Most of our trips were carefully thought out: respected travel agency, fixed dates, price and most importantly – destination. Sometimes, however, an impulse, intuition, sixth sense urge you to do something completely unexpected. We had not prepared any plan for this trip, perhaps it was the matter of an exceptionally cold winter, lack of sun and endorphins…
You log in, surf the net, browse through various websites… winter looms from behind the window, but still you can admire colorful pictures displaying on your computer screen. And every cell in your body just begs you to pack your back and leave, straight away. I’d started to browse the net out of curiosity; to check out the prices and find some interesting destination for our approaching holidays. Instead of leaving the country on bright, summer day, we flew out at 7 am on chilly, winter morning ….. to Egypt.
It was quick, mutual decision. Bookings, advance payment, just a few days for packing our stuff up and settling all necessary formalities. We had prepared carefully, since culture, customs and people are completely different in Egypt. We packed all our necessities, including medicines (just in case of the “pharaoh’s curse”), aspirin, sun blocks, summer clothes, a warm sweater, camera and Egyptian currency. There was only a matter of getting to the airport and let Gods of Egypt bless us with the sun and a weight of history. .
The very flight was massively impressive. A view from the plane bewildered us with the depth of turquoise, sapphire reflection of the sea and numerous tiny islands. Endless grayish and hilly desert was incredible, though slightly disquieting, its immensity was monumental. The desert enchanted us with, beauty and depth and at the same time terrified with omnipresent dust, sand and emaciation.
Africa did not prove to be as distant as we thought it would be. Four hours of flight and sunny Hurghada welcomed us. One must admit that it was peculiar. We were shocked by the heat (as several hours earlier we were exposed to the minus temperatures) and utter lack of natural soil. Everything was so impoverished and smelled with the desert.
From Hurghada we set out further…Luxor, the City of Palaces waited for us. Luxor is a splendid city located south from Cairo, renowned for its eventful history. The city served as a treasury for pharaohs from 17th and 19th dynasties. Splendor of the city and its economical power had been increasing from generation to generation, while pharaohs had been constructing more and more impressive buildings. This desire to outdistance the predecessors urged pharaohs to construct grand temples, tombs and monuments which outlived the memory of its founders.
This is how the largest agglomeration of royal constructions in the world was created, until this day it is guarded by local gods with Amun-Re as their leader.
Luxor is an incredible city which impressed us hugely. We felt respect and humility because of the city’s great founders, but still we were dying of curiosity to fathom the inspiring mixture of antiquity and modernity. In such places, you crave for the smallest piece of information which would enable you to understand how past ages influenced modern times. Without a doubt, it is a place of magic and mysteries, still, in a way, ruled by the pharaohs.
Egyptians from Luxor cultivate old customs. Natives wear a special scarf wrapped on their heads just like turban which is so characteristic for inhabitants of the Upper Egypt. Wearing bright clothes, traditional galabiyas, they seem to be trapped between past and the present day. When you walk down the streets of Luxor, you can easily notice that magical artifacts and superstitions are very important for them. As if they were still afraid of the curse sent by gods who threaten with another crop failure.
When you discuss the most enchanting sites of the city, you simply cannot forget about the Luxor temple, also referred to as the southern sanctuary or Anon’s harem. When we found ourselves in front of the temple, we felt that we were experiencing probably the most magical moment of our life, it was the first face to face encounter with the true testimony of human past, we understood who we are and how we transformed, whether we are Polish or Europeans. Egypt is a legacy and treasure of the whole world, it is the forefather of our fathers. When we were trembling before the old gods’ majesty, we felt fragile. Ghosts of the past taken us to the places we had never seen before. We saw the Alley of Sphinxes, which once lined the road to the nearby Karnaku.
During the Christian age, the temple was transformed into a church. For over millennium, it was buried underneath the street and local dwellings. Even today, lines of the hardened salt visible on the walls of several buildings show how deep it was buried. It is really hard to believe that not so long ago, the temple was invisible and the mosque which was built on it still towers above the heads of the tourists. Much of the debris was covered with a numerous shanty houses, only Ramses’ head, part of the Amenhotep’s monument and tops of the pillars were slightly visible above the ground.
