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Safaga: Luxor and the Valley of the Kings

sunny 39 °C

May 13
Safaga, Egypt
Excursion: Luxor, Valley of the Kings

Mark and I decided this (like Cairo) was a BIG day with so much to say about it that we should probably each write our own observations. Here are mine, we'll see if Mark writes anything

To start off, this was another exceptional day, that far exceeded any expectations we may have had. Our guide for the day was named Assam, which he immediately told us was pronounced “Awesome”!
We got on our bus of 18 people (for a 35 or more seater bus, so, lots of room) at about 7:30 a.m. Again, we had a long drive from Safaga to Luxor, 2-3 hours. Luxor was at one time the ancient city of Thebes. It was just a village when Memphis was the capital of Egypt (during the time of the pyramids), but gradually increased in importance politically and geographically until it became the capital of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom.

We got another discourse by Assam about the kings/Pharaohs of Egypt and the dynasties, etc. Much repetition of what we learned from Mohammed in Cairo. What we learned different here is that the Valley of the Kings is a place where there are the tombs of lots of kings—the pyramids were tombs as well, of course, but from an earlier period.. The kings buried here are from the “New Kingdom” (obviously the most recent period, 1570-1080 BC, 18-20th dynasties. The first of the pyramids, the 'step pyramid' dates from the third dynasty, about 2700 BC). Because the pyramids had not been able to prevent the robbing of the tombs, this site was chosen as an alternative. There are 62 tombs in the valley, the tomb of King Tut being the most recently excavated, in 1922 by Howard Carter. This valley was chosen for four reasons:
1. to avoid the flooding of the Nile
2. to avoid robbers
3. the natural limestone
4. the natural pyramid above the valley

The tombs were built by carving out the passage ways and various small side chambers, then the walls were smoothed, and where needed, gaps were filled in with plaster. For the most part the decoration was carved into the limestone, but sometimes they were carved on the plaster, so there are some sections missing as the plaster fell away. The drawings were made in a couple of stages, the first sketches were outlined in red paint, corrections made with black, and then the sketches were chiseled into the wall,and then they were painted.

We were able to walk down the entrances to the tombs of 3 kings. By paying extra money, we could have gone into the tomb of King Tutankhamen, but we chose not to do that. What we viewed in the 3 tombs we entered was incredible. Most of us have read stories or some kind of description of entering tombs, but actually being in one, 3000 years after it was built, was more than one could have envisioned. When the tombs were discovered, the entrances were excavated, and other than that, nothing has been done to them (other than some preservation work). Once opened, what we walk upon today is as it was made centuries ago. The hieroglyphics and drawings and their colours are all original, and amazingly still quite vibrant. It was incredible to look ahead of you in a rectangular tunnel about 12' wide and 15' high, covered with hieroglyphs in vertical rows from floor to ceiling on one side, and large drawings on the other side, and pictures on the ceiling as well. We were not allowed to take photographs in this area unfortunately (neither in the tombs,nor even outside). The explanation was that because of the crowds of tourists, everyone who stops to take a picture slows down the flow of traffic. So they just say “No” to photographs, period. Instead, we had to purchase postcards and books to get pictures of what we saw. In a way, that was ok, as you could just enjoy looking at the sights. Again, our time was limited, so we could not spend time studying the hieroglyphs, but our guide had spent time describing certain pictures and their meanings and told us where to look, so we could understand certain things we were looking at and see the repetition.

After the tombs, we drove to a shop to learn a little about alabaster. We were shown the rock in its raw/natural state, and how they shape it and finish it. It comes in several colours, and actually seems to be very much like marble. It seems almost indestructible as we were shown that one of the ways to tell real alabaster from the fakes was to throw it on the ground (in this case, hard tiled floor) and it would not break. Then, of course, we were guided into the shop and allowed time to browse and purchase.....we did not like this place as there were no posted prices. Instead, you gave the pieces you liked to one of the personnel and they placed them all together, and then you were to do the bargaining. We did not even bother with this, as, without a starting point, you have no idea what the approximate cost is. You might know what you want to pay for something, but that might be nowhere near its value. So, we brought home no alabaster.

For lunch, we went to the King Tut Restaurant and enjoyed a set menu which was meat tajin with vegetables. We were served a plate with a small halved potato that had been baked, and a formed round pile of rice. Separately, we received a very hot bowl (pottery of some sort, the “tajin”) that held the meat (we think beef) in a broth with vegetables. We were not told what to do, but it seemed logical to mix the stew with the rice. It was quite delicious.

Next on the itinerary was the Karnak temple complex, but on the way there we went by the Colossi of Memnon and the Luxor Temple. Three kilometres from the Luxor Temple, we reached the Karnak monuments. Here, we explored the remains for 1.5 hours in the 39 degree heat! I was really looking forward to the hypostyle hall, with all the pillars. The area is 132 m long by 53 m wide and there are 134 columns 23 m high. Our guide had our group stand around the base of one of the pillars, with our backs to the pillar, holding hands, stretching out our arms. There were 16 of us and I'm not sure that we managed to close the circle. I was just looking in the book I bought and it said that the tops of the pillars have a circumference of 15 m and are big enough for 50 people to stand on them. Anyway, it was pretty spectacular. There were a lot of other monuments to admire and learn about, but I saw what I wanted to see here!

Three days later, it is hard to recall everything we saw and I'm sure I've missed lots, but the pictures will remind us, eventually. After Karnak, it was essentially the 3 hour drive back to the ship. We were tired out so went to our room and bed pretty much right away, because the next day was to be another long day on excursions: Petra and the Dead Sea.

Posted by mutzy 07:46 Archived in Egypt

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