Author Archives: Rachel Kristensen

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La Candelaria – Where Bogota was Born and Street Art Reigns Supreme – Colombia tour.

 

Have you ever took the time to appreciate the street art while travelling? On a recent Colombia tour, we did just that.

In another installment from a wonderful trip to Colombia, we join Dale from The Maritime Explorer as he describes the street art encountered on his travels through Bogota. 

We hope in sharing his blog written from a recent departure, you enjoy this piece as much as we do.


This is my fourth post on a recent trip to the wonderful country of Colombia with Adventures Abroad. You can find the first two describing our activities on the first day on this website. Day two began with an ascent by funicular up to Monserrate, the sacred mountain that overlooks Bogota where we enjoyed fantastic views of the city. After returning to the funicular station or local guide Catalina Rincón led us on foot to the oldest and most interesting district of Bogota, La Candelaria. One of the main attractions for me in signing up for Colombia was to see the world famous street art in Bogota and Medellin. I am about to get my first look as we head into La Candelaria. Please come along and enjoy the amazing talent of these Colombian magicians.

Quinta de Bolivar Museum

Just below the funicular station there is a large walled off estate which was the residence of Simon Bolivar following the successful end of the war for independence from Spain. Today it houses the Quinta De Bolivar Museum and unfortunately all we have time for is a picture at the entrance. In preparing for this trip Alison and I listened to the audible book Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana and it really opened our minds to the magnitude of this man’s accomplishments. The war for independence from Spain by the South American colonies was a far bloodier affair than the American Revolution. In comparison to the effort that Spain put in to keep modern day Colombia, Venezuala, Ecuador and Peru, it’s almost like the Brits hardly even tried against their American colonists. Bolivar is a monumental figure in Latin America and I expect to see a lot more of him in our upcoming travels.

Quinta de Bolivar Museum
Quinta de Bolivar Museum

Below the Bolivar Museum there is a very pleasant well treed area that is home to several universities and the remains of the San Francisco River which has been channeled through a series of gentle declines.  At first this had me thinking that if ever a river was tamed, this was it, but then I read about the State Of The San Francisco  before the restoration and I parked my reservations.

San Francisco River
San Francisco River

Not long after passing the university area we came across the first large scale work of street art, but first a little rant about graffiti.

Graffiti vs. Street Art

Now I know that different people have different ideas about what is or is not graffiti and the term ‘graffiti artist’ is often applied to people who are actually real artists. For me however, this is graffiti and I hate it. I really hate it. It makes me sick to see subway cars, rail cars, pull down storefronts like this one and almost any other surface that will hold spray paint defaced by this kind of shit.

Bogota Graffiti, La Candelaria
Bogota Graffiti

On the other hand, I have a great appreciation for true street art, which in the case of La Candelaria, is an absolutely integral part of the neighbourhood. So what’s the difference between graffiti and street art – at least according to my standards? With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways.

  1. Graffiti vandals do their dirty work under cover of darkness and slink away like rats into the sewers. Street artists perform their work in daylight and in full view of any who want to watch them.
  2. Graffiti vandals don’t leave anything that will identify who they are (except perhaps to other graffiti vandals). Street artists sign their work and often leave contact information.
  3. Graffiti vandals don’t get anything for their efforts other than the perverse satisfaction of ruining someone else’s property. Street artists are commissioned and paid for their work which can enhance the value of a business and attract customers.
  4. Graffiti vandals have nothing to say. Tell me from looking at the above picture if it evokes anything in you other than disgust? Street artists do tell stories, usually related to the neighbourhood in which they are created and their works can be powerful calls for political change, recognition of past wrongs or sometimes just wonderful whimsy. The bottom line is they make you feel something, the hallmark of all good art.
  5. Graffiti vandals are criminals. Defacing property with spray paint like in the above picture is a crime in Colombia. Great street artists are venerated for their work and are respected members of the community, although I do say that with a grain of salt knowing that the artistic temperament leads to some serious whack jobs.
  6. Most obvious of all – graffiti vandals have no talent and street artists do. If every idiot who could buy a can of spray paint was somehow deigned to have artistic ability then I too could be the next Michelangelo, at least in my twisted mind’s eye. The next time some moron tries to tell me that the people who indiscriminately spray paint other people’s property are just expressing themselves, I will ask them for their address and tell them I’ll be over sometime during the night to express myself on their walls. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have my artistry adorn their place.

OK, that’s the rant. Now let’s go look at some La Candelaria street art.

Dragon Mural, La Candelaria
Dragon Mural

This angry looking dude is a good example of how a good street artist can really create perspective. It’s even more obvious when you see the entire mural.

Le Candelaria Mural
Street Art Joining Buildings Together

Notice how the dragon’s tail winds its way onto the building next door. This is an amazing piece to see live as it were. No photo can do it justice.

Here’s another example of combining the work of art into the surroundings which you would only notice if someone, like Catalina, points it out to you.

Cat Mural , La Candelaria
Cat Mural

This is a cat mural that covers two sides of brick building with the large black cat face at the juncture of the two walls. Despite the fact that the walls are receding on both sides, when you look at it straight one, it looks flat. Here’s the real kicker. Look at the right eye. From this angle, part of the eye is actually painted on the lamp post in front of it and part of the face coincides with the light pole beside the lamp post. This is brilliant stuff.

Just for fun, see how many famous cats you can identify in this mural? Here’s the part you can’t see in the photo above. Prize of the day if you can spot my all time favourite cat, named for a famous English philosopher.

How Many Famous Cats?
How Many Famous Cats?

Moving on, we come to a a number of examples the street art is being used as essentially a business promotion, such as this one for Hibiscus Restaurante. Just from one look you know they have fish, chicken, fresh fruits and dessert.

La Candelaria
Hibiscus Restaurante

Another example of La Candelaria street art is this somewhat Daliesque series arms and legs that also has elements of baroque trompe l’oeiloften used on the ceilings of churches to represent angels or saints seemingly floating on air. Look at the lower right set of  legs and think Tintoretto or Tiepolo. This is interesting stuff.

Hands and Legs, La Candelaria
Hands and Legs

Next we have a mural that depicts the hallucinations of the artist while in a drug induced trance, probably caused by coca leaves. Pre-Colombian shamans used drugs, particularly coca, to create visions that, were, well – pretty far out, which is why lot’s of people do the same thing today. The figure on the right is almost certainly the moon goddess Chia, about which more later. The things on the left I’m not so sure about. The point is that the artist wanted to recreate, first in his mind, and then on this wall, what his predecessors might have envisaged before the Spanish arrived.  I also chose this mural because it was one of the few pieces of street art I saw that had been vandalized by ‘taggers’. It brings home pretty clearly who is the artist and who is the vandal.