The main part of the southern harem was built by Amenhotep III and was expanded by subsequent rulers: Tutankhamen, Horemheb, Ramses II and Alexander the Great. Entrance to the temple is guarded by huge, 65 meters tall pylon erected by Ramses II. It is decorated with events depicting the pharaoh’s war victory over Hittites in the battle of Kadesh around 1280 B.C. and with other inscriptions presenting heroic deeds of the pharaoh. Huge monuments featuring the pharaoh sitting on his throne are located next to the entrance and the pylons. If we were able to travel in time, we would have seen see six monuments of Ramses, Nefertiti and their daughter Maritamon. Preserved monuments are around 15 meters tall and the square pedestal is around 1 meter long. Scientists have not decided so far, how all magnificent Egyptian constructions were built. Their architecture, precision and breathtaking magnitude still confuse scientists. According to one of the theories, Egyptian workers (indeed, construction works were performed by paid temporary laborers) did not participate in transportation of the huge stone boulders, but carved them directly in the rocks. It is difficult to determine whether this theory is correct, but having in mind monumental pyramids, there must be something to it.
We crossed huge pylons and entered a courtyard surrounded by the double row of columns, 53 meters long and dotted with Osiris obelisks. The courtyard houses a small temple of Thothmes III, which consists of three chapels dedicated to the Theban triad: Amun-Ra, Mut and Khonsu, and is located in the vicinity of the Amenhotep’s III courtyard. The buildings are well-preserved, and allow you to launch your creativity, close your eyes and teleport thousand years back.
The temple is most attractive after dusk, when the temple’s walls are illuminated by thousands of lights. We visited it during the day and after the sunset. The beauty of the site is simply ineffable. Overwhelming monuments closely watch foreign tourists, their silent faces seem to be careful and attentive. After realizing how powerful and mighty they all were, you should start trembling. Nevertheless, our opinion about pharaohs’ power had changed when we saw Karnak.
Tourists may reach the complex in several ways, walking down the Corniche waterfront or taking a cab. Canny cab drivers are perfectly organized, as they earn their living by providing such service. You won’t have any problems with catching a taxi, the drivers are available 24/7. For getting into a cab you pay around 3 Egyptian Pounds, and each kilometer is charged with 50 piastres. When taking a cab, make sure that the driver turned on a taximeter, otherwise you may experience an unpleasant surprise during payment. It is worth to follow these instructions during your stay. We had similar problem only once, but I tell you – it wasn’t easy to sort it out. You should find a complaint telephone number on the wind-screen. It was enough for me to take out my cell phone and pretend to call the driver’s supervisor to see that he is willing to collaborate again. Going back to Karnak…it was a stunning experience for us. Nevertheless, to sightsee the “Chosen place” properly one needs at least a week. We had only several hours to admire constructions erected during thirteen centuries.
This vast accumulation of temples, pylons and other buildings is the most complex system of buildings in the entire Egypt. The temple adopted the present-day shape thanks to the 18th dynasty, which allowed Thebes to become cultural and political centre of Egypt and made Amun-Re the nationwide idol. The temple is devoted to the god of winds and air who is usually depicted as a man wearing a hat with two feathers. The entire construction, dedicated to Amun-Re, is bigger than European cathedrals erected thousands years later. It is 102 meters long and 52 meters wide. In order to build such gigantic temple, the pharaohs had to employ 75 000, perhaps 80 000 workers. The final shape of the temple should be attributed to Amenhotep III, Ramses I, Sethi I and Ramses II, who continued ornamental works. Due to devotion of the consecutive pharaohs, the temple was becoming more and more impressive and sublime. There is an extremely interesting story relating to the obelisks erected by Hatshepsut, who ruled after Thothmes’s I death. The queen put in a lot of work to make Karnak the most beautiful place in the kingdom. After the reign of the peaceful Queen, the new ruler, Thothmes III drastically altered the kingdom’s Policy. The new pharaoh erased Queen’s name engraved on the constructions she founded and put his own inscriptions instead. He also fenced pedestals of the obelisks she erected, which weighed “only” 320 tones. In my opinion, Thothmes III could not have been aware that his actions will only increase the memory of his predecessor and allowed her constructions to survive.
A monument of the gigantic scarab is located behind the third obelisk which was founded, similarly to the temple of the Divine Triad, by Amenhotep III. We were really anxious to see this monument, or in fact to go round it. Because, according to the legend, those who will walk round the monument three times shall experience eventful and happy life. It all looks sort of funny, I must admit, a line of tourists going round and round the little bug. The poor scarab would surely die of dizziness if he wasn’t made of stone. We were tempted by the prospect of a really happy life, however, so we joined the joyful parade of tourists.
