Day 8, If You Can Only Go To One Place In All Of Egypt…

Our last full day on the ship promised to be memorable.  We were scheduled to see Edfu, travel north through a lock and end up in Luxor, where we would tour Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple.  It was going to be a busy day and we had to awaken at 5:30am in order to disembark by 6.

Traditionally, cruise ships would contract with horse-drawn buggies to carry its passengers the short distance to the Edfu Temple of Horus.  However, our ship had experienced some mistreatment of its guests by the drivers, so it hired us a bus.  It was a very quick ride over and we entered the complex without knowing what to expect.  After passing through the ticket building, we traveled down the winding path which was lined with 20 to 30 foot tall walls of earth and mud bricks.  Our guide explained to us that the top of the walls signified the level of modern building, while each layer down was evidence of past civilization, culminating at the level at which we were walking, which was over 2000 years old.

As we rounded a corner, the Temple towered in the distance.  Even a few hundred yards away, the size was impressive.  I was struck by the sure feeling of intimidation that the ancient travelers must have experienced when they first laid eyes on it.  We passed through the gates and by the statues of Horus and into the Temple.  This is largely regarded as the most well-preserved temple in Egypt and it was most impressive.

We left the Temple and ran the gauntlet between the rows of aggressive vendors that every temple seems to have, boarded the bus and back to the ship for our final passage to Luxor.  The afternoon treat would be the traversal of the Esna Lock.  We situated ourselves on the top deck so we could have an excellent view of the entire process.

The ships line up in two lines for the two gates that are side-by-side.  Each gate lets in two ships and then closes its doors behind the second ship.  The water recedes to the level of the water which is on the other side of the next gate.  The ship is tended by workers on the shore, who grab the thick lines tossed to them by the deckhands.  They are very experienced, and need to be as there is a tremendous opportunity to royally screw up the ships.  There seems to only be about a yard of spare room on each side of the ship once it is in the lock.  The deckhands pay the shore workers in the form of food from the ship.  Once we get through the first lock, the whole process is repeated for the second lock and then we are on our way to Luxor.

Luxor, or Thebes to the ancient Egyptians, is really the main must-see spot in all of Egypt.  If you had to pick only one place to visit in the entire country, you certainly could not find a single location with more to offer in the way of history and ancient ruins.  In ancient Egypt, the Egyptians always buried their dead on the west side of the Nile, while they lived on the east side.  Consequently, the best temples are on the East Bank at Luxor, while all of the tombs, including the Valley of the Kings, are located on the West Bank.  It is really too much to do in one day as a tourist.  If you are an Egyptologist, it is too much to do in one lifetime.

Our afternoon was dedicated to visiting the Karnak Temple and the Temple of Luxor.  The first stop, Karnak Temple, is considered the largest ancient religious site in the world, covering over 2 square kilometers.  It is really a complex of temples, begun during the Middle Kingdom and continued on through the New Kingdom and into the Ptolemaic Dynasties.  The oldest structures date to nearly 2000 BC, while the Ptolemies ruled up until Cleopatra's death in 30 BC.  Can you imagine anything in modern times being constantly added to and improved upon, while still retaining its historical structure for 2000 years?  The only thing I can think of that even comes close is Joan Rivers's face.

The complex is too vast to visit in one pass, with a good portion of it closed to the public anyway.  However, we got a good feel for it in a short visit, which included the Obelisk of Hatshepsut, the tallest in Egypt, and the Great Hypostyle Hall, which is large enough to house both St. Peter's Cathedral from the Vatican and St. Paul's Cathedral from London combined.  The hall was built mainly by Seti I, but finished by Ramses II (Ramses the Great), who consequently took credit for building the whole thing by erasing his father, Seti I's name and carving his own on everything, I mean everything, in the hall.  His name was so commonly seen that Sara and I could recognize it when we traveled to other temples later in the trip.  He really did have a bit of an ego, but I suppose he deserved it.

Ramses the Great was, by many accounts, the greatest ruler Egypt ever saw.  He took the throne in his 20's and ruled into his 90's.  He conquered many foreign lands and was married to beautiful Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti, queen of the heretic king, Akhenaten).  His building undertakings were unsurpassed by any other pharaoh, credited for the Ramesseum, Abu Simbel, the Luxor Temple complex, the Tomb of Nefertari (considered to be the most beautiful tomb ever discovered - currently off-limits to tourists) and dozens of other temples and monuments.  He is even thought, by some historians, to be the pharaoh from the story of Moses.  He fathered over 100 children and built them a huge tomb in the Valley of the Kings (outliving many of them).  He brought great victories, but also great peace to Egypt, signing an unprecedented peace treaty with the Hittites to the north.  He was truly worthy of the title 'the Great'.

Our final stop of the day was the Luxor Temple, located about 3 km from Karnak.  The ancient site featured a walkway between the two complexes lined with sphinxes.  Some of these can still be seen, but the current governor of the area plans to restore this to its original look.  In fact, the governor has plans to turn Luxor into the world's largest museum, by creating a completely tourist friendly mecca at each important site.  The early results can be seen already, as most of the sites we visited were much more accessible than anything we found in Cairo.  Whether or not this is a good thing can be debated by others.  I, for one, am in favor of this, as it can only create more interest in preserving the fragile sites.

The Luxor Temple was used by future religions as a place of worship as well.  In fact, it houses not only an Egyptian Temple, but also a Christian Church and an Islamic Mosque.  All of which can be readily viewed, coexisting peacefully within the same walls.

We returned for our last dinner on board ship.  We finally found out why we were having such a problem with our table at meal times.  It seems our original table was supposed to be our table.  However, a newlywed couple, specifically the wife, did not like her table, so at the following meal, they took ours.  The waiters did not know this, so they sat us at a different table for that meal.  The next meal, they sat us at the newlywed's original table, but during this meal, the wife must have decided that she really did like their original table, because at the next meal, they were at their original table and we were left wandering again.  At this point we gave up and begged our new friends, Bob and Paula to let us join them for dinner.  For our last meal, our other friend Alex's wife was feeling ill, so he was alone.  We all ended up eating together and really had a nice time of it.

We had one more night in ultra-comfort, and tomorrow, the West Bank and the Valley of the Kings!

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