Mescaline Mural, La Candelaria
Mescaline Mural

We now arrived at the foot of Callejon del Embudo, allegedly the oldest street in La Candelaria and thus Bogota. It is also called Funnel Alley because it does, in a way, resemble a funnel the way it drains its way out of El Chorro de Quevedo, where Bogota was founded and winds down into the older city proper. It is too narrow for cars and is definitely the #1 place to see street art in Bogota. Despite this, it was not particularly crowded during our visit, a few students and one other obviously tourist couple were all I observed. Everybody but one in this photo belonged to our Adventures Abroad group. You can see the high rise buildings of Bogota in the background.

Alison in tFunnel Alley, La Candelaria.
Alison in Funnel Alley, La Candelaria.

Pre-Colombian Religious Beliefs

The area around Bogota was populated by a people known as the Muisca who were master gold workers. They had two major deities, Sue or Zue, the sun god and Chia, the moon goddess.

On the walls of Funnel Alley is this representation of Sue which is a more primitive and in some ways evocative form of street art.

Sue, the Muisca Sun God, La Candelaria
Sue, the Muisca Sun God

Also here is Catalina pointing out the features of another pre-Columbian figure on the same wall (note that it too has been vandalized.

Catalina Explains the pre-Colombian Gods
Catalina Explains the pre-Colombian Gods

So what’s up with these type of images? I’m no expert, but I’ll hazard a possible explanation which has everything to do with the difference between how the modern day Colombian differs markedly from the modern day North American. When the Spanish came to Colombia and pretty well everywhere else in the new world a number of things consistently happened. First the majority of the native population died from diseases they could not resist – we did that too in North America. Second, those that survived were enslaved or warred upon until they were almost all gone – we did that too. When the indigenous people couldn’t supply the man power necessary to work the mines, fields, you name it, slaves were imported from Africa – we did that too.

But here’s where the two paths diverged. In Colombia and most of Latin America, the Europeans procreated with the indigenous population creating an entirely new race of mestizos. According to Country Studies U.S., a division of the research department of the Library of Congress and thus I think, reputable, about 50% of Colombians are mestizos, 25% white, 20% mulattoe or zambo (black-indigenous mix) 4% black and a tiny 1% pure indigenous. Compare that to my country Canada – of a population of over 35 million people less than 500,000 are identified as a mix of aboriginal and European blood while just over 1.4 million are identified as indigenous.

In Canada it is well nigh impossible for the vast majority of people to be able to understand or identify with the tragedy that was the destruction of native cultures and in particular, religion that was all but inevitable, given the mores of the day, once the Europeans arrived in the New World. In Canada there is a definite us and them. In Colombia, it’s much different. The blood of the oppressed runs in a large majority of the population and when the Catholic Church deliberately set out to destroy and demonize the Muisca religion, it was attacking the ancestry and belief system of many of the people of Colombia today. The ancestors of the persecutors and the persecuted are common to most Colombians. There is no us and them. That is why I think that images of Sue, Chia are other pre-Columbian deities and practices are so prevalent in the art of La Candelaria. These were not the gods and religion of a small minority, but the majority. How do you deal with the fact that the religion you profess to follow today literally destroyed the religion your ancestors professed to follow in the past? It’s something I never really thought about until I came to Colombia and was confronted by the street art and what it stands for.

This image of a elder indigenous woman is extremely moving when viewed in the context of “What have you done to me, my people and my religion?”, when the “You” is the Colombian people themselves.

Native Woman, La Candelaria
Native Woman

This is another image, I think along the same lines.

Native Colombian
Native Colombian

Maybe I’m out to lunch on this or getting too serious so there’s lots more whimsy as well, like this juggler in El Chorro de Quevedo which is our final destination in this post.

The Juggler, La Candelaria
The Juggler

This is the place where Bogota was founded by Gonzalo Jiménez De Quesada in 1538 although, as was usually the case if it was a good location, there was already a native settlement in the area, this one called Bacarta which was eventually corrupted into Bogota. So while the natives lost their land they did get to keep the name.

Plaze Chorro de Quevero
Plaze Chorro de Quevero

Here is the second church built in the plaza after the first burnt down.

2nd Oldest Church, La Candelaria
2nd Oldest Church

That’s my post on the street art of La Candelaria and what I think is behind a lot of it. This church above just about says it all. If nothing else I hope I have convinced you there’s a difference between vandalism and street art.

Next our group visits the great Museo de Oro or Gold Museum in Bogota and one other place that shall remain unnamed. I hope you’ll join us.


Many thanks again to Dale of the Maritime Explorer for sharing his travels with us. We can’t wait to see where he goes next.

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The Temple of Hatshepsut and Other Wonders of the West Nile at Luxor


If you’ve never been to Egypt, it is a destination unlike any other. History and hospitality go hand in hand. In 2017 we were pleased to welcome Dale from The Maritime Explorer along for another one of our fantastic journies to Egypt. Kindly, Dale has shared his experience with us and this time is taking us to Luxor. Below is Dale’s experience, as originally told by him on his website


 

This will be my final post on the fantastic trip Alison and I took to Egypt last February with Canadian tour company Adventures Abroad. You can find another dozen on this website. The west bank of the Nile across from the city of Luxor contains perhaps the most important collection of monuments, temples and tombs in all of ancient Egypt. In a previous post I described our first crossing of the Nile to visit the legendary Valley Of The Kings and the most famous tomb in history – King Tutankhamun or King Tut. Today we are returning to visit a number of other important west Nile sites including the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, the Valley of the Queens and several others. Won’t you join us?

The Colossi of Memnon

After an early morning crossing of the Nile, we are met by our bus and head for the Valley of the Queens, but there will be several stops along the way. Our first stop is at one of the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt, the Colossi Of Memnon. These are two massive solitary statues of Amenhotep III, one of the greatest of all Egyptian kings, father of the heretic Akhenaten and grandfather of Tutankhamun. So why aren’t these statues referred to as the Colossi of Amenhotep? Good question. Memnon is a figure from the Iliad, a legendary Ethiopian king who came to fight with the Trojans and was ultimately slain by the even greater warrior Achilles. Early Greek tourists, and I do mean early, like around the year 300, had no clue about Amenhotep who by then had been dead for 1600 years. They did know about Memnon who was from Africa so they attributed the statues to him and the name stuck.

