Luxor attained the coveted title of “Liam’s favourite destination in the Nile Valley”, although I suppose visiting just three fails to qualify as a comprehensive survey. As the modern incarnation of the ancient capital of Upper Egypt, the city provides an exceptional base from which to explore and absorb the country’s historically glorious civilisation. The fabled city of Thebes was situated on the East Bank of the Nile and was considered the “city of the living”. The gargantuan temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak are the surviving monuments which emphasise Thebes’ importance and power. The West Bank of the Nile was conversely labelled the “city of the dead” and the internationally famous tombs and mortuary temples in the area constitute what is colloquially referred to as the “world’s largest open-air museum”. Scattered beside the Nile for hundreds of kilometres north and south of Luxor are magnificent preserved temples from the New Kingdom and Ptolemaic dynasty eras. The city of Luxor itself exudes minimal charm and was surprisingly much smaller than I had anticipated. These characteristics were not necessarily unwelcomed however as the city provided a sample of the modern Egyptian society prevalent in Cairo but on a comparatively microscopic and far more manageable scale.
Apparently in Egypt children are taught that if they annoy relentlessly an adult they will eventually be rewarded for it. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) my talents in such endeavours are wasted in Australia. In Luxor, some of the children are behind the reigns of horses pulling carriages and they replicate the behaviour of their male role models by hassling incessantly the foreign visitors. “(Feigning interest) Where are you from?” “Australia/New Zealand/Quebec/China (depended on my mood).” “Do you want a carriage?”. “No thank you.” “You want to know how much?” [No response]. “Five pounds (with a tone that suggests that I should be bowled over in amazement)… only five pounds… good price… I’ll take you anywhere in Luxor… the money is just to feed my horse… not for me… only five pounds… ok two pounds… only two pounds!” “No thank you, I want to walk.” “It’s only five/two (depending on what stage of the “conversation” we have reached) pounds though!” “No I just want to walk.” “Ok, ok, I’ll wait for you to finish walking around, then I’ll take you back to the hotel for only five pounds (they seemed determined to restrict us to the hotels).” “No, that’s not necessary.” “No problems, I wait (actually stalk; once I had an amazing time of stop-starting and watched the carriage in my peripheral vision as it mimicked my movements). (Developing a semblance of sympathy that the adult/child is wasting their time) “I’m not taking the carriage.” “But the price is only five/two pounds.” “No.” “You’re a bad man, a very bad man.” So very true.
Accommodation is rarely discussed in Globo Trip, but I’m making an exception for Bob Marley House in Luxor, which was undoubtedly my best hostel experience for the year. The hostel is owned by a Belgian woman and (pardon the implied cultural discrimination) it is inexpressible how relieving it was to stay somewhere with a Westerner manager. She was unbelievably knowledgeable about the Ancient Egyptian monuments in the region and thus provided invaluable advice. I had become accustomed to distrusting any recommendations made by Arabs in North Africa (unless, on the rare occasion, they were female), even staff members at the hostels/hotels I was staying at, because they all seemed to potentially have a vested interest in my movements. The Belgian manager asserted that as a European and since she was catering for European clientele, European standards needed to be enforced. Consequently, the premises was exceptionally clean, there were atmospheric communal areas and service was efficient and friendly; all of which are rather foreign concepts in this region! Instead of the usual cheap bread, packaged croissants and sachet jams that you receive for breakfast in most hotels in the region, the hostel actually provided real food with descent bread, real jam, fruit, yoghurt, an omelette and piles of a salty and creamy Egyptian cheese which is addictive. The best attribute of the hostel was that it did not have the contrived feeling that is merely just a business as the Belgian woman and her Egyptian husband were always eager to talk to guests between cigarettes and shisha. Luxor was incredibly hot and so most guests followed the same routine of sightseeing in the morning, chilling in the communal area in the afternoon and then braving the weather departing again once the sun had gone down. It was fascinating to hear the experiences and opinions of someone who has lived in Egypt during the Revolution years from a Western perspective. It was also the cheapest place I stayed at in all of Africa, aside from Casablanca Airport.
The Belgian woman described Abydos and Dendara as “the forgotten temples of Egypt”, which seemed to be a poignantly accurate assertion after I had visited these stupefying structures on a daytrip with French Michele. Unjustifiably, neither of these temples commands the attention of tourists and rarely do they feature on travellers’ itineraries. The Belgian woman’s emphatic endorsement of Abydos and Dendara instigated Michele and I to hire a taxi to visit the sites as the furthest town was nearly three hours away. The temple at Abydos was constructed by Seti I and his son Ramses II and unfortunately I’ve forgotten its dedication. It was assembled more than three thousand years ago and yet the structural integrity of the building remains; although I suspect that substantial refurbishment and reconstruction has occurred in the last century. Nevertheless, the temple boasted the most impressive detailed decoration that I saw in all of Egypt. The visitor enters a series of two cavernous hypostyle halls that consist of columns with the papyrus motif. The columns and the walls feature intricate carvings in Egyptian stylization. Numerous rooms and halls jut out from the main areas where even more detailed, colourful and better preserved decoration can be seen. One of the rooms was ornamented with depictions of each of the pharaohs presenting an offering to the gods; with the exception of the two female pharaohs, Tutankhamen and one other. We then travelled to Dendara to see the Temple of Hathor (goddess of numerous things), which was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty (Macedonian) in the third century BC. The temple’s preservation was flabbergasting and its lack of fame was completely incomprehensible. The massive temple consists of a trapezoidal prism configuration and monumentally high ceilings. The structure is supported by colossal columns that each features the face of Hathor on all four sides. The walls, columns and ceilings in the two primarily halls are elaborately decorated and vivid blue paintwork remains. We explored the surroundings rooms, halls, terrace area above the sanctuary below, which boasted astonishing designs of falcons and crocodiles in alabaster. These two temples utterly annihilated my faith in the World Heritage list as neither one has been included to the prestigious list. Muburak has been blamed for such a cataclysmic oversight, but I also harbour suspicions of a European or Christian conspiracy as each are disproportionately represented on extreme levels.
