Tag Archives: Ramses

A Tale of Two (more) Temples

8 Oct



Aswan has long been a vital military and trade center, and also a border point. Just south of Aswan is Nubia; and beyond that, Sudan. Although Egypt is technically in Africa, I know a lot of you just thought “Sudan = Africa”. And yeah, it was ridiculously hot. There are two major temples near Aswan – Philae and Abu Simbel.

Philae from the boat(Temple of) Philae is located on Agilkia Island. It is accessible by ferry and was a significant place of worship for Ancient Egyptians.

This complex was actually submerged under the flood waters of the Aswan Dam for a couple of years before it was dismantled and relocated during the 1970s to preserve it.

The complex consists of the Temple of Isis, Temple of Hathor, and Kiosk of Trajan; but ask me which one is which and I wouldn’t be able to tell you from my pictures (sad, I know!) – but you can always google it :).

Roman ColonnadeThe pictured colonnade was a Roman addition (obviously Roman, huh?).
As with other temples, there are a lot of reliefs – the ones at Philae are quite well preserved.
The blue-ish picture (below) of me was taken in a room where a priest would make sacrifices and supposedly gain power – it used to have a gold door, so you know it was definitely special.
Philae used to be a colourful temple, but is now the colour of sandstone – as most temples are in Egypt….

The principal deity of Philae was Isis (Goddess of motherhood and fertility). Some images of her in the complex were defaced by Coptics who hid in temples during times of persecution. You can see Coptic crosses left by the early Egyptian Christians in the temple.

ReliefsPhilae Entrance to Hypostyle HallPriest's Room

Sidenote: if anyone knows how to make or where to get Kosheri/Koshari in Toronto, let me know. Because it is the best vegetarian food I’ve ever tasted. And it is related to this post because our group tried this dish in Aswan.


Abu Simbel was a long drive away from Aswan. Well, it seemed long – maybe it’s cause we had to leave in the wee hours of the morning to be a part of a convoy. The reason they travel so early is because the vehicles may not be able to handle the afternoon heat – so we had to allow plenty of time to travel there, sight-see, and travel back before the sun was able to fry vehicles (and us, I guess).

Abu Simbel was also saved from dam flood waters by a frantic international effort in the 1960s (note: a LOT of temples and historical buildings had to be saved from the dam(n) flooding of the Nile).
The two temples of Abu Simbel were originally carved into the rock of the Nile valley by Pharoah Ramses (Ramesses) II.

Abu Simbel - Great TempleThe Great Temple monuments were dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Harakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Ramses himself. This temple can be seen on the $1 Egyptian pound note (LE).

Four 20m statues of Ramses guard the entrance to the Great Temple. From left to right, they represent him through his ages – from young to old. As you pass through a hall containing columns and various rooms depicting reliefs of his military superiority (some coloured), you eventually come to a room located furthest back from the entrance. In here are rock cut sculptures of the gods mentioned above in seating position (L-R: Ptah, Amun, Ramses II, Ra-Harakhty).

Here’s where the architectural facts get interesting: the temple was positioned in such a way that twice a year, on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate this sanctuary and illuminate the statues – except for the statue of Ptah, who always remained in the dark. It is thought that these dates represent the King’s birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no solid evidence to support this – though the significance of the dates is agreed on.

Abu Simbel - Small TempleThe smaller temple is dedicated to Hathor – a goddess who personified the principles of feminine love, motherhood and joy – and was built for Ramses’ wife Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti) who was one of the Great Royal wives.

The statues of Ramses and Nefertari are equal in size – which was not common in Egyptian art.
Traditionally, statues of queens that stood next to those of the pharaoh were never taller than his knees. This exception indicates the special importance (and love) attached to Nefertari by Ramses.

Lake Nasser surrounds Abu Simbel and stretches from southern Egypt into northern Sudan.
Lake NasserIt’s on the top 10 list of largest resevoirs (artificial lakes) by surface area. Its creation was unfortunately also responsible for wiping out all the Nubian villages. Egypt’s entire Nubian community was forced to relocate. Nubia is said to be the homeland of Africa’s earliest black civilization.

After the Abu Simbel Adventure, we got on a boat. A m___ f____ boat. You know the lyrics…and if you don’t, you should. :)

Temples & Tombs

30 Sep



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

Bedouin Guides

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)

Karnak EntranceIf 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).

Karnak 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):

Karnak Column


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. Donkey 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.

Valley of the Kings

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:

  1. Ramses IV
  2. Ramses IX
  3. Horemheb

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.

Tomb of Ramses IX

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:

  1. Ramose – a royal scribe
  2. Userhat – a royal scribe and tutor
  3. 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.

Habu WallWall of Severed Dreams

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.

Column StumpsHabu Coloured Arch
orus (R) giving life (the ankh) to the King (L) via feedingHabu Wall