For centuries the statues were also famous because they ‘sang’. Early travellers reported hearing strange whistling noises coming from one of the statues after it was damaged by an earthquake. This lead to the statues becoming a place of pilgrimage until the Roman emperor Septimus Severus thoughtfully had the damaged statue repaired and it never sang again. Ever since I was a boy first reading about ancient Egypt I have wanted to see these statues and here we are.

Colossi of Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon

As you can see they are in a pretty bad state of repair and kind of forlorn out here by themselves. That’s too bad because when they were built they stood at the entrance to a mortuary temple complex larger than Karnak including a huge man made lake. Now it’s pretty well all gone with only the two solitary guardians, sentinels of nothing. While Shelley’s poem Ozymandias was written about a giant fallen statue of Ramses II, which we saw in Memphis, the closing line could equally apply to the Colossi of Memnon – Round the decay of that colossal wreck , boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

However, not all of the mortuary complex of Amenhotep III is lost as we discover a few miles down the road. Our Egyptian guide Ahmed Mohsin Hashem is also an Egyptologist who does regular field work in the summers when he is not guiding. He points out a team from an American university that is working at the mortuary complex. This provides valuable employment to Egyptians and a great summer job for budding archaeologists.

Current Excavations
Current Excavations at the Amenhotep III Mortuary Complex

The Temple of Madinat Habu

One of the things that  Ahmed is very good at is getting our group to places that are off the beaten tourist path, but very much worth seeing. He got us through a military check point at Dahshur and right up to the base of the beautiful Red Pyramid with the Bent Pyramid in the background. This morning he is taking us to the Temple Of Madinat Habu which he assures us will be virtually deserted and he’s absolutely correct. This is the mortuary complex of Ramses III another of the great Egyptian kings who successfully staved off three invasion attempts by outsiders during his extensive reign.

This aerial photograph shows just how extensive and well preserved the complex is. So why don’t most tour groups visit this place? I think the best answer is temple fatigue. The Luxor area has the temples of Karnak, Luxor and Hatshepsut not to mention the Valley of the Kings and Queens. In my experience, travellers with Adventures Abroad are usually quite knowledgable about the destinations they are visiting and have an appetite for visiting the lesser known attractions that is not diminished by long days and less than ideal road and restroom conditions. It also helps to have the enthusiasm and knowledge of Ahmed and our Canadian tour leader Martin Charlton as driving forces.

Aerial View of Madinat Habu
Aerial View of Madinat Habu

This the entrance pylon to the temple. Compared to the madness outside the Temple of Edfu this is tranquility.

At the Temple of Habu
At the Temple of Habu

One of the reasons Ahmed wanted us to visit this complex was because it is so well preserved and that is evident immediately upon passing into the inner courtyard. Note the rarely used square pillars in addition to the usual cylindrical shape.

Inner Court
Inner Court

This is Ramses III and one of his wives.

Ramses & his Wife
Ramses & his Wife

In areas where the light has not shone directly on the walls the painting is still vivid. This is Isis and Thoth.

Isis & Thoth
Isis & Thoth

This is a painted ceiling, still fresh after over 3,000 years.

Painted Ceiling
Painted Ceiling

Ahmed pointed out some features unique to buildings erected by Ramses III. These are deeply incised hieroglyphs that are only found during his reign.

Ramses III Incised Hieroglyphics
Ramses III Incised Hieroglyphics

I mentioned that Ramses III was involved in successfully repelling numerous invasions and at Madinat Habu he wanted to make sure everybody knew about it. One of the ways of letting him know just how many of the enemy had been slain was to cut off the hands of the defeated. Here the figure on the right is standing before a stack of severed hands.

Madinat Habu
Collecting the Hands

Ramses got to thinking about this hands business and realized that he could easily be duped about the numbers of enemies killed if both hands were severed and each pawned off as coming from a separate person. Hmm. What male body part could be cut off instead to avoid any doubt as to the number killed. You guessed it. This is a representation of a man, knife in hand, standing before what would be a huge number of severed penises. Gives me the willies just looking at it.

Collecting the Penises
Collecting the Penises

The Worker’s Village

Our next stop is also not on the usual tourist itinerary and offers a rare look into how the vast majority of ancient Egyptians lived out their lives in complete obscurity compared to the monuments left by the 1% or less. Somebody had to build these monuments and they had to have a place to come from and return to after every day’s labour. This is the Deir-El-Medina or worker’s village that is located about midway between the Madinat Habu and the Temple of Hatshepsut. It is where the artisans who worked on the temples and tombs lived there lives and miraculously it is reasonably well preserved.

Worker's City
Worker’s Village

Can you imagine the heat of the summer beating down on this barren and shadeless landscape?

Worker's Village 2
Worker’s Village 2

This was the community well from which all who lived here had to draw their water. Not quite as easy as just turning on a tap.

Worker's Well
Worker’s Well

The worker’s village lasted for a period of four hundred years and is unique in Egyptology as the only site of its type ever discovered and like Madinat Habu, it sees few visitors.

The Temple of Hathor

On the same site of the worker’s village, but not exactly contemporary with it is the Ptolemaic Temple Of Hathor which from the exterior looks kind of ordinary and uninviting. However, it would be a big mistake not to go in because it contains some very rare depictions of ancient Egyptian beliefs.

Worker's Temple of Hathor
Worker’s Temple of Hathor
Rare Judgment Tableau
Rare Judgment Tableau

The idea of judgment after death is an almost universal religious belief and one that the Egyptians held for thousands of years – still do for that matter.  This is a scene from the Book of the Dead depicting the final judgment of a dead person’s worthiness to be resurrected to a second life or be eaten by the devourer of the dead Ammit and extinguished from existence for all time. The dead person’s heart is placed on a scale, in this depiction held up by Horus. On the other side the cat goddess Ma’at places a feather. If the heart outweighed the feather then it was bye bye heart and soul, if not the person was worthy of a second life.  Heavy stuff.

Another rare depiction in ancient Egyptian art is this one of the god Min who is usually portrayed with a very obvious boner and a flail – the first  male dominatrix? Not surprisingly he was the god of fertility.

Amon of the Penis
Min

Valley of the Queens

Just a half kilometre away from Deir El-Medina in a narrow valley lies the entrance to the Valley of the Queens. Valley Of The Queens is a bit of a misnomer, because it is not exclusively women who are buried here, but it does contain the tombs of many of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt. It receives only a fraction of the visits than the much more famous Valley of the Kings which is too bad for those who don’t get here because it has very well preserved tombs including the one that many people think is the finest in Egypt.

Unlike the Valley of the Kings, visitors are allowed to take cameras inside the valley and can take photos of the exterior entrances.

