering every surface of the walls, columns, and roof are bewildering! The patchwork of artistic styles and different royal names seen in these inscriptions and relief sculptures reflect the various stages at which they were carved over the centuries.
Successive pharaohs, Roman emperors, high priests, and ordinary Egyptians added to its wealth of inscriptions and relief decoration, made architectural alterations and restorations, and even left pious graffiti on its walls.
Archaeologists are working to unscramble the thousands of discovered stone blocks to reconstruct many lost structures hidden in their history.
While there are many exciting and beautiful structures at the temple, one of the stories that stood out to us was the story of Hatshepsut, the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (1550/1549 to 1292 BC).
Hatshepsut “Foremost of Noble Ladies”; c. 1507–1458 BC) was the fifth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. She was the second historically confirmed female Pharaoh after Sobekneferu. Various other women may have also ruled as pharaohs or at least regents before Hatshepsut, as early as Neithhotep around 1,600 years prior.
At 20 years old, Hatshepsut remains the only ancient woman able to claim power when her civilization was most robust. She achieved this in Egypt, where the theological tenants of royal power stood against a woman claiming such a position.
She was married to Thutmose II and stepmother to Thutmose III, the heir to the throne. In time-honored fashion, Hatshepsut assumed effective control as the young pharaoh’s queen regent.
When her husband, Thutmose II, died, Hatshepsut’s preferred title was not King’s Wife but God’s Wife of Amun. She was a true blue blood, related to the pharaoh Ahmose, a designation some believed paved her way to the throne. If she had been a man, she would have been pharaoh.
After just a few years, she had assumed the role of “king” of Egypt, the supreme power in the land. Her stepson—who by then may have been fully capable of assuming the throne—was relegated to second-in-command. Hatshepsut proceeded to rule for a total of 21 years.
During the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Egyptian empire experienced a renaissance—gold poured into the country like water, and new building projects were underway, including many of the sprawling temples of Karnak and Luxor.
Hatshepsut began to transform the grandest temple complexes from mud brick to stone. Future kings marked the sacred landscape with new towers and gateways, colossal statues and obelisks, sanctuaries, and columned halls like the Great Hypostyle Hall above.
Hatshepsut and Thutmosis II built the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in 1479 BC to hold the barque of the God Amun, the resting place for the statue of Amun. On holy days, the figure of Amun would be placed on the barque and carried in procession from Karnak on the shoulders of priests. When the statue of Amun was not traveling, however, the barque rested in its shrine, the Red Chapel. Hatshepsut’s stepson, Thutmose III, destroyed the chapel after her death as he tried to erase any reminder of Hatshepsut.
The Red Chapel was reconstructed in 2002 from the blocks found in 1957. From an architectural point of view, The blocks had all been built separately and then put together. It was true “prefabrication.” Interestingly, this “prefab” building method was not used again in ancient Egypt.
Hatshepsut added more than two pairs of red granite obelisks, miracles of human ingenuity and energy. The architecture of her reign influenced later New Kingdom pharaohs, including Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, and Ramses II.
Close to twenty years after her death, the success of her reign could well be the reason that many of her statues, images, as well as her hieroglyphic name were subject to annihilation. As you walk around Karnuk, you can see some of the structures and carvings done about Hatshepsut have been damaged almost beyond recognition so that any image or carving of her could be erased. It is said that her stepson was the one that destroyed virtually most of the carvings, statues, and hieroglyphics about her. We guess payback is pretty tough!
The experience of visiting Karnak was amazing, another view of the history of civilization. It was such a contrast to the pyramids of the older dynasties that we wrote about earlier. The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt
Mario took us to lunch in Luxor at a lovely restaurant that overlooked the Nile. The food was excellent, and we enjoyed a time to rest until we began our next adventure at The Valley of the Kings.
Crossing the Nile
As we were not allowed enough time to see all the wonders of Luxor, we should have planned two days to visit the historic area. We had to get to the Nile’s western side to see the Valley of the Kings. If we drove there across the bridge, it would take us almost an hour and leave us little time at the tombs. Leave it up to Mario to devise a solution; while we were having lunch, Mario arranged for us to take a boat across the Nile, which would take 10 minutes and give us more time at the king’s tombs.