The West Bank was the site for the ancient Theban necropolis and thus dozens of Egyptian pharaohs, royal family members and nobles were buried there. Consequently, the West Bank features hundreds of tombs that are located in different clusters, with each representing different levels of hierarchy. Gigantic mortuary temple complexes, which were only used during the seventy day mummification process for a pharaoh, are strewn throughout the arid area. For the first of my two days of visiting the West Bank, I joined a tour to avoid the hassle of exploring the constituent sites. The Valley of the Kings, as the name implies, was the valley in which the pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried in tombs that were constructed throughout the duration of their reign (and thus were never completed as work halted once the Pharaoh was dead). The landscape of the Valley of the Kings is hostile in its aridity, desolation and searing temperatures and thus displays no indication whatsoever of the hidden royal tombs within. Of the tombs which have been rediscovered in the valley, only a small portion of them are open to the public at any given time. The four tombs which I visited each consisted of sloping passageways which led down to the burial chamber. The walls and ceilings of the tombs featured blindingly vivid colours with white backgrounds and detailed religious depictions in reds, blues, yellows and black. The tomb of Ramses VI retained the huge stone coffin the pharaoh once rested in. While the Valley of the Kings is the West Bank’s most famous site, the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut is the most iconic. The temple consists of a series of vast platforms that exude horizontal monumentality and gradually ascend to a cliff. The final area accessed by the connecting ramp is guarded by numerous statues, most of which still survive. The mortuary temple for Ramses VI was my highlight attraction of the West Bank. The sprawling complex was surprisingly absent of the tourist crowds at the aforementioned sites. The temple is sequentially explored by passing through the colossal pylon entrance, two spacious courtyards that are bordered with arcades and concludes at a hypostyle hall that is now mostly destroyed. The temple is renowned for the particularly deep carvings of hieroglyphics, which has induced the pigeon problem that plagues the precinct.
I returned to the West Bank the following day with French Benjamin as we explored some of the remaining sites independently. We visited two clusters of tombs in the Valley of the Nobles, which you may have intuitively guessed was the resting place for important members of the public (such as prime ministers, mayors and scribes) that would qualify as being described as nobles. The decorative designs of the tombs were quite individualistic and certainly featured different stylization to the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which were more inhibited by the need for religious connotations. The tombs of the nobles present depictions of their roles in the royal court and promote their importance to the pharaoh. The paintwork in one of the tombs included figures of African fauna, including a giraffe, leopard and elephant. The ceiling of another tomb was covered in grapes and their vines. We also visited the mortuary temple of Ramses II, which is now mostly in ruins. Enough of the structure remains however to appreciate the enormity of the complex. We completed our excursion before being vaporised by the afternoon sun by perusing through several tombs in the Valley of the Queens, which (perhaps contrary to your logic) consists of numerous tombs for princes in addition to the queens. Most of the tombs exhibited the vivid colouration we had seen at the previous tombs though their designs were less intriguing.
Two of the largest temple complexes of Ancient Egypt are located on Luxor’s East Bank and both are exceptional examples of monumental Nile-side architecture. Luxor Temple is situated beside the Nile at the centre of the modern town and is dramatically illuminated by light in the evenings. There is a parade of sphinxes which led to the great pylon entrance to the temple. The visitor then traverses through a series of hypostyle halls, each of which are composed of different column orders. The temple complex of Karnak was arguably the most important religious institution in Ancient Egypt. The constituent building, the Temple of Amun, is regarded as the largest religious structure ever built anywhere in the world that could have enclosed ten average European cathedrals (according to Wikipedia). The temple was dedicated to the most venerated Theban god , the sun deity Amun-Re, and thus the priests at Karnak commanded great power in society. The entrance to the temple and the transitioning from one space to another are marked but massive pylons. There are several gargantuan courtyards and the great hypostyle hall is the largest in the world, with unbelievably immense columns. Towering obelisks and imposing statues are scattered throughout the precinct. Despite boasting perhaps the most breathtaking ruins in Upper Egypt, by Karnak I was suffering from “temple-fatigue”.
Aside from the aforementioned cheese provided at breakfast, intriguing culinary experiences were somewhat limited in Luxor. The cartoons of mango juice I was guzzling down in the afternoons remain the most vivid memories of consumption. I did have a delicious “moussaka”, which was a rich eggplant and capsicum stew that was cooked in a terracotta pot and served steaming.
Particularly because of the hostel’s hospitality, I extended my intended stay in Luxor by three days in order to see everything I wanted to in the region without feeling rushed. I thoroughly enjoyed chilling out from the oppressive heat in the afternoon while still feeling as though I had achieved something that day with the sightseeing in the morning. Luxor certainly provided the best opportunity to experience Ancient Egyptian history.
That’s all for now,