Valley of the Queens
Valley of the Queens

As you can see the place is not exactly overrun with tourists. The square grilled boxes mark the opening to some of the ninety tombs that have been discovered here so far.

Valley of the Queens - Not Exactly Overrun
Valley of the Queens – Not Exactly Overrun

Other tombs that are cut directly into the valley walls are sealed off by wooden doors.

Typical Sealed Tomb Entrance
Typical Sealed Tomb Entrance

Like the Valley of the Kings a few tombs are open to the public each day. On our visit today it is that of Queen Titi (not to be confused with Nefertiti) which is not that inspiring. The other two are both princes and one has this fine painting of two Amuns facing east and west.

Two Amons in the Prince's Tomb
Two Amons in the Prince’s Tomb

However, the real reason to visit the Valley of the Queens in my opinion is to see the recently reopened tomb of Queen Nefertari, favourite wife of Ramses II. Closed for a restoration that took over twelve years, the tomb is considered the ultimately beautiful tomb in Egypt. There is only one catch – it costs $50 USD to see it and you can only stay for ten minutes. Only a few others in our group opted to make this $5 a minute expenditure, but for Alison and I it was a no brainer.

This is the modest looking entrance and I was obliged to leave my camera with Ahmed.

Entrance to Queen Nefertari's Tomb
Entrance to Queen Nefertari’s Tomb

Was it worth it? Every damn cent.

Here are pictures from a CD that Ahmed made available to us for a modest price, compiled by his friend Mohammed Fathy.

This is the entrance passage and the first thing you notice is that the walls are white. This is a style unique to this tomb and makes the paintings stand out like no other. Also notice the ceiling painted blue with stars.

Entrance to the Tomb of Nefertari
Entrance to the Tomb of Nefertari

Once you are inside the colour is breathtaking and unlike viewing say the Mona Lisa, you are not jostled or thronged by others. The only limitation is that darn ten minutes and once inside, for a little baksheesh, they would let you stay longer. However, I don’t promote breaking the rules and we dutifully exited on schedule.

Interior of Nefertari's Tomb
Interior of Nefertari’s Tomb

Here is more of what you’ll see on one of the most memorable ten minutes of your life.

Tomb of Nefertari
Tomb of Nefertari
Tomb of Nefertari
Tomb of Nefertari
The Tomb of Nefertari
The Tomb of Nefertari
Tomb of Nefertari
Tomb of Nefertari

There are lots more, but it’s time to visit what might be the most interesting site on the west bank, the Temple of Hatshepsut.

The Temple of Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut is one the most colourful and controversial figures in ancient Egypt. She was the most successful woman to rule as king of Egypt, having transcended from a regent for Thutmose III to in effect a co-ruler until she died. Reigning as a king and depicting herself as a man she constructed one of the most beautiful and famous temples in all of the ancient world.  It was constructed as a mortuary where she could be worshipped after her death. Her actual tomb is in the Valley of the Kings. It is also the site of the most infamous terrorist attack on foreign tourists ever.

Ahmed has deliberately delayed our visit to the Temple of Hatshepsut until close to the end of the day to avoid the crowds that inevitably deluge the place. That strategy seems to have worked as the place is relatively quiet although nowhere near as much as most of the other places we’ve visited today.

Temple of Hatshepsut
Temple of Hatshepsut

The construction is a radical departure from the other temples we have visited in Egypt. There are three distinct levels which are reached via a gigantic staircase. From a distance it look like it is built right into the cliff face, but that is an illusion as there is a very large open space between the facade and the cliff. However, the chapels of Hathor and Anubis inside the inner temple do extend into the cliff.

Here’s Alison doing her best Hatshepsut imitation.

Alison as Hatshepsut
Alison as Hatshepsut

The most striking feature of the Temple of Hatshepsut for me was the colonnade of statues on the second level. Note that she is depicted as a man, fake beard and all. Traces of original paint remain on some of them.

Colonnade of Hatshepsuts
Colonnade of Hatshepsuts
Entrance to Inner Temple
Entrance to the Inner Temple

The restoration work inside is ongoing under the auspices of the Polish Academy of Sciences and there’s nothing overwhelming about the interior. The Temple of Hatshepsut is really mostly about its grand exterior which really has to be seen to be appreciated. It is truly one of a kind.

Head of Hatshepsut
Head of Hatshepsut

Looking down from the second level Ahmed points out the area where 70 people were massacred in a terrorist attack on November 18, 1997. One thing I appreciated about Ahmed was that he did not try to downplay or dismiss events that did not put Egypt in the best light. Since the attack security has been tightened to the point that future attacks of this magnitude are highly unlikely, but then again the purveyors of terror always seem to come up with new ways to make life miserable for the rest of us.

Site of 1997 Massacre
Site of 1997 Massacre

I don’t want to end this post on a down note so I will end by pointing out the cliffs which you can see from the temple where the actual mummies of over fifty Egyptian kings, including Ramses II, were discovered in a cave in 1881. They had been secreted from their tombs by priests concerned that they would be desecrated by tomb robbers and remained hidden for another 3,500 years.

Cliffs above the Temple
Cliffs above the Temple

We’ve packed an awful lot into this day and as noted this will be my last post on Egypt until I return when the new Egyptian Museum opens in Giza. I hope you have enjoyed them.

Ila al-liqaa.


 

Many thanks to Dale from The Maritime Explorer for sharing his experience with us. If you’d like to learn more about this tour and our tours to Egypt, click here.

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Luxor – The Quintessential Ancient Egyptian City

luxor_final_cover

 

 

Follow along with another installment on the Egyptian highlights as Dale from The Maritime Explorer recounts a recent tour of Egypt led by us.

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 


 

This is the first of several posts on the many world class ancient sites that make the city of Luxor a focal point of any trip to Egypt. While undoubtedly the pyramids and sphinx are at the top of most tourist’s Egyptian bucket list, the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon and the Temple of Luxor are not far behind. Please join me in exploring these and other lesser known wonders of the ancient world that are all in or close to the city of Luxor.

Alison and I arrived in Luxor after a three day Nile River cruise on the Radamis II departing from Aswan. You can read my two posts on this exciting journey Here and Here. We and fifteen other intrepid explorers were on a trip sponsored by Canadian travel company Adventures Abroad, with whom we have traveled many times. I use the word intrepid not because of any danger a trip to Egypt might pose, but more because of a false perception that most westerners have that it is in fact dangerous to go there. I hope in this and my other posts on Egypt to help in some small way to dispel that notion and convince people not to bypass one of the most fascinating and historically important places on earth.

