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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Heading Up The Nile

Linda's Ladies left Cairo last week for the obligatory tour of southern Egypt. While those hundred plus pyramids are pretty much clustered near Cairo, the famous ancient tombs and temples of Egypt are located several hundred miles to the south.

Here is a map photographed in the Cairo office of the Delta Tours travel agency that shows the highlights to be found in the south.

We want to look at three areas in the southern part of Egypt. First notice that little hook in the Nile. That is about four hundred miles south of Cairo and is the heart of monument and tomb territory in Egypt. This is the location of the city of Luxor, with its population of around 400,000. It is also the area where we will find the Valley of the Kings.

But while we have the map out, notice a couple of other points. The city of Aswan is another hundred and ten miles south of Luxor and from there it is another hundred and forty miles to Abu Simbel.

A trip to Luxor is almost mandatory once you have come as far as Cairo and you might as well plan on taking the journey all the way to Abu Simbel. From Cairo, your choices for reaching Luxor are two from a practical point of view. Take one of the frequent but fully packed flights by air or take a train. In spite of what this cheerful website says, you will likely find it necessary to book well in advance. It is not unusual to find yourself flying south from Luxor to Aswan in order to catch a plane going north to Cairo and so forth.

Here is the plan. You need to see the temples and the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. You should definitely take a Nile cruise ship between Aswan and Luxor. It will stop at a couple of the temples over the course of about three days. And, the side trip, either by air or bus from Aswan to Abu Simbel is worth the time and effort, no ifs, ands or buts.

So, lets get started. We don't have to worry about planes, trains, buses or ships, so we'll just head all the way South to Abu Simbel and begin there. The best view of the temple at Abu Simbel is from the air as you come in toward the tiny town.

There, you can see it off to the left. The two magnificent temples are not in their original locations. That body of water is lake Nasser, formed by the Aswan High Dam. When the dam was built back in the late 1950s and 1960s, the water threatened to bury these temples. An international effort was begun to save them. As a result, in a fascinating feat of engineering, they were cut up into pieces and raised about two hundred feet vertically to a new spot back from the water's edge.

See National Geographic, May 1969, for details.

There's really nothing else to see at Abu Simbel except the twin temples of Ramses II and his wife, Nefertari. So you will find everyone arriving at the same time and headed for the temples.

Unlike the pyramids, the interiors of the southern temples are as interesting as the exteriors. Maybe more so. According to National Geographic, this temple was constructed so that on February 22nd and October 22nd, "sunlight illuminates seated statues of the sun gods Re-Horakhte and Amon-Re, as well as a statue of king Ramses II. The statues sit in the company of the Theban god of darkness, Ptah (who remains in the shadows all year)."

The intricate carving on the interiors will surprise you.

Let's head all the way back to Luxor now and the Valley of the Kings.

You'll see that it is truly a valley. There are 65 major tombs in the Valley of the Kings with the most recent of these discovered in 2008. Many of these are tombs of nobles and associates of the kings.

Here is another view of that hook in the river as photographed from outer space. That red arrow points to King Tut's tomb.

For a list of the tombs and their placement on the sketch above, click here.

Each tomb in the valley of the kings is numbered, in order of discovery. When you visit, you will likely find about six open to visit. Which ones are open vary from time to time, rotating among about twenty.

Here is the sign out in front of KV 8. And another in front of KV62.

KV62 is King Tut's tomb. It costs substantially extra to go inside. You're not going to let that hold you back after traveling this far though, are you? I didn't think so.

While the tombs are interesting, what you will see is some paintings on the walls and not much more. Any significant items were hauled off to museums long ago. But the paintings are interesting and seeing one or two of the actual tombs is interesting too.

One more site that you will want to see in the Valley of the Kings is the burial complex of Queen Hatshepsut. Probably more famous than Tut's tomb and certainly far more impressive. This grand monument is worth devoting some extra time to.

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