Mario is quite an interesting character; he seems to be in full motion at all times. Since Mario lives in the area, he knows many people; while we were having lunch, a group of Saudis asked him if he would be interested in being their guide the next week, and he said he would contact them. Where ever we went, he was well known, and in every establishment, we went into, you would think he owned it! It was fun to be able to move ahead of the crowds.
We got to the dock, and Mario went to the man in charge; of course, he knew him. We followed Mario down on the pier and got into one of the local boats, he knew the captain, and we immediately pushed away from the dock and headed across the Nile. We laughed that we didn’t take a boat ride on the Nile in Cairo. We were finally on the Nile!
While crossing the Nile, we could see other ruins along the river, ones we did not have time to visit; there was so much history in one area. While the ruins that have been uncovered are many, it is only a tiny amount compared to what is believed to be found in this area. New ruins and unique finds happen daily in Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq that further uncovers the History of Civilization.
We exited the boat, and our driver was parked at the top of the ramp. At this point, it was a short few miles to the Valley of the Kings.
Valley of the Kings
The Old Kingdom of Egypt saw many kings wanting to be buried in Pyramid-style tombs in the old capital of Memphis near Cairo, and we visited many of them while visiting Giza.
The New Dynasty of kings favored a different burial. The capital city for the New Kingdom (1500-1069 B.C.) )had moved to Thebes (modern-day Luxor), and so the rulers wanted to be buried on the West Bank of the Nile.
As we were driving to the Valley of the Kings, there was excavation work going on that you could see from the car. It will be amazing what our grandchildren will see if they are blessed and get to visit Egypt 40 years from now. We were told that only 5% of the ancient ruins had been recovered!
Of the sixty-three tombs discovered, twenty were kings or queens. The rests were noblemen and members of royal families. Currently, only eighteen are open to the public. We had time only to enter a few of the tombs, so Mario told us the ones that were the most amazing to visit.
Over thousands of years, the preservation likely happened because of the sands that protected the area before discovery. The tomb of Tutankhamun was the only tomb found in the valley that had not been robbed of all the relics, including the mummies of the dead kings. Tutankhamun’s tomb was located just under Ramses IV’s tomb. His tomb and many other gold relics are displayed from his short life at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. A must-visit!
We entered the first tomb KV1, the tomb of King Ramses VII. It was a fantastic surprise. The color and intricate carving in the walls take your breath away. it is a long walk down to the tomb where the mummy was once lying that told the stories of the king.
John was worn out from all the walking, so he joined Mario for a soda and rest while Janice went down into KV8, the tomb of Merenptah. It was a steep walk down, not as brightly colored as Ramses VII, but still amazing.
As she walked down into the tomb, there were exciting carvings along the way; each tomb had its flare depending on the king.
As Janice walked down the stairs, she finally arrived in the area where the mummy had been buried. She did not meet anyone as she walked down, but at the bottom, she was alone in the tomb; a man was assigned to ensure people did not climb around. He offered Janice the opportunity to walk around the ledge and go inside where the casket had once been. It was a bit scary walking on a very skinny ledge, but what an experience. Just fantastic!
On the way back to Luxor, Marion stopped at a pottery shop. Outside we were given a demonstration of the artists working with alabaster. It was fascinating and enjoyable. We entered the shop, and a delightful young man showed us around. As we were walking around, we had a wonderful conversation with him. He asked many questions about the United States and what it was like in small towns away from the large cities. He had so much respect for our country. It was so pleasant to talk with him. There were many beautiful pieces, but as we always laugh, 20 years ago, we may have purchased a few items.
Janice then found an alabaster candle holder that she thought would be lovely in the living room by the fireplace.
We traveled back to Luxor via the bridge route; we were so happy we had taken the boat across the Nile earlier. We returned to catch up with the person who took us to Luxor.
We could not thank Mario enough. He had packed so much activity into the day, which was exhilarating and educational. We will long look with amazement at ancient Egyptian culture. Another great adventure!
It was time to head back to our ride back to the ship. We had to hurry; Mario said after a particular time, tourists were no longer permitted to travel on the roads; we suspected that was due to fear of them being attacked, but who knows. One thing about traveling in that part of Egypt is there are many checkpoints with police where the driver has to show a document that he is permitted to take us on tour. Once on the highway, we were only checked once and again when entering the port.
We are off for the remainder of our cruise; we will see Sam after the cruise back in Cairo to finish our adventure in Egypt.