After disembarking from the Radamis II we were transported a short distance along the corniche that runs parallel to the Nile to our hotel, passing the semi-submerged wreck of the Emely along the way.

Wreck of the Emely, Luxor
Wreck of the Emely

Our home for the next three nights was the Sonesta St. George Hotel which overlooks the Nile, although the room we were assigned did not have a Nile view. Still the St. George is a more than adequate hotel with decent food, a pool and its own landing area which we used more than a few times over the next two days.

Sonesta St. George Hotel, Luxor
Sonesta St. George Hotel

History of Luxor

Most scholars of Egyptian history will be familiar with the name Thebes, but not necessarily Luxor. Long before the name Luxor came into common use, well after Roman times, the city that was the capital of ancient Egypt for much of its most glorious dynastic period was known as Thebes, a Greek name shared with one of the most prominent cities of ancient Greece. To the Egyptians who made this the wealthiest city in Egypt and a place of pilgrimage to the great temples erected here, it was called Waset. The name Luxor, which definitely has a nice ring to it, is apparently a corruption of an Arabic word meaning ‘ fortress’. Whatever you call it, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that comprises the temples of Luxor and Karnak as well as numerous sites on the West Bank of the Nile, has often been referred to as the world’s greatest open air museum.

The modern city of Luxor which surrounds the ancient sites  has just over 450,000 inhabitants and along with Aswan, was a breath of fresh air after Cairo, Giza and even Alexandria. It has a great location alongside the Nile and there is a corniche that makes for a great area to stroll the river banks and watch the feluccas and motor craft that ply the waters under almost perpetual sunny skies. Although you will be petitioned by one caleche driver after enough during these strolls, they are not overly aggressive and don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of this fine city. We found the city quite safe to walk in as the traffic along the corniche is reasonably sane by Egyptian standards and the Luxorites actually do stop for red lights and pedestrians.

Luxor also has a souk, an Egyptian market or bazaar, that is interesting to visit and manageable in size compared to the larger centres. If you get tired of the vendors pleading with you to buy something, anything, you can always just take a seat at one of the many cafes and enjoy a cup of strong Egyptian coffee or perhaps mint tea.

The Souk at Luxor
Luxor Souk

A number of people on the trip had been asking about reputable places to buy Egyptian jewelry and in particular modern cartouches.  These are oval shaped pendants upon which a person’s name can be written in hieroglyphs and are considered good luck charms by many. Here’s an example.

Modern Cartouche
Modern Cartouche

Our inestimable Egyptian guide Ahmed Mohsin Hashem had advised people to wait until we got to Luxor where he said there were many fine craftsmen who specialized in making cartouches. Several members of our group took him up on this and ordered cartouches which Ahmed then picked up the next day. All were pleased with the quality of what they received and the price that Ahmed had helped them to negotiate. Frankly, I regret that we didn’t take him up on his offer. While I don’t personally wear jewelry I know my youngest son who shares the same name as me, would have been delighted to get a cartouche with his name on it in hieroglyphs.

The Temple of Luxor

Luxor has two of the arguably most important and impressive temples in all of the ancient world – the Temple of Luxor and Karnak, both of which I’d first read about over fifty years before when I decided by age ten that I wanted to be an archaeologist. That didn’t happen, but my desire to visit these shrines of antiquity did not diminish. Writing this now, home in Canada, I look back on the visit to the Temple of Luxor as one of the absolute highlights of a trip that had almost too many to count. I know exactly the reason the Temple of Luxor was so outstanding – we visited it at night when it was backlit in a manner that made the place seemingly magical.

The Temple of Luxor was built and added onto over a period of three hundred years between 1500 and 1200 B.C. with Amenhotep III and the long reigned egomaniac Ramses II as the principal builders.  There was also a little help from Tutankhamun – the only place where you will find anything attributed to this boy king who is much more famous for being dead than alive. The tinkering even lasted up to the time of another great egomaniac, Alexander the Great. The temple was dedicated to the ka of the Egyptian kings, a concept difficult to define in modern terms, but perhaps closest to our concept of a soul that lives outside the body and survives death. It was also the site of the annual Opet Festival wherein the god Amun along with his wife Mut and son Khons would make the journey from their home in the great temple of Karnak three kilometres away to the Temple of Luxor. Of course, the procession was ritualistic only with priests carrying statues of the gods from one temple to the other, but it is was the direct forerunner of similar rituals today in almost all religions where statues of gods, saints and holymen are carried through throngs of believers on certain pre-ordained festival days.

At one time there was a sacred way running directly between the two great temples lined with sphinxes the entire way. Much of it still remains today and the Egyptian government has plans to restore the entirety of the route over time. Ironically one of the biggest obstacles is a Coptic church which sits smack dab in the middle of the route and for which the Christians have showed very little appetite for relocating so that this ‘pagan’ roadway can be revived. Luxor has a large Christian community and despite what you might think, they do have rights and privileges that are respected by the Muslim majority.

The bus pulls up to the large parking lot which is mostly empty and we get out at the sphinx-lined entry way. I cannot describe the power of the imagery of the those sphinxes or the entrance pylons with the huge statues of Ramses II flanking the entryway. I’m going to let my camera do the talking and just say this – the Temple of Luxor at night is one of the most beautiful, mysterious and enchanting places I’ve ever seen.

Sphinx Road, Luxor
Sphinx Road
Sphinx Road
Sphinx Road
Sphinx Road Detail, Luxor
Sphinx Road Detail

The sphinx road ends at the entrance to the Temple of Luxor. Despite the fact that there was restoration work taking place on the right pylon it detracted very little from the sheer power of the overall scene.

Temple of Luxor at Night
Temple of Luxor at Night

Luxor was the city with the most obelisks in Egypt and the source of many of the ones removed to places around the world. At one time there were two obelisks at the entrance to the Temple of Luxor, but Napoleon decided Paris needed an obelisk more than Luxor and you can now see the second one at the Place de la Concorde.

Entrance to Temple of Luxor
Entrance to Temple of Luxor

Ahmed gives us a rundown on the history of the temple and then we are left to explore on our own for over an hour and what an hour it was. I think these may be the best photographs I took on the entire trip, except for this one. Notice the mysterious shadow on Ramses’ hands that makes it appear as if he is holding something. I didn’t notice this until I printed off the picture.

With Ramses II in Luxor Temple
With Ramses II in Luxor Temple

The columns and pillars of Luxor temple are among the largest and most magisterial in the world – a photographer’s dream.

Luxor Pillars
Luxor Pillars

Notice my favourite hieroglyph, the bee, high on the right hand column.

