Heading Inland to see the Temples and Tombs in Egypt
We arrived in Egypt after a leisurely transit along the Suez Canal. After scuba diving in Sharm El Sheikh, our second port in Egypt on our amazing cruise adventure was Safaga. This port was founded by Queen Hatshepsut when she was the Pharaoh for 34 years. We didn’t get a chance to explore the port area, the water sports or enjoy a Red Sea mud spa treatment. Instead we boarded a bus for a two day trip to Luxor to explore the temples and tombs in Egypt.
This would be our second trip to desert after exploring the Dead Sea in Israel. We were excited to see the treasures we would find. In Jerusalem we got an introduction to religious history in the Middle East. This visit in Egypt would take us back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs.
When we reviewed the map of Egypt, it was clear how little we really would be seeing and what we would miss. Much like our scuba experience in Sharm this would just be a taste test. We certainly hope that Egypt continues to settle down so it is more safe for tourism.
Driving Through the Desert
It was a long 3 hour drive through the undeveloped desert between Luxor and Safaga. The buses traveled in a convoy for safety. We went through checkpoints every 30 minutes or so. If you don’t make the next checkpoint they send someone to look for you. While the checkpoints were armed, they were positioned more to be for your safety in case of an accident.
I had realized on our travels through Israel that the desert didn’t mean endless seas of sand. Instead, much of the desert we saw was rough, dry hill country. It rains very rarely (6″/yr) but occasionally there will be a flash flood that will close the roads. We saw some evidence of a recent flood that had taken out part of the roadway.
Occasionally we would see remnants of abandoned Bedouin shelters. They had lived nomadically for centuries in the desert. The government is attempting to settle the Bedouins into permanent settlements. But both the Bedouins and the camels are free spirits. They can often be found wandering about. While there are foxes, rabbits and snakes in the desert, we did not see any on our drive.
Leaving the Desert
We knew we left the desert as the landscape started to green. Canals from the Nile provide the water for farming.
We travelled through several small villages on our way to Luxor. Young children on the side of the road would smile, wave and sometimes throw kisses. Wherever we went the local people seemed to be welcoming the tourists back to Egypt.
We finally reached the city of Luxor. Luxor is part of Ancient Thebes, which was called “The Hundred-Gated City” by Homer. It was renamed Luxor (or “City of Palaces”) by the Arabs for the beautiful palaces and huge edifices they found.
We got our first view of the Nile River. The Nile no longer has crocodiles (held behind the High Dam) or hippos. But if you visit the lake by the dam you will find the highest crocodile population (up to 12′ long). Not on this trip! We could see the tour boats lined up on the Nile. Yet one more sign of the vast drop in tourists to Egypt.
During our two day visit we would visit the temples and tombs in Egypt. The Nile River runs through Luxor cutting the city into the east and west banks. The Karnak and Luxor temples are on the east bank of the Nile in the “City of the Living” where they can greet the live-giving sunrise. The sunset on the west bank casts shadows on the tombs and mortuary temples of the pharaohs.
The Sonesta St George Hotel in Luxor was well-appointed and a central spot to explore the temples and tombs of Egypt. We had a good room with oblique view to the Nile. Unfortunately the hazy (or polluted air) meant the sunset and morning hot air balloon views we’re unimpressive. We heard more chatter about the fully automated toilets and baths.
Each came with a full instruction sheet. Food was plentiful if often steam table cold. The night buffet on the Nile provided nice atmosphere and a great meat BBQ.
The Gods of Egypt
As we travelled to Luxor, our guide Mervat gave us an interesting education on the gods of Egypt. We were well prepared for our visit to the temples and tombs in Egypt. All errors that occur in this series of blogs on Egypt are mine. At some point, my brain could hold no more facts!
Ancient Egyptians believed in many gods but the king of the gods was Rah. Next in line is Amun (or Amen). Rah is in charge of life on earth. There are 450+ other gods or goddesses. If they work under Rah, you will see the solar disc. Egyptians generally lived on east bank – where the sun rises and where they worshipped Rah.
Amen was in charge of the underworld. It was believed that spirits travel to the underworld before ascending (considered the hidden kingdom). The tombs of the buried are on the west bank where the sun sets. The journey to the underworld begins here. This journey is documented in the Book of the Dead. Scenes from this book adorn the walls of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
The Book of the Dead shows the funeral and the journey divided into 12 chapters for the hours of the night. Between each chapter is a gate. A quiz is given to the spirit to pass the gate. The quiz is basically a denial ritual (you say you didn’t do something) with 14 jurors. If you don’t pass a gate, you get stuck in eternal darkness. This is the concept of hell since you can never be resurrected once stuck.
At the end there is a trial for the deceased where key requirements must be met. Then the heart is weighed (only organ kept in mummification) against the feather of justice. If lighter, then the spirit passes to heaven.
