Upper Egypt (Part II)June 13, 2016 in Egypt ⋅ 🌙 36 °C
The next morning we flew to Luxor where many sites that were utilized during the Old Kingdom were built upon and expanded during the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom, and the Greco-Roman period of Ancient Egypt. Our guide, Hassan, made sure to point out the differences and development of art and architecture within and across the sites. It really felt like we were amateur Egyptologists by the end of our time in Luxor, able to make educated guesses as to the time period of different buildings and art (not that we were right or could do it alone, but we knew some of the clues to look for!). The thing about Luxor is it is extremely hot. It is unbearable to be outside from noon to 3 PM. It was over 115 degrees Fahrenheit every day and at times even hotter. Our guide wanted to start at 5:30 everyday but our hotel didn't serve breakfast until 6 AM and with it being Ramadan, there were not really any other daytime food options while on the road, so it was important that we eat something before heading out. That all being said, we were never done by noon, though we tried to be in the car or hotel during the hottest periods.
Now, for the fun stuff! On our first day we visited both Karnak and Luxor Temple Complexes. It was very cool to see how different pharoahs had made each place their own, or at least more representative of their artistic style. For example, Ramses II wanted big images of himself everywhere and even co-opted statues of previous pharoahs claiming them as his own. Meanwhile, Hatshepsut had a more understated but still firm presence in her art; the columns in her section are smaller and more detailed than those in Ramses II's section at Luxor. In Karnak, however, she had erected two obelisks, taller than the others nearby. Hers were simpler in decoration but, Rachel thought, more elegant. Unfortunately her step-son/successor tried to delegitimize her rule so covered her obelisks (ultimately protecting the carving on the one that still stands) and chiseled away her name and image all over ancient Egypt. Women were not supposed to be pharoahs, but a series of interesting events and religious claims led to her having power. There is a lot of controversy over whether she was a benevolent ruler or a power-hungry jealous woman, though the former opinion seems to be growing in popularity. There isn't a lot of information on her, and she certainly didn't have a diary in which we could find a record of her feelings and motivations, so the best we can do is guess based on the context clues. She was certainly an interesting woman to learn about and worth a second look if you are interested.
On our second day in Luxor we ventured north to the ruins of Abydos (amazing art, primarily for god Osiris) and Dendara (Greco-Roman rebuild based on Old Kingdom ruins, primarily for goddess Hathor - similar to Aphrodite). While we had seen some paint remnants the previous day, this was our first experience with really noticeable paint remains on the ruins. We could still see white, blue, green, brown, yellow, red, and black paint on sections of the walls. Our guide also showed us a recreation of what the temples may have looked like when covered with paint and surrounded by people. It was a long day and extremely hot, but we were so glad we added these optional sites to our week of tours.
On our last day in Luxor we visited the Colossi of Memnon, Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, and the Valley of the Kings where 64 underground New Kingdom tombs have been discovered. It's hard to put this day into words. We couldn't figure out how this day could be better than any other so far, but it blew us all away. The phrase "I just can't" gets thrown around a lot these days, and this writer hates its use, but, seriously, I just can't. This day was too epic for words. Hatshepsut's temple is a grand work of art (Rachel even remembered learning about it in her art history class). The Valley of the Kings is legendary, and we could have spent days just there. Our entrance fee included admission to three burial chambers, plus we bought the extra ticket to see King Tut's tomb (which was not as visually impressive as the others but it's historical significance made up for that;plus King Tut's mummy and two of his sarcophagi are there). Hassan selected three excellent tombs to explore which exemplified a wide variety of art and history: Ramses IV, Horemheb, and Thutmose III. I would recommend all of these. The tomb of Ramses IV had wonderfully preserved, extravagant art on the walls and ceiling. Horemheb's tomb is unfinished so had mostly white walls; however, we were able to see evidence of the multi-step process involved in the carving and painting of the wall art. For Rachel, this really humanized this ancient civilization; instead of picturing people closer to the stone age cave painters, the original sketches and planning that was visible created an image of people just like us who sketch with a drafting pencil before finalizing our work. It's hard to explain exactly, but even though there was less art in this tomb it was one of the more stunning as it puts all the rest of the art into perspective. Lastly, the entrance to the tomb of Thutmose III (Hatshepsut's successor) was carved high into a cliffside and then descended (in a tunnel, of course) down into the depths of the mountain with it's trap pit and multiple chambers. The style of art and writing in this tomb was so drastically different than the others, it was much simpler. Instead of intricate carvings, there were stick figures for people. All of the requisite symbolism and prayers were painted on the walls, but it felt like a different era than the rest of the tombs. In reality, it did not represent an earlier time but just a different artistic style.
We ended our time in Luxor with a boat ride on the Nile and some shopping in the street market. Tonight we take the sleeper train back to Cairo and tomorrow we see the more "modern" areas of Cairo, from closer to 1000 and 2000 years ago, before we head to Morocco the following day. We are sleeping literally across the street from the pyramids tomorrow - too cool! Hopefully this (extremely long) post has been able to share some of the excitement of Egypt; no matter how much one tries, I think it's impossible to convey the feeling of being here through words or even pictures. We have friends who had visited previously and tried to tell us, but we just couldn't fathom it until we came and saw it for ourselves. It has been simply wonderful. A big thank you to Rachel's mom Linda who joined us and organized this amazing week of tours.Read more