Luxor Pillars
Luxor Pillars
Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple

Looks like the religious vandals have been to work on the Ramses statues. Sorry zealots, but you cannot ruin the majesty of this place with a few hammers and chisels.

Temple of Luxor
Temple of Luxor

The pillars look great in black and white as well as colour.

Luxor Pillars
Luxor Pillars

This is Ramses II with his favourite consort Nefertari.

Ramses II & Nefertari, Luxor Temple
Ramses II & Nefertari

Luxor Temple has some excellently preserved hieroglyphs and carvings of which this is but one example. You could spend hours just looking at the details of these symbols, entranced by the ancient messages they were intended to convey.

Luxor Hieroglyphics
Luxor Hieroglyphics

Overt sexual imagery is very rare in Egyptian art, but this is one of the exceptions. The guy with the giant erection is the god Amun who, at the time the Temple of Luxor was being built had been elevated to the station of chief god of Egypt, a forerunner of Zeus and Jupiter. Often called Amun-Ra or when I was a kid, just Ra, he was often depicted as a ram and thus the association with male sexuality and its real purpose, fertility. Everything in ancient Egypt, whether it be the annual flooding of the Nile or the spring birthing of sheep, goats and cows ultimately came down to fertility and if you could deliver that you deserved to be king of all gods.

Amon of the Giant Penis
Amun of the Giant Penis

I took many pictures of Ramses II throughout Egypt, but this is my favourite – he has a confident half-smile that seems to intimate that he knows just how great he is and how little anything else in the world matters.

Head of Ramses II, Luxor
Head of Ramses II

There is an ancient mosque built inside the Temple of Luxor which is interesting only for the fact that when it was built the sand had covered the ancient temple to a level twenty feet higher than today. From this picture, you can see what was the original entrance now stranded well above street level after the sand was removed to reveal the remains of the original temple.

Line Showing Where Sand was when the Mosque was built
Line Showing Where Sand was when the Mosque was built

That concludes my visit to the wonderful Temple of Luxor. On my next post I’ll visit the Temple of Karnak and the underrated Luxor Museum. I hope you’ll join me.


Many thanks to Dale from The Maritime Explorer for sharing his experience with us. 

If you’d like to learn more about our itineraries and tours to Egypt, click here

Aswan2

Aswan – Much More Than Just The High Dam – Part II

Aswan2

 

A photo essay by Dale of the Maritime Explorer on his recent journey with us to Egypt.

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

n 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Lake Nakuru in Kenya and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 


This is the second of two posts on the many interesting things you can see and do in and around the small Egyptian city of Aswan. In the First Post I discussed the best ways to get to Aswan, recommended a great hotel, provided links to my posts on Abu Simbel and the Philae Temples and toured the wonderful Nubian Museum. In this post we’ll continue exploring Aswan with Martin Charlton, our tour leader from Canadian tour provider Adventures Abroad and our great Egyptian guide Ahmed Hassem. Won’t you join us?

Kitchener Island – Aswan Botanical Gardens

One of the great things about traveling around Aswan is that you get to spend a lot of time on the Nile River. Our first stop today is Kitchener Island which is home to the Aswan Botanical Garden. For ease of getting from place to place on the water it is easier to use the services of a motorized boatman than a felucca which is more for just cruising on the Nile and taking in the sights from the water. The boatmen decorate their boats with various themes, whether it be soccer clubs, famous Nubians or in the case of the guy Ahmed has lined up, Rastafarian.

Rastafarian Boatman
Rastafarian Boatman?

Through Ahmed, I get him to ask the boatman if he is a Rastafarian, which is more associated with Christianity, albeit in a strange way, than Islam. The answer, with a laugh, is  “No, I just like Bob Marley.”

It’s a beautiful morning on the Nile and although a bit chilly by Egyptian standards, we still enjoy the sun. That’s Ahmed with one of our number and a crew member. Every boat seems to have a least one helper.

On the Nile with Ahmed
On the Nile with Ahmed

Along the way we get a very clear view of the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan high on an escarpment overlooking the river. It’s marble exterior fairly glows in the morning sunlight that bathes it from the east.

Mausoleum of Aga Khan, Aswan
Mausoleum of Aga Khan

This is actually the tomb of Sultan Muhammed Shah or Aga Khan III, 1877-1957, a colossally important figure in late 19th and 20th century affairs of India, Pakistan and Shia Muslims worldwide. The Aga Khan is the spiritual head of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. This particular Aga Khan was western educated, as is his successor, and was always a voice of moderation that brought him great respect not only among Muslims, but among all nations. At one time he was even the head of the League of Nations. The reason the Aga Khan’s tomb is in Aswan and not his native Pakistan is that he loved this area and had one of his homes not far from the site of the mausoleum. It is not open to the public, but still a very interesting sight from the Nile.

There are places you can visit on the western side of the Nile at Aswan, which has its own mini version of the Valley of the Kings with tombs ranging from the Old Kingdom to the Roman era. In fact, they are still discovering new tombs as recently as this month (June 2017) as evidenced by this Article. From our boat we could see parties ascending the paths up to the tombs which, like the Valley of the Kings, are cut into the rock faces of the cliff. The building on top is another Shia mausoleum dating from a much earlier time than the Aga Khan’s.

Shia Mausoleum & Pharaonic Tombs, Aswan
Shia Mausoleum & Pharaonic Tombs

The boat docks at Kitchener Island which was once the sole property of the great British military man, Lord Kitchener who was proconsul of Egypt and Sudan from 1911 until the outbreak of WWI, when he was convinced to become the Secretary of State for War. He decided to turn what would have been a dry and arid place into a botanical garden that has become an oasis of green that is a favourite destinations for locals and tourists alike.

This is Alison at the entrance to the Aswan Botanical Gardens.

Aswan Botanical Garden
Aswan Botanical Garden

As botanical gardens go, Aswan is not going to make anybody’s world top ten list, but it is a place of tranquility and in a country that jams 90 million people into a sliver of land along one river, a place to get away from the crowds. There was no question that this was a popular spot for both families and young lovers, albeit you would never see the open displays of affection (sometimes too open) that you might see in a western park. After strolling around both sides of the island we rejoined the group at a small outdoor cafe where I had an excellent Turkish coffee in this lovely Egyptian motifed demi-tasse. If I wasn’t fully awake before I drank it, I sure was after.

