Thousands of pages could be written about Egypt and there would still be a lot left to tell. The first stop on our trip to the land of the pharaohs was in Hurghada, one of the most famous and popular tourist resorts in Egypt thanks to its 20 kilometers of beaches and temperatures that do not drop below 20 degrees even in winter.
From here, our steps started towards Luxor. With the Nile Valley as my guide, I quickly understood why 96.5% of the 90 million Egyptians live along the famous river. In this context, the words of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat are telling: “Only the lack of water would bring war back to Egypt.”
Once upon a time, when Homer sang its glory in the Iliad, Thebes stood on both banks of the Nile. With a population of almost one million inhabitants, Thebes was the capital of Egypt for almost 500 years, until the last pharaoh of the Ramses dynasty died. After Memphis took its place, Thebes was slowly forgotten and buried in the sand until it was brought to light during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.
Karnak, the largest religious center of Egypt
The locals of Karnak believed that the temples were the earthly homes of the gods, and this belief is reflected at every step in the grandeur of the buildings erected. From the pier set up on a canal fed by the waters of the Nile, tourists cross an alley guarded by sphinxes with ram heads (symbol of fertility) to the monumental portal at the actual entrance to the temple. Gigantic statues, including that of the great pharaoh Ramses II who ruled Egypt for 66 years, stand watch everywhere.
The Temple of Amun, located in the largest area of the three that Karnak is divided into, leaves you breathless due to its huge dimensions. 134 columns of stone blocks, perfectly joined without any glue, of which 12 are no less than 23 meters high. Most tourists stop in front of the sacred lake, where, during the holidays, a boat with the statue of the god Ammon sails or around the stone scarab, which legend says must be circled 7 times if they want to bring them happiness.
More than 30 pharaohs, for almost 2,000 years, took care of this temple and kept alive the sacred rituals related to the cult of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth, which the frescoes on the walls also speak of. But although the ancient hieroglyphs were deciphered thanks to the genius of Champollion, many of the details of these rituals will still remain a mystery. A construction worthy of the Book of Records, the temple of Amon was, however, inaccessible to ordinary Egyptians, and if they had violated the prohibition, they would face the death penalty.
Incidentally, even now access to certain parts of the temple is prohibited, but for different reasons. Throughout history, the city of Karnak has been looted and destroyed many times, sometimes for religious reasons (early Christians destroyed everything they considered to be pagan, including images of Egyptian gods) or out of greed – all the gold objects are long gone. Now, the restoration of the temple continues and in order not to destroy even worse the areas affected by these destructions or the passage of time, the access of tourists has been restricted.
Local crafts elevated to art
Our next visit was to the “Papyrus Museum”, where the museum staff showed us, in a small interactive demonstration, what the manufacturing process is, unchanged for so long.. Pieces of reed are taken and beaten with a special hammer, then they are watered and left like that for 6 days, after which they are put under some kind of press (sometimes a simple boulder was used) for a week. Tourists who want to try their skills also receive a small papyrus to remind them of this experience. Unlike those sold by street vendors, these papyri are more expensive, but this way you have the guarantee that they are local and quality products.
I also visited a small alabaster workshop, from which dozens of souvenirs are made, some of them being sold to tourists under the pompous title of unique archaeological artifacts, accidentally discovered by the family members of the person who bought them. Which, of course, is not true at all.
After these small visits related to local crafts, we crossed the Nile by boat to the Valley of the Kings, where there are 62 tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, including Tutankhamun’s, discovered in 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter. Unfortunately, most tombs are the increase in humidity irreversibly affects the paintings inside.
The Ancient Wonders of Giza
Our journey in Egypt is coming to an end, with the last stop being Giza, considered one of the 7 ancient wonders. The entire necropolis, consisting of the pyramids of Cheops, Kephren and Mykerinos and the famous Sphinx, has been part of the UNESCO Heritage since 1979. The pyramid of Cheops really amazes with its monstrous dimensions – the side of the base is 230 meters long, and its height is 137 meters.
More than 2.3 million stone blocks, weighing between 2.5 and 40 tons, were used for this amazing construction, with the famous historian Herodotus saying that the stone blocks were brought on rafts down the Nile from the quarries of Tura. From the river bank to the construction site, the blocks were moved using levers, rollers and wooden sleds. It is said that the pyramid would have been 10 meters higher, but that at some point the top fell, for an unknown reason. During World War II, the British Army installed an anti-aircraft observatory there. The other two are placed 500 and 1,000 meters away, respectively. About their construction.
Research shows that the complex system of corridors leading to the burial chamber, buried deep in the heart of the pyramid, forms a veritable labyrinth. Recently, state-of-the-art scanning technology has revealed that within this complex system there is an empty space the size of an airliner.
The legend of the curse
Why were they built that way? Because of the cult of the afterlife, which played a crucial role in the religion of the Egyptians. They believed that death meant the passage to another world, but two conditions had to be fulfilled: the body had to be mummified, so as not to rot, and the soul “Ka” had to have at hand everything necessary for the other world. Relatives would take care of this and we would put food, drink, weapons, jewelry, household items and even servants or favorite animals for him. At the same time, there was the belief that the deceased watched over his descendants on this earth from the world beyond.
The last image related to ancient Egypt that still lingers in our minds is the impressive monument of a half-human, half-animal man – the famous Sphinx. Many Egyptologists believe that it depicts the pharaoh Khafre, but just as many refute this hypothesis. By far the most mysterious and fascinating construction of Ancient Egypt, the Sphinx has survived. It is said that in 1989, Japanese scientists discovered, using radar technology, that under the Sphinx’s right paw is a tunnel leading to Khafre’s pyramid. At the same time, they would also have discovered a secret room that could have revealed information about the mythical Atlantis.
We don’t know how true all the legends and myths are about Ancient Egypt, but we know for sure that it is a land of the gods, where amazing constructions have stood the test of time, remembering an Egyptian proverb that says that everyone fears the effects time, and he is afraid of pyramids.