Tombs For the Dead
There was only one chance to ascend to heaven. Ancient Egyptians took their time to build massive “homes” for their eternal life. They were big believers in magic (Isis is the goddess magic and fertility). And so, they felt they could take those homes with them for their eternal life. The tombs included statues of servants to serve them in the afterlife. Magic will make them come to life when they arrive in the afterlife.
In Egypt there are 3 seasons – flood, planting and harvest. During the season of the flood when they couldn’t work, ancient Egyptians would go to the dessert and work on their tomb. Work was usually started as soon as a new ruler was crowned.
The burial complex included a temple for worshipping (the Mortuary Temples) and another one for mummification (Valley Temple). The Valley temple is closed after one use. Once dead, a body was washed multiple times, the brain was discarded, organs were removed and the body was soaked for 60 days. The heart was then put back, the eyes were replaced with crystals and then the body was wrapped with specially-treated cloth. Then the mummy was bejewelled. Once sealed in the tomb, nobody would ever go in the tomb.
The Temples of the East Bank
We visited both the temples and tombs in Egypt. The first temple we visited on the east bank was the Karnak Temple. Because we were staying overnight in Luxor, we got the chance to see Karnak Temple in the day and night. This was the temple dedicated to the worship of the God Amun Rah.
The second temple we toured was the Luxor Temple. The Luxor Temple plays a main part in the annual Opet Festival. One ancient story suggests that Amun paraded from there down the Avenue of the Sphinxes to the Karnak Temple. Once there, a celebration of fertility was performed with the goddess Mut.
The History of the Valley of the Kings
When visiting the temples and tombs in Egypt, you toured both the east and west banks of the Nile. The Valley of the Kings was the massive tomb site on the west bank. Many of the pharaohs where buried here but many others are buried in the pyramids at Giza. Burial sites depended on where the capital of Egypt was at the time.
The tombs were hewn from the rock of the mountains like caves. We could see the complex in the Gourma Mountains far off in the distance when we were in Luxor.
While tombs were closed for eternity, in practice virtually all tombs were raided after they were closed. Tomb raiding was done systematically by the organized crime families if the time. Unless someone was caught red-handed, little was done to stop the raiding.
Most of tombs that have been excavated had been opened at some point. The colours have faded and the valuables are all gone. Today, there are no cameras allowed in the Valley of the Kings. They are trying to protect what has been found intact. We were able to purchase a great DVD of pictures and video since we got no pictures of our own in the Valley of the Kings.
The Tomb of Tutencaman was unique in that it was found undisturbed. It is believed that this tomb survived because a new tomb was built beside it. The other tomb was robbed and the diggings buried Tuts tomb. When discovered, they found two sarcophagi in the tomb and the mummy in glass. 8 sarcophagus were inside each other for protection (like Russian dolls). The rest of the treasure is in the Cairo museum.
The Tombs in the Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings was a massive site. More than 60 tombs of pharaohs and noblemen have been excavated. We had the chance to visit 3 of the tombs on this visit.
The tombs had 3 burial chambers. Each chamber was deeper than the previous one. The sarcophagus was in the deepest one, closest to Mother Earth.
As you entered the tombs, there was generally hieroglyphics along the initial wall as you started to walk down. The pictures told tales of the life of the dead. You also found stories from the Book of the Dead.
The tombs we visited were in various states of decay. Some walls were protected behind glass. Most of the higher chambers had been opened to the sun and raiders. As you went deeper, you would sometimes find that the colours remained sharp and vivid.
Some tombs appeared to be unfinished. If someone died early before the tomb was finished, there was only the 70 days of the embalming to finish what could be done.
Mortuary Temples on the West Bank
While the tombs were meant to be sealed for eternity, the mortuary temples on the west bank were built to worship the dead pharaoh.
We toured the massive Medinet Habu Mortuary temple built for Ramses III. We stopped at the outside gate of the Temple for Queen Hatshepsut. Our final stop was for photos at the Colossus of Memnon which used to the the entry port for the mortuary temple for Amenhotep III.
These mortuary temples are worth a stop when you visit the temples and tombs in Egypt.
Don’t Miss the Tombs and Temples in Egypt
It was a busy 2 days in Luxor exploring the tombs and temples in Egypt. The sites are massive and provided a good glimpse into the life and death of the pharaohs of Egypt. I had little previous education on ancient Egypt. I am afraid that I retained far too little of the wealth of historical information that we got from our guide. But the glimpse that we got was intriguing.
We saw such a little part of Egypt on this trip. We will definitely want to return to the Cairo area on a future trip. It will be interesting to see the pyramids of Giza and visit the museum in Cairo. The Tutencaman exhibit traveled to Toronto when I was younger. Seeing this impressive collection after visiting the temples and tombs in Egypt would now be much more meaningful.
We delayed traveling to Egypt because of the political instability. While we found a high armed presence, we had no troubles as we traveled through Egypt.
Do not miss a chance to visit the tombs and temples of Egypt!
Have you visited the tombs and temples of Egypt? What was your favourite spot?