Aswan Botanical Garden Coffee
Turkish Coffee, Aswan Botanical Garden

The Nubian Village

After reboarding our Bob Marley boat, we headed upstream passing numerous islands on our way until we made our way onto a fairly crowded landing quay on the west side of the Nile. Our destination was the ‘Nubian Village’ where we would purportedly get to meet ‘real’ Nubians going about their daily business. I am always leery of these type of cultural encounters. Is it a legitimate experience or one just cooked up for tourists? Are we exploiting these people or maybe, are they exploiting us, by putting on what really is just a show? The saving grace was that I knew from previous experience that Adventures Abroad doesn’t go in for this type of thing and that turned out to be the case.

On the way to the village proper we passed a number of structures which Ahmed explained are typical examples of Nubian homes. They reminded me of the tiny Greek Orthodox churches you’ll find in the most remote places of Greece and occasionally Turkey. Built to withstand the unremitting heat of the Sahara, they have remained largely unchanged in design for thousands of years. Note that there is no electricity or water. One of the legitimate complaints of the Nubians displaced by the creation of Lake Nasser was the failure, even after almost fifty years, to provide them with the most basic services which most Egyptians take for granted. That being said, most of the homes in the village proper did have electricity and water.

Typical Nubian Home, Aswan
Typical Nubian Home

Our first stop was not in the ‘typical Nubian home’ I was expecting, but rather at the tiny schoolhouse where we had a chance to meet the village teacher, Omar. We were given a lesson in the Nubian alphabet by Omar, who made it clear that failure to pay attention would be addressed by way of martial punishment. That’s Ahmed doubling as the slow learner.

Mr. Omar, Nubian Teacher
Mr. Omar, Nubian Teacher

I always have my doubts about giving to charities that purport to help educate children in third world countries, but everyone in the group was happy to make a contribution for school supplies in this impoverished community.

Having traveled on many continents and in dozens of countries of various degrees of prosperity I have found that they all have one thing universally in common – kids and dogs.  By that I mean that no matter what their situation, children and dogs are almost always happy, especially when together; blissfully unaware that life is not eternal and that things are probably only going to get worse when they become aware of that fact. Luckily for the dogs, they never do. This place was no different.

Nubian Kids, Nubian Village Aswan
Nubian Kids & Dogs

The interior of the Nubian home we were invited into surprised me. There was clearly some kind of extended family meeting going on in the large common room, but they largely ignored us as we poked our way into their daily lives. This was the kitchen where tea was being prepared for family and guests.

Nubian Kitchen
Nubian Kitchen

Back on the streets of the village we made our way back to the boat passing this spice and craft shop along the way, which took the meaning of ‘local colour’ to a whole new level.

Spice shop, Nubian Village, Aswan
Spice shop, Nubian Village

The Unfinished Obelisk

In ancient times Aswan was known not only as the last stop on the way to Nubia, but also as home of great granite quarries where the famed obelisks of Egypt were created before being barged up the Nile to Luxor and beyond. The Obelisk is second only to the pyramid as a shape or form unmistakably associated with Egypt. Predating the first pyramid by centuries, the obelisk represented the beginning of all life. It is such an enduring symbol that the obelisks erected throughout Egypt became the objects of thievery as long ago as the Roman Empire. Anyone who has been to Rome, Paris, London, Istanbul or even New York will be familiar with Egyptian obelisks that have been raised in those cities after being removed from their ancestral homes in Egypt. Before departing on this trip I made a point of visiting the amazing Egypt gallery of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and then going out back to take this picture of ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ in Central Park. Of course it predates Cleopatra’s reign by at least a thousand years, but what’s in a name?

Cleopatra's Needle
Cleopatra’s Needle

The largest obelisk to ever be sculpted/constructed/quarried (nobody is entirely sure how they were made) sits unraised in a quarry right in the middle of Aswan. It was commissioned by Hatshepsut for the temple in Karnak, but cracked when it was almost finished. I can’t imagine the hair pulling that would have occurred after the incredible amount of time and effort to get the thing as far as advanced as it was and then …, just crack. Anyway, the sands of time have not covered it over and it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Aswan today. Have a look.

Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan
Unfinished Obelisk
Unfinished Obelisk
Unfinished Obelisk

A visit to the quarry isn’t limited to seeing one of the most colossal failures in the ancient world, but also to see the many spots where obelisks were successfully created and removed. It’s kind of too bad that the place is more noted for it’s one big flop, than it’s many successes.

The obelisk remains a captivating symbol right up to modern times, none more famous than the Washington Monument, but it was really quite something to stand on the very spot where this mania started, perhaps as long as 5,000 years ago.

The Aswan High Dam

Of all the sites associated with modern day Aswan, without doubt the one most known around the world is the High Dam, built by the Russians and finished in 1970. In contrast to the usual saying, I have saved the least for last. Of all the places we visited in Aswan I found the High Dam the least inspiring and not because of the controversies surrounding it’s creation or because I’m one of those who oppose building dams on principle. After all, I’m a Canadian and one of national symbols is the beaver so how could I not like dams? In their way, some dams, like Hoover, are wonders of engineering and architecture that rise to the the status of national icons. But not, at least for me, the Aswan High Dam. To me it came across more as the Lada of dams and not just because both were built by Russians. Here is an aerial view.

Aswan High Dam
Aswan High Dam

What they did was simply pile up millions of tons of rock and put a concrete cap on it. There is no sense of height that you get looking over the steep side at Hoover or many of the European dams like Almendra in Spain. Still, it is interesting for it’s views from both sides.

I have not adjusted the colour in this photo. The Nile really is that blue just below the dam. All of the sediment that would have made it a cloudy brown is now piling up in Lake Nasser.

Below the High Dam, Aswan
Below the High Dam

I almost forgot to mention something that you can hardly miss on a visit to the High Dam. This is the Monument to Friendship constructed in the Brutalist architectural style the Russians loved during the 1950’s  and 60’s. And yes, it is brutal.

Russian Monument to Friendship, Aswan
Russian Monument to Friendship

So that’s my take on the many reasons for including Aswan on your must-visit list of places in Egypt. Next I’m off on a Nile cruise from Aswan up to Luxor. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Ila-liqaa from Aswan.

At the Aswan High Dam
At the Aswan High Dam


For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again! 
Egypt group tour

Aswan – There’s a Lot More to See Than Just the High Dam – Part I

 

Egypt group tour

 

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 


 

Alison and I recently spent several weeks in Egypt on a tour arranged by the Canadian company Adventures Abroad with which we have traveled on numerous occasions and never been disappointed. Every trip has its expected highlights and in Egypt they were many – the Pyramids & Sphinx, Abu Simbel, the Temple of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings to name just a few. But just as predictably there will be unexpected surprises; places you didn’t really have on your radar before the trip began. On this trip it was the small city of Aswan and the very many interesting historical, cultural and natural things to do there and in the immediate area. There was lot more to Aswan than just the famous High Dam. Won’t you join me as I give you plenty of good   reasons to visit Aswan.

