Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

Land of the Pharaohs (May 18 – June 12)   1 comment


It’s easy to romanticize Egypt: Terraced balconies overlooking sand colored cityscape, minarets jutting up in every direction echoing the call to prayer throughout the day, large pillows surrounding a table with mint tea and apple sheesha, the Nile lazily meandering through the scorching Sahara bringing life to where it would otherwise be impossible, and ancient ruins carved from stone showing the might of the pharaohs who ruled the world’s super power of their time. And if you can look past the vicious touts, occasional terrorist attacks, current political unrest and spree of kidnappings this is very much what you will find.

Great Pyramids of Giza

Egypt for us began on a trip to Gaza. A few kilometers out of town we caught our first glimpse of the famous pyramids of Giza; the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. As we mounted our camels we were met with the 4,500 year old stare of the giant monolithic sphinx who sits perched up front, guarding the pyramids. Behind it were three great pyramids and six smaller queen’s pyramids. The first pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Khufu completed in 2560 BC, is the largest ever built (146 meters) and is truly an amazing sight. These large stone structures have withstood time and mother nature with relative little damage. The huge stones used to create the pyramids make you ponder the logistics of moving such stones hundreds of kilometer down the Nile and up the structures themselves.

The second pyramid, of Khafre (Khufu’s son), is slightly smaller (136 meters), but rests on a higher section of the plateau. It maintains a portion of the polished limestone covering at its apex. To see these pyramids fully covered in smooth stone and perhaps painted and covered in hieroglyphics would be a fantastic sight. After climbing up a ways for some pictures we head back to the camels and start towards the third pyramid.

The Pyramid of Menkaure is smaller than the other two (65 meters) and is flanked by 3 satellite pyramids. Despite a 12th century caliph’s attempt to demolish this pyramid (unsuccessful 8 month attempt) it stands as magnificently as the other two. Magan and I climbed one of the satellite pyramids and got a great view of the surrounding area. After taking in the panoramic view we headed up the Nile to Saqqara.


Traveling south along the Nile to the town of Saqqara we come to another large necropolis with the center piece being the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Entering the courtyard we pass through a long corridor of columns connected to the walls shaped to resemble large bundles of plant stems. At the end the court-yard opens up to Egypt’s oldest pyramid – one that served as a prototype for future pyramids. Its six distinct steps create an interesting yet underwhelming experience after the showpiece in Giza. On the opposite end of the courtyard lie several tombs while in the distance, through the dusty air, sit other pyramids including the famous bent pyramid.

Abu Simbel

From Cairo we boarded a luxurious sleeper train for the over night journey to Aswan. While Aswan doesn’t offer  much more than a pretty view over the Nile and laid back atmosphere, it serves as the gateway to the temple complex of Abu Simbel. The convoy (to avoid sand people) departs at 4 am and takes about three hours. Abu Simbel consists of two large structures built by Ramsses II to commemorate a large victory and show his might to Egypt’s Nubian neighbors. Although the temples were built around 1250 BC they were relocated in 1968 AD to a man-made mountain to avoid being covered in water due to the Aswan dam. The first temple we visited was the temple of Hathor and Nefertari. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and the front has 10 meter tall monuments of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari. The interior contains small rooms attached to a main large room covered with hieroglyphs, carved and painted. Thanks to the glorious revolution happening in Egypt at the time we were the only people in the temple.

Next door sits the much larger Great Temple of Abu Simbel dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah. The out side is covered with various hieroglyphs and carvings, but most impressively with four 20 meter tall statues of Ramsses II. Inside the temple is a large room with eight large pillars and statues of the pharaoh. The walls are covered in carvings showing various victories in battle as well as some graffiti from the mid 1800’s AD. Attached to the main hall are multiple smaller rooms full of colorful pictographs of upper egypt.


Luxor, formerly Thebes, was the ancient capital of Egypt and contains many temples and tombs. On arrival we hired a taxi and set off for the west bank of the Nile that contains a huge necropolis. The first stop was the Valley of the Kings. This valley has many underground tombs carved into the mountainside sloping down toward a large burial chamber. These were all full of pictographs and hieroglyphs as well as large sarcophaguses that once housed the mummified remains of the pharaohs.

Further along the west bank we passes two large structures known as the Colossi of Memnon depicting the pharaoh Amenhotep III en route to the impressive Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This monument sits at the bottom of a cliff and  rises 97 feet high consisting of three levels with double colonnade and a large ramp up the center. The temple is covered in reliefs and is by far the most impressive structure on the west bank.

Back on the east bank, in the center of town, sits the Temple of Luxor. While this temple certainly adds character to the city the only thing of note is a hieroglyph on an obolisk that I am pretty sure is a X-Wing.

A couple kilometers north of Luxor sits the best temple in the area, the Temple of Karnak. This vast complex covers 2 square kilometers and contains many buildings and courtyards, but the main draw is the forest of gigantic pillars. These massive columns stand at 80 feet and create a humbling environment. Standing and walking amongst these pillars rates with the pyramids of Giza.



The last few days spent in Egypt were in the Sinai Peninsula. We first departed at 10pm for Mt. Sinai to see the sun rise over the desert. Mt. Sinai gets its claim to fame because the pharaoh was the first in a long line of people to kick the Jews out of his country. Once completed they wandered for some time and during this time Moses went up Mt. Sinai where God gave him the 10 Commandments. Here sits the famous Saint Catherine’s Monastery that continues to house monks at the base of Mt. Sinai.

The remainder of our days were spent under an umbrella on a beautiful beach with clear blue water in Dahab.

Posted June 14, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Africa, Egypt

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