We had a great pleasure to participate in an evening spectacle prepared for the visitors. During this light and sound spectacle, the audience in 4 stages goes round the temple which is illuminated in some places and seems to be even more magnificent and beautiful. It was really hard to imagine that the temple may look even more impressive than during the day. The sacred lake reflects the temple which suddenly gains new colors, especially during shows depicting the history of this bewildering place. These magical moments will probably survive in our memory for ever. It was something extraordinary, exceptional and unique. People can have different opinions on Egypt, but I honestly do not believe that it is possible to leave Karnaku without appreciation for the pharaohs and their past.
After this breathtaking evening and a short rest, we decided to face ghosts of the pharaohs. The gates of the Valley of Kings stood open.
Thousands years ago, dead bodies of the pharaohs were embalmed and mummified. Egyptians believed that if the embalming process proceeds uninterrupted, the king shall stay in the kingdom of shadows forever. Embalming of the high rank priests and noblemen lasted more than two months. After extremely precise process of mummification bodies of the pharaohs and royal family members were put into the sarcophagus on the boat going down the Nile to the burial location.
We ate early breakfast and set out for another trip. The coach took us to the valley hidden between the Theban hills. Then we got into a cable car and followed the mourning path of the ancient Egyptians.
62 chambers have been discovered in the Valley so far, including the tomb AV5 excavated 15 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the burial places had been plundered before, and only several are available for tourists now.
In the moment you enter the tomb, you feel overwhelmed by the mystical atmosphere. We found ourselves in the place the pharaoh was buried, the history was almost tangible here. We could have touched the walls, see magnificent, well preserved inscriptions, murals and the main attraction: Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus and his golden coffin. I must admit that for a brief second I thought about the curse connected with this place and its discovery. Common sense and knowledge told as that we are safe here, but on the other hand… you never know what hides in the wall cracks or…. in the underworld. To see the remaining part of the pharaoh’s treasury we had to set out on another trip, to Cairo. Small items, jugs and bowls were located in the crypt.
Meanwhile, the tomb of Ramses III awaited us in the Valley of Kings. It is also known as the “Harpists Tomb” due to the relief located in one of the chambers. The relief features two blind harpists who sing religious hymns. The tomb is well-kept and most interestingly, the colorful reliefs depict everyday life, which is untypical of the royal burial places. We took a look into the tombs of Sethi II and Ramses VI, which were built according to the same plan. After returning to the world of living souls, we took another journey to Deir er- Bahari and the temple of the woman-pharaoh, Hatshepsut. What amazed us was that the tomb looked as if it were on a display, unlike other tombs it wasn’t hidden deep beneath the ground. This place was painfully beautiful as well, if there hadn’t been any Egyptian stalls you would definitely feel as if you were in the past millennia. It was not difficult to imagine constructors at work and high officials supervising the site. The beautiful scenery boosted our imagination. The tomb towers above high terraces surrounded by porticos. Reliefs presenting an expedition to the Punt land which was organized by the queen Hatshepsut are possibly the most enchanting decorations. The reliefs feature heir divine birth and numerous achievements connected with her reign which lasted fifteen years. The entrance portal is decorated with numerous monuments of the queen who wears two symbols of kingship – the crown and fake beard. The history of Hatshepsut and Nefertiti was especially inspiring for us, we wondered how was it possible that in this male dominated country, two women were able to gain such a significant power and become female pharaohs.
It is worth to mention, that the Hatshepsut temple was discovered and renovated mainly thanks to the group of Polish archeologists run by the professor Kazimierz Michałowski. Polish scientists have greatly contributed to the development of archeology in this magnificent country which can be proud of its splendid history.
