In March of 2023, my wife and I decided to embark on our long-awaited journey through Egypt.
We have always wanted to visit this Arab country to experience its culture and history. So we booked a two-week tour to places like Cairo, Giza, Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Sharm El-Sheikh, and ancient monuments and temples like the Great Pyramids, Sphinx, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings.
After a hectic three-day tour of Cairo and Giza, we flew on Egypt Air to Luxor, were whisked away to our cruise ship, Steigenberger Minerva, and checked into our fabulous cabin.
The cabin was more like a hotel room than a cruise ship cabin, with a king bed, a large window offering splendid views, and a full bathroom. It also had a flat-screen TV that we never turned on because we were too busy exploring the ancient monuments.
The plan is to cruise the Nile for four days from Luxor to Aswan, stopping at important ancient sites along the way.
Luxor has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open-air museum," as the ruins of the Egyptian temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city.
Immediately opposite, across the River Nile, lie the monuments, temples, and tombs of the west bank Theban Necropolis, which includes the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Luxor is among the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Its name in Arabic literally means the Palaces, and it does have many palaces, old and new.
The modern city depends primarily on tourism, but agriculture and crafts play a significant economic role.
Walking or driving along the Nile, you can see rows after rows of cruise ships embarking and disembarking the hoards of tourists into the city.
Construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom and continued into Roman times.
Successive rulers added to or restored Karnak's buildings because they believed it would ensure immortality for the Pharaoh and the favor of the gods.
Pharaohs commissioned carvings that detailed their building and restoration work at Karnak. A pharaoh would also complete unfinished projects started by his predecessor, especially his father.
A variety of scenes decorated the columns and walls of the temples. Some show rituals or festivals conducted in a specific temple area, while others are records of a pharaoh's military exploits. The Egyptians painted these decorations, but most of the color was worn away.
Interesting Fact: The Opet Festival was held yearly in this temple, lasted for twenty-seven days, and was considered a link between the Pharaoh and the god, Amun.
The Great Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re has an area of 50,000 sq ft with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. Many are 33 ft tall, and a few are 69 ft tall.
Walking through those giant pillars covered in hieroglyphs telling the names and histories of past civilizations is awe-inspiring. Some writings are so well preserved that you can see the original colors.
Looking up at some preserved ceilings, you will see sky-blue carvings with stars. The roofs of temples are known to represent the heavens.
Our visit to Karnak was so thrilling that we returned to attend the Lights and Sound show. As darkness fell, the temple was lit up with various colors while a booming voice explained the history and beliefs of the ancient Egyptians.
Luxor was built around 1400 BCE and was dedicated to rejuvenating kingship. It is believed that many pharaohs were crowned in this temple, and Alexander the Great claimed he was crowned here, but there is no evidence that he traveled past the city of Memphis.
Parts of the building served as chapels for Pharaos and Alexander, as a Roman Garrison and seat of government, and was later converted into a church.
The location of the old church, which was right on top of the temple columns, currently serves as an active mosque, the Abu Haggag Mosque.
Interesting fact: The Luxor Temple is missing a large Obelisk. The King of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, gifted it to the King of France, Louis Philippe, in 1829. He, in turn, propped it in Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1836.
The sphinxes lining the avenue have three distinct shapes. The first is a lion's body with a ram's head, the second is an entire ram statue, and the third is a lion with a human head (like the Sphinx).
The avenue was buried under layers of sand and newer homes for thousands of years. It was excavated recently and opened to the public in 2021.
Valley of the Kings
As we approached the valley, we came across two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III.
The Valley of the Kings is full of rock-cut tombs for nearly 500 years - from the 16th to 11th century BC - used for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom.
Interesting Fact: Locals believe anyone who gets close to or touches the boy king's tomb will be cursed. This was after the team led by Howard Carter died mysteriously, and none of them, including Howard, survived shortly after the tomb's discovery.
We visited three of those tombs and were amazed at the decorations and inscriptions that survived thousands of years.
The decorations represent scenes from Egyptian mythology and depict the Pharaoh's journey to the afterlife. It provides us with a glimpse into the afterlife beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and is a testament to their skill and artistry.
The Valley of the Kings is one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is home to some of the world's most famous tombs, including Tutankhamun's tomb.
Valley of the Queens
The first tomb in the Valley of the Queens was built for Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, the wife of Ahmose I, the founder of the 18th Dynasty. Over the next 500 years, more than 90 tombs were built in the valley for queens, princesses, and other royal family members.
During our visit, we explored the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the first woman Pharaoh to rule ancient Egypt.
Interesting fact: Thutmose III, Hatshepsut's nephew, and successor, attempted to erase her from history by defacing her images in tombs and monuments. Despite his efforts, her legacy has survived, and she is now remembered as one of the most influential and successful women in Egyptian history.
The Temple of Hatshepsut is considered to be a masterpiece of ancient architecture.
Its three massive terraces rise above the desert floor and into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari.
Her tomb lies inside the same massif capped by El Qurn, a pyramid for her mortuary complex.
The temple is decorated with scenes from Hatshepsut's life, reign, and religious scenes.
The most famous scene in the temple is the Punt Relief, which depicts Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt.
Alabaster Stoneworks Artisans
We visited one of the schools called "Abu Haggag," which aims to keep the tradition of carving Alabaster alive with an apprentice program.
Important Note: Prices of handcrafts are often inflated in Egypt because they expect you to haggle.
The students and teachers were eager to demonstrate their craft and show us their finished products.
I was surprised to see that the piece to be carved was placed in the ground while the artist used a special tool to shape the interior.
We were impressed with their work and bought too small Pyramids to take with us.