First thing’s first – we had to say good-bye to our amazing Bedouin guides before heading for Luxor. L-R and even phonetically spelled: Sala/Saleh, Said/Sayeed, Hamdi/Humdi, Salim/Saleem
Day 7 & 8 were spent in Luxor (previously known as the ancient city of Thebes). Luxor is a city that has become completely dependent on tourism and foreigners because it contains many of the biggest and most famous of the ancient monuments.
What’s interesting about Luxor is that the temples are mostly on the east bank (where the sun rises) and the necropoli are on the west bank (where the sun sets). This has to do with how ancient Egyptians saw the world. The administrative, religious, and living areas are built on the east bank because the rising sun is associated with life and rebirth. The necropoli, and associated mortuary temples, are located on the western side because the ‘land of the setting sun’ is associated with death. (Frommer’s Egypt, 2008)
If you’ve ever read about Egypt, you’ve heard of Karnak (Temple)….and if you haven’t, well now you have. It’s the second most visited site in Egypt (second to the Giza Pyramids).
We arrived in Luxor around lunch time and took horsedrawn carriages (which are really common in Luxor) to Karnak in the late afternoon.
Karnak is a large open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. The reason it’s so big is because many rulers contributed to the site until it was a vast and spectacular collection of ruined temples, chapels, obelisks, statues, and other buildings.
One of most famous aspects of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall. It has an area of 50,000 square feet with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. When you walk into the hall, you immediately feel small. The columns are gargantuan!
The room was originally roofed and the columns, walls, and ceiling were brightly coloured (which you can still see on parts of the arches and ceiling).
The columns in the Hall were built and designed in such a way, that no matter from which angle you looked at a row of columns, you would see the same symbol on the same spot on each column. And yes, it IS amazing considering that they accomplished this so many years ago without mass production techniques. I think a picture would probably help here (click for detail):
Our next day began super early because we had to get to the Valley of the Kings (aka the Valley, VoK) before it got really hot. The VoK is on the western side so we sailed across the nile on a ferry to the west bank where our donkeys were waiting for us. Donkeys are not as comfortable as camels, but they did provide lots of entertainment all the way to the Valley as people tried to stay on during the bouncy ride.
The Valley of the Kings consists of royal tombs which were constructed for kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. Despite the name, the Valley also contains the tombs of favourite nobles as well as the wives and children of both nobles and pharaohs. As of 2008, the Valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers).
The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. All of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed of all their valuables at some point in time, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the rulers of this time. I guess it takes a lot of money and power to have people build you a big vibrant final resting place in chambers made of hard rock.
Admission only allows you into 3 tombs (excluding King Tut’s) and the tombs are closed on a rotating basis in order to protect them and minimize the damage from the effects of visitors. The 3 tombs we chose:
- Ramses IV
- Ramses IX
Fact: “Ramses” is synonymous with “Ramesses” so you will see instances in books, guides, etc. which refer to either name.
Out of the 3 tombs, Horemheb was my favourite. His tomb was never finished (he died earlier than expected…) so you can see sketching, reliefs (in progress) and half-coloured walls. I’d normally insert a picture of my own here, but photography wasn’t allowed inside the tombs. So instead, here’s a picture I found on Wiki of Ramses IX’s tomb.
The tomb of King Tut (Tutankhamen) is located in the VoK, however it is ticketed separately from the other tombs – I didn’t bother paying to go in as my guidebook said it’s probably not as interesting as the other tombs. And for some reason I didn’t feel like going to see his mummy (don’t worry, I saw mummies in the Cairo museum!)
After The Valley of the Kings, our group went for an authentic Egyptian meal. And after a break from tombs….we went to visit more tombs.
This time we went to the Valley of the Nobles which was for the wealthy and the high officials who were not of royal blood. Once again we visited 3 tombs:
- Ramose – a royal scribe
- Userhat – a royal scribe and tutor
- Khaemet (Kha Em Het) – a royal scribe
Userhat’s tomb has depictions of winemaking, gazelle hunting, and hair cutting on the walls (Frommer’s Egypt, 2008). These tombs are significantly smaller than those in the Valley of the Kings so our visit was pretty short.
After dragging our dusty selves out of the tombs, our next destination was Habu Temple. It was used for various purposes over time; part of it was used as a Christian church, and a village (Djeme) was built within the walls as well.
There are gory illustrations on the outer walls of Ramses III killing his enemies and subjugating their lands (Frommer’s Egypt, 2008). There is a wall in particular which is of interest – the “Wall of Severed Dreams” as one of our tour members called it (see picture above on right). It depicts a pile of penises – proof to the king that soldiers had indeed killed their enemies. Because it just wouldn’t make sense for them to count hands since victims have TWO hands…double-counting is a no-no.
Oh yeah, and the huge cylindrical columns usually associated with temples? Well those are reduced to stumps. But there are still nice engravings, reliefs, and colours to be seen.