On our way back we managed to see the Colossi of Memnon, the massive stone statutes standing in Theban Necropolis. There is an extremely interesting story associated with this place. The statutes are the remaining part of the Amenhotep III. Temple. During an earthquake in 27 B.C., the right colossus was damaged and started to produce peculiar sound. The Greeks decided that it was Memnon singing for his mother Eos (dawn). Rumors about this phenomenon quickly spread around the ancient world. Masses of curious people decided to visit the city and listen to Memnon’s song. Many inscriptions in Latin and Greek on the statute’s pedestal survived until present day. They are unanimous: „I heard Memnon”. Unfortunately, in 199 A.D. Cesar Septimius Sever ordered his sculptors to renovate the Colossi. Memnon has never sung again since then…
On our way to Luxor, we also visited the factory of alabaster. The working conditions in the factory are rather unsophisticated, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, in spite of certain deficiencies, the final results of the production process are admirable. The workshop manufactures alabaster and basalt handicrafts. And now, we will provide a short instruction, how to distinguish an original product from a fake one. Alabaster and basalt are durable, resistant to damages and their weight is significant. Alabaster is as soft as in the common proverb “skin soft as alabaster.” During our stay in the plant we came to quite amusing conclusions on these products. We can all imagine an Egyptian merchant chasing tourists and throwing different items at them. It can be a good test for the product’s originality. We wondered whether all products survive such tests. So, if some item hits our back and doesn’t crash, we can be almost 100% sure that it is original and we can safely buy it as a gift. Nevertheless, we decided to be careful and bought an original (we hope) product from the factory. We bought a small scarab souvenir. We didn’t need to go round it three times anymore, but it found a safe place on the shelf in our house.
After coming back from Luxor, we prepared a plan for a few shorter excursions. Besides, we had several longer trips ahead, and Luxor with its monuments interested us so much that we wanted to see another few things unhurriedly and simply take a rest. Luxor offers a great city museum as well as Mummification Museum. We also wanted to drop into several local pubs, taste delicious coffee and calmly chat about what we had already seen.
The Luxor Museum is fantastic. It features items found in Luxor’s tombs and monuments. Each item looks like a small work of art and probably is one. All of them have been produced extremely precisely and minutely. All exhibits are labeled in many languages and properly illuminated, which allows one to study the artifacts in detail. The ground floor is devoted to the New Kingdom era and among others displays bust of Thothmes III, the most striking item in the collection. Artifacts from the Tutankhamen’s tomb and large head of Akhenaton are displayed on the first floor. The alabaster statue of Amenhotep III proved to be exceptionally beautiful. We wondered whether it was really heavy.
In the Mummification Museum, one may feel a bit as in a chamber of tortures or in the middle of a horror movie. The exhibits include the royal mummy from the 21st dynasty and numerous animal mummies. Obviously, mummification tools with detailed description of their functions are also on the display. According to the Egyptian legends, just after death all souls stay in the mortal body, that is waydeceased pharaohs wanted to prevent their bodies from decay and desired to preserve them as a house for their soul. Egyptians perceived destruction of the dead body as a huge loss and great tragedy. The souls devoid of body would wander about and finally extinguish bringing an end to the afterlife. Embalming and mummification processes were the only preventive method. Desecration of the dead body was probably the most severe punishment mortals could have imagined. Traitors and enemies of Egypt would suffer from this punishment. The mummification process wasn’t probably too harmful for the deceased, but the very mention of the brain being pulled out through the nose with the use of thin hook, sounds rather disgusting to me.
In the nearby cafe, we met a soft spoken Arab. We had a conversation about typically tourist matters. He asked us where were we from and we were really happy to see, that he roughly knew Poland’s location and was able to enumerate a few larger cities in our country. He also asked whether we were a couple and I immediately recalled my friend’s story. He rejected an immoral proposal to sell his girlfriend for a herd of camels. They were quite terrified, as the offer was a serious one. I wouldn’t be happy as well if I were in his shoes, that’s why in some situations I am forced protect my blonde (Arabs are mad about this color) wife. Precautionary measures above all!
W prepared another expedition which would follow the traces of history. Idfu (Edfu) is an incredibly interesting site with the well-preserved and one of the most enchanting temples in Egypt. It was constructed in the 3rd century B.C. This temple built by Ptolemaic family as a tribute to Horus is kept in an almost perfect condition, with pylons, courtyard and sanctuary. The gates are guarded by sparrow-hawks engraved in the granite. The temple walls are often compared to an open book providing information about mythology and politics of ancient Egypt. The reliefs we had an opportunity to admire, depict various traditional events, for instance a visit paid by the goddess Hathor. I think that not everybody knows that the temple was erected by Hellenes, who wanted to win favor of the locals and decided to proceed peacefully. As a result they founded numerous monuments devoted to local idols. All these temples have cartouches for founders’ names which were typical of all Egyptian sacred constructions. Most interestingly, the cartouches are empty. One, clear answer why builders did not engrave any signatures does not exist. According to the one theory, Egyptian constructors did not carve Greek names to raise their silent objection against the invaders. The other hypothesis explains this phenomenon in linguistic terms. Greek names were too complicated for Egyptians who didn’t know how to spell them. Both hypotheses seem to be equally probable, the truth however shall remain unknown.
Another interesting story is also connected with this place. Those who are familiar with the Egyptian mythology must be familiar with it. Horus was born by Isis whose husband Osiris was murdered by Seth. The latter in order to deprive Osiris of afterlife, chopped his body into pieces and scattered them around. Desperate Isis gathered dispersed parts of her husband’ body, apart from penis which had been eaten by the Nile catfish, and resurrected Osiris with a little help of magic. Soon, the divine fire impregnated the goddess. When the lady of Heaven and Earth was pregnant, she had to flee o the region of the Nile delta in order to hide from revengeful Seth. She was perfectly aware that envious god will do his best to kill the child in fear of losing his power. This is where she born her divine son – Horus.
After sightseeing we went on cruise. Our destination was Kom Ombo, located 40 km from Aswan. We visited the temple devoted to the falcon god Horus and the crocodile god Sobek. What’s interesting, the temple was not built exclusively for religious purposes. The Ptolemaic pharaohs erected it in a military and economically strategic place. This location allowed to impose duties on merchants travelling along the nearby trade trail. The temple is situated in the vicinity of the Nile beaches which used to be full of crocodiles. Today, the construction is partially destroyed. Some parts fell into the River, the roof is incomplete. Magnificent buildings around the temple have not survived until this day, however, tourists may still see the gate in the stone Wall surrounding temenos (the holy circle), several columns, remains of the pylon and several chapels. Slightly southward from the main temple, in the Roman sanctuary of the goddess Hathor, one may admire mummified crocodiles discovered on the graveyard for the sacred animals.
The same afternoon, together with other tourists, we came back on the ship and embarked on another journey bidding farewell to the magnificent Luxor. We reached the top deck in order to take a sunbath in deckchairs, swim in a small pool or simply unwind and marvel at breathtaking views of the Nile and Egypt. The river cruise proved to be a splendid adventure. We comfortably sat in the sun loungers sipping cold drinks and admiring exotic landscape moving in a slow motion. Although the sun was still scorching, the Nile cooled us with a gentle breeze. These moments were truly great. We were about to enter the port of Aswan…
Aswan is situated on the east bank of the Nile River. It is famous for the ivory, rouge, gold and ebony. It stands at the first cataract which separates hills of the Eastern Desert from the vast Sahara. The city cannot brag about spectacular excavations or tourist attractions, nevertheless it is a pleasant place. Part of the city located next to the river is especially attractive. The view is just magnificent here. One may also see monuments dating back to the ancient times, botanical garden and Nubian Museum. The city attracts tourists by organizing felucca (traditional Egyptian boat) trips to the Elephantine, a long island covered with lush flora. Scenery during the cruise was just breathtaking. Egyptian sun, feluccas sailing under triangular sail, St. Simon’s monastery and beautiful desert views. Ruins of the ancient Abu and small Aswan Museum are main attractions on the Island. The exhibits are extremely interesting. One can admire mummified animal bodies, beautiful jewels and amulets as well as the golden statue of a ram sculpted as a tribune for Chnum. Name of the island is of Greek origin and refers to the elephants. Some people claim that it is also associated with the massive rocks resembling elephants wading in the water. Others mention the city which was located on the island and was a stopping–place for caravans of camels and elephants carrying the ivory. The ancient name of the island – Abu (Yebu) may be translated as an elephant or an ivory. “Nileometer” is another interesting curiosity on Elephantine. One of the old inscriptions informs that when the water level exceeds 24 cubits the soil was properly irrigated. Otherwise, a catastrophe was unavoidable. Such natural disaster lasting for even years (I am not referring to the bible here) was depicted on the granite block: “Unfortunately the Nile has not overflow its banks for seven years. The grain is running out, there are no vegetables and any food which would feed the people.”
Aswan was once dotted with elegant hotels for tourists who wanted to spend their winter holidays here or discuss investment plans in Egypt. Terraces of the Old Cataract Hotel witnessed many diplomatic conversations, now tourists may sip coffee and admire a beautiful Nile sunset. For us, it was a great relaxation amidst picturesque African scenery.
We were still in Aswan, and decided to go on errands on a souq (or souk), an Arab marketplace. Souq in Aswan is a typical representative of such places. Small shops stand one next to another along the crowded downtown streets. Baskets, dates, cotton, crochet hats, spices, pieces of papyrus (or rather fakes made of banana tree), gold and figurines of Egyptian gods. Tourists are especially fond of Sobek – the guardian god of water regions. Even if you do not intend to buy anything, you should visit a souq just to feel its exceptional atmosphere. It is a perfect place to relax in a cafe, order a hibiscus brew called karkadeh and watch calm Nubians, merchants and tourists going on shopping. When buying souvenirs, you must remember to haggle about the price, no matter what. The price for tourists often depends on their nationality, that’s why every single merchant would ask us about our motherland. Polish usually pay less, which is unquestionable advantage.
Very early in the morning, we went by bus to Abu Simbel, located by the Nasser Lake. The complex of two temples, located around 300 km south from Aswan. The temple of Ramses II was first to visit, what makes it different from the other temples? The temple is virtually carved in the rock and resembles a pylon with four obelisks of the Ramses II. The northern wall is decorated with the scene of the great battle. It is a subtle relief, considered to be the most beautiful in the valley of Nile. 1100 Egyptian soldiers march and fight, captives try to flee, destroyed chariots are left behind the army.
As we are especially interested in the queens of Egypt, a visit to the Nefertiti temple was a particular experience for us. Descent of Nefertiti is unclear, researchers agree, however that she was born in the noble family. During the royal ceremonies she was always somewhere close to the pharaoh. Her intense relationship with Ramses II is mainly a story of love, not political and economical calculation. She was his beloved wife, as a token of his love Ramses decorated front elevation of the templein Abu Simbel with obelisks presenting himself, his wife and children. Other murals show compassionate Nefertiti observing the duel between her husband and his enemy. The temple is devoted to the goddess Hathor who looks after the god of dun during his every day journey. Nefertiti seems to be Ramses’ II equal, which is unusual phenomenon for this culture.
After visiting Abu Simbel, we went on the railway station in Aswan around 5.00 p.m. We took a night train to the biggest city in Africa – Cairo, Mother of the World. At 8 a.m. a bit excited and sleepy, we reached the capital city. We booked a room in the hotel, took a shower, ate breakfast and set out for sightseeing. We had decided to spend several days in Cairo to properly experience this foreign city full of monuments and exceptional sites.
Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an obligatory sightseeing site. It houses the most magnificent Egyptian masterpieces in the world. We strongly recommend to purchase a book guide or an audio guide, which in detail describe most important exhibits. It is worth to see the entire museum and devote even more time for it. Obviously, it is impossible to see and analyze every single artifact displayed in the museum, it would take you several months probably, nevertheless we will try to focus on the most important exhibits. The gathered artifacts are breathtaking, especially when you previously visited archeological sites where they have been excavated. Large exhibits are displayed on the ground floor in chronological order. One may marvel at Mykerinos Triadas or Greek paintings and visit Echnaton’s room featuring Old Kingdom treasures. Upper floors display marvelous items found in the Tutankhamen’s grave including his famous mask, coffins, sarcophaguses and unimaginable treasures buried together with the young pharaoh. Room no. 53 displays animals’ mummies and portraits from Faiyum. The mummies’ room is additionally charged, it shows embalmed bodies of the most powerful monarchs and that’s why it is definitely worth to pay this additional charge. The mummified pharaohs had an unprecedented power in the history of the whole world. You will have an opportunity to see the mummies of Sethi I, Ramses II, Thothmes IV and the queen Hatshepsut.
Sightseeing Cairo alone tends to be burdensome. Locals are very often impudent, they asked where we wanted to go, invited us for a chat, cab drivers and cabmen offered us to give us a lift and all of it for baksheesh. One must admit, however, that cabs are really cheap and comfortable in Cairo, and we strongly recommend them as the most convenient means of transport in the city.
Then, we set out on a journey inside the Arab world of old churches. We visited Saladin’s Citadel which was a residence and a government house for all rulers of Egypt.
The alabaster mosque of Mohamed Ali towers above the city. It was built in the south part of the Citadel. Apart from several decorative elements, the mosque may be only vaguely associated with Egyptian art, nevertheless it is a very picturesque monument. Later on, we visited the old Coptic city, where we had an opportunity to admire lavishly decorated All-Mullahs church (Mother of God) and Abu Sarza church (St. Sergius) which was a safe hideout for the Holy Family during their flight to Egypt.
We spent second evening in Cairo and set out on another night trip. First, we visited the largest marketplace in Cairo, and probably one of the biggest in the world, suk Chan al-Chalili. The marketplace is located in the very heart of the city. Honestly, until then we hadn’t seen so vast and huge cluster of small shops and stalls in one place. Multitude of meandering small streets, hundreds of nook and crannies require phenomenal orientation skills. It is better to predetermine a pinpoint place in case of getting lost. We simply tried to hold our hands firmly and remained together all the time. I had never got into the more twisted maze of streets and I probably never will. Shops in Chan al Chalili are arranged accordingly to the type of goods they have on offer. This solution is definitely very convenient for tourists. Jewellery stores are located in one place, fabrics are somewhere else, fruits and spices are next to one another, perfumes and workshops filled with papyruses are located in another district. Apart from obvious convenience, close neighborhood of the similar goods also lowers their price. Merchants accosting tourists are the order of the day. One have to get used to it, as in almost every place in Cairo – on the marketplace, during sightseeing you are exposed to loose-tongued Arabs. Egyptians use every possible means to sell their product. Firstly, they usually welcome you in your native language. In order to increase their sales, Arabian merchants have to learn at least a handful of foreign words used by tourists coming to Cairo. They usually start in English which is lingua franca for most of the Europeans. They commence with “how are you” and instantly turn to German, Italian, Russian or Polish pronouncing distorted “jak się masz”. Practically speaking, they don’t understand anything in the target language apart from these half-baked phrases. Well, perhaps they are able to tell you the price in English quite correctly. All these linguistic stunts effectively attract potential customers, and allow merchants to mesmerize „the victims” by inviting them to their shops. Captivated tourist greatly increases merchant’s chances for a new profit; as usual simple methods prove to be most effective.
We were mainly interested in Egyptian products, copper plates, kettles, mortars, boxes decorated with pharaohs or arabesques as well as beautiful galabiyas. Most products available for tourists include masses of golden and silver „royal” jewels, variety of carpets, papyruses, rugs, condiments, herbs, bongs, tobacco and exotic fruits which should be carefully selected according to various diseases they may cause. One has to necessarily remember about haggling. It is not only the way to reduce price, but also a local custom.
We could probably write the whole book about Cairo, its monuments, delights and setbacks you may experience there. Cairo is a great place for organizing short outings to the most famous sites in Egypt. Our journey to Egypt is almost complete, only the symbol of Egypt – Pyramids are waiting to be discovered.
Memphis was once Old Kingdom’s capital, but today it doesn’t have much to offer. The city was founded by Menes, who is believed to have been the first dynasty King living around 3100 B.C. Tourists may admire here one of two colossi personifying Ramses and alabaster Sphinx which really enchanted us. Then we set off to Saqqara to see: Pyramid of Unis, ruins of St. Jeremiah’s monastery and the step pyramid of Djoser towering above the whole area. It is the oldest construction of this type made of hewn stones. The pyramid features many elements which became typical of the Egyptian architecture. Entrance to the pyramid is allowed only with the special authorization, such trip lasts about few hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have such an opportunity. After that we saw the seventh world wonder. Complex of the most impressive and biggest pyramids in Gizah includes three pyramids: of Cheops, Khafra and Mykerinos. All pyramids have a square base. These magnificent constructions seem to be something more than only a burial place of the great rulers of Egypt. Layout of the temples carries a message from the constructors to the modern scientists. Unfortunately, in spite of the modern knowledge and developed technology we have at our disposal now, most of the secrets hidden in the chambers of the pyramids shall never be revealed. I am almost convinced that great Egyptian knowledge or magic even is still unavailable for our minds.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops is the biggest pyramid in Egypt and was recognized by the ancient Greeks as one of the “seven world wonders”. After his death, Cheops was buried in the pyramid which still astonishes modern scientists with its magnitude and mathematical precision of the construction. Egyptian researchers calculated that 2.3 million of stone blocks were used for the construction of the great Pyramid. Sides of the construction are 230 meters long and are oriented precisely into the four sides of the world. The difference between the given sides does not exceed several centimeters. I think that no matter how many articles you have previously read or how many photos you have seen, it is impossible to prepare yourself for the first encounter with pyramids and the mythical Sphinx which is a hybrid of the lion and Chefren’s face. The Sphinx, carved in the rocks of Gizah plateau, became a mysterious phenomenon of the ancient Egypt and symbol of strength and wisdom. Standing next to the magnificent guardian, you feel that the whole world is yours, but in fact you lose your whole power, the world and its cosmic energy overwhelms and captures your whole being. We shall never forget this incredible experience.
In Gizah, tourists are allowed to enter into the pyramids. The entrance is located several feet above the ground, therefore some climbing is inevitable. However, it is not the original entrance to the tomb, but it was discovered years ago by the scientists. Unfortunately, the entrance is narrow, low, carved in the stone and obviously inconvenient for tourists. Inside, we walk around the corridors of different sizes and height. Sometimes it is so narrow that two people have problems with passing or sightseeing. Remember that it is not kind of a trip for people suffering from asthma or claustrophobia. So even if you really want to experience the splendor and mystical atmosphere of this place, it is better to skip such trip. This also refers to the children who may be depressed by such visit. Meanwhile, we went past the side corridors not available for tourists. At some point we came to the Grand Gallery which is the highest corridor in the pyramid. The gallery with its corbel ceiling is believed to be the most magnificent architectural site of the Old Kingdom. This part is still in high regards among the scientists from the whole world.
Finally, we reached Cheops’s grave. It is 7 meters long, 3 meters wide and 4 meters high and houses an open sarcophagus. Although it doesn’t hide treasuries of Old Egypt and beautiful reliefs, this first wonder in the world is definitely worth seeing.
Waiting for „light and sound” show we decided to go on a lunch in Pizza Hut restaurant located in front of the pyramid. Some people perceive “mcdonaldization” of culture as a profanation of the sacred places. Unfortunately, the country’s economy is based mainly on tourism and as a result Egyptians seek for every opportunity to earn additional money. We must accept that with a heavy heart, there is no other way.
We came back to the Cairo to spend the night in the hotel. On the next day we took a ferry to Hurghada. We made a tour full of visual and sensual experiences. Every single moment during sightseeing was simply incredible. It is really difficult to bid farewell to these stunning places.
Hurghada. We decided to spend the last day of our journey unwinding. We thought that bathe in the Red Sea and sun bathing was a perfect way to say goodbye to Egypt and provided us with a free time to look back on the last weeks. Instead of monuments, we had an opportunity to admire exotic fish swimming amidst the coral reef. Water is warm even in March, the sun shines. Beaches are small, and those which aren’t aimed at foreign tourists are littered with garbage. The city wasn’t exactly beautiful as well nevertheless it is a great place for diving lovers. We were eagerly observing the sea life in the Red Sea Aquarium located on Corniche and took a trip by submarine named “Sindbad”. It is difficult to compare visiting ancient sites of Egypt with a journey to the depths of the sea, but indeed beautiful and colorful coral reefs and diversity of sea fauna is incredible.
This is how we bid our farewell to Egypt, its history, variety and magic. It is really sad that t ancient Egypt was the first power in the world evoking feeling of awe and delight, while modern Egypt is mainly famous for poverty and misery of its citizens. Nevertheless, foreign tourists should at least try to understand it, accept its faults and enjoy great and unforgettable adventure.
We brought back with us beautiful souvenirs including a scarab which will hopefully bless us with tons of happiness, enchanting photos, and most of all adventures and memories that we shall never forget.
The legend tells that “Who at least once took a sip of the Nile water, shall always pine for Egypt. His thirst shall not be quenched by any water from different country. Who was born in Thebes shall always yearn for Thebes as there is no other town in the world of similar quality” (Mika Waltari, Egipcjanin Sinuhe). We obviously did not take a sip of the Nile water, but the cruise along the river and our stay in Luxor (ancient Thebes) captivated our souls. Nevertheless, before going back to the birthplace of majesty and magic, we shall embark on new adventures to other parts of this inspiring world.