Getting to Aswan

Here is a map of Egypt. You can see Aswan at the bottom, the last major settlement in the country (or the first if you are coming from Sudan). Below it is massive Lake Nasser, created by the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1970’s; probably the thing that most people most associate with the city.

Map of Egypt
Map of Egypt

The other thing you can see from the map is that Aswan has an airport. For a country of over 90 million people, Egypt has very few domestic airports and Egyptair, the national carrier, only has about six or seven destinations it flies to within the country. Because it has an airport, the majority of tourists arrive by air, but if you are feeling adventuresome and time is not an issue, you can take the Overnight Sleeper Train from Cairo. I love trains and may return to Egypt one day just to experience the Nile countryside from the perspective of a passing train.

However, the flight from Cairo to Aswan also offered some very interesting views of the Nile as it snaked its way north toward the Mediterranean. From 25,000 feet you can really grasp that the Nile is the Egyptian lifeline and that only a few miles from its banks on either side, there is nothing but desert.

The Nile from the Air
The Nile from the Air
The Nile from the Air 2
The Nile from the Air 2

Landing at the small airport, I noted that there were only a few flights a day in and out and the place was pretty well deserted except for those who had just deplaned. There was a small duty free shop and despite technically not departing on an international flight, with a little wheedling and some pleading the genial fellow behind the cash register let me buy a bottle of gin. Other than at the tourist hotels, it is virtually impossible to buy liquor in Egypt so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slide.

A bus was waiting for our group and we headed for our hotel. Along the way the road passed over the top of the Low Dam, which I didn’t even know existed. After coming from Cairo and Giza, Aswan was a real delight in terms of the lack of traffic and a much more laid back atmosphere. Also it seemed a lot cleaner and the people less frenetic than those in the metropolis of Cairo/Giza. The Nile was constantly in view, alive with feluccas and the covered motorboats that are used to get people back on forth from the many islands that dot the Nile around Aswan, as well as to the other side. Just looking out the window of the bus I definitely got the feeling that I was in an exotic, but not dangerous, place.

Felucca in Full Sail, Aswan
Felucca in Full Sail

Aswan, the City

By Egyptian standards, Aswan is a small city with just under 300,000 residents. It is the administrative capital of  the Aswan Governate which has a population of 1.4 million of whom over 800,000 live in rural areas along the Nile. The city’s roots go far back into antiquity, at least 4,000 years. It once was the gateway to the almost mystical land of Nubia where products like gold, ivory and incense were exchanged for cloth, grain, beer and other manufactured goods, the luxe goods going north and the practical stuff going south. The Nubians still exist as a distinct group within Egypt today, with their own language, customs and architectural building style. Unfortunately for them, most of their traditional lands were lost with the creation of Lake Nasser, their villages along the Nile inundated by the rising waters. Many were forcibly relocated, their lands confiscated without compensation. Fifty years on, the issue of Compensation in land and/or money remains a hot topic in Egypt with the prospects for the Nubians getting something at long last seemingly better than ever.

Even though Aswan has an almost unbroken line of history for four millennia, it is actually quite a modern city with most of the buildings dating from the 20th century. It’s quite safe to walk around in and very pleasant along the main thoroughfare, the Kornish Al Nile, with lovely views of Elephantine Island from the promenade that borders it.

Ok, I’ve set the table and now I’ll tell you about the things that made Aswan a special place for me.

The Mövenpick Resort Aswan

A hotel? Really? Absolutely.

Movenpick Hotel, Aswan
Movenpick Hotel

One of the upsides to the collapse of the western tourist market is that the prices for luxury hotels have come down dramatically. The few westerners who do go will get a lot more bang for their buck and that includes tour providers like Adventures Abroad who have taken advantage of the availability of places like the Mövenpick that previously only catered to the most upscale of tour groups. Even though the vacancy rates are quite high, chains like Mövenpick, which is Swiss, are expected to maintain the same standards in Aswan as they would in say Geneva.

The Mövenpick Resort is on Elephantine Island, which lies 150 metres (200 yards) off the Kornish and can only be reached by boat. The hotel operates its own boat service and our boat was dutifully waiting for us at the ferry landing when our bus from the airport pulled up. This was actually the first time (of many to come) that we actually got onto the Nile River and it was surprisingly exhilarating. Although you would never drink the water, it was not foul smelling and in fact quite refreshing with a steady breeze blowing that propelled the many feluccas zipping this way and that among the many islands of the Aswan archipelago.

As you can see from the picture above, the Mövenpick is a pretty interesting looking hotel given it’s location. The builders clearly wanted to take full advantage of the Nile views that can be seen from every room in the hotel. After landing we walked the short distance to the hotel lobby, although we could have taken a golf cart if we wanted to. Someday I might need one to go 100 yards, but thankfully not yet.

The lobby of the Movenpick is quite spectacular with high, high ceilings seemingly held up by faux palm trees that are works of art in themselves – I know it sounds like I’m getting carried away, but I really was impressed  with this lobby.

Faux Palm Trees in Lobby
Faux Palm Trees in Lobby

However, it is really the view from the rooms that make the place. Every room has a good sized balcony which either faces the city of Aswan or, as in ours, the western side of the Nile where you can see a combination of pharaonic tombs and more modern Shia tombs. This is room 1106.

Room 1106
Room 1106

This is the balcony.

Balcony, Room 1106
Balcony, Room 1106

And this is the view. Pretty amazing – 4,000 years of Egyptian history just across the river.

View from Room 1106
View from Room 1106

It didn’t take long to put the gin to good use as I sipped a g&t and watched life on the Nile, the same way Lord Kitchener might have when he was Consul-General of Egypt over 120 years ago.

OK, we’ve got a great place to stay, what next?

The Philae Temples

Without doubt the top attractions in the immediate Aswan area are the Philae Temples on tiny Agilkia island located between the Aswan Low Dam and the Aswan High Dam. They are important enough that I have written an entire post on them which you can read Here.

Philae Temples - Temple of Isis from the Nile
Temple of Isis From the Water

The Gateway to Abu Simbel

The great temples of Ramses II and his favourite wife, Nefertari at Abu Simbel are, in my opinion, after the Pyramids, the most mesmerizing of all the amazing sites you can visit in Egypt. They are extremely remote and most people take a day trip from Aswan, (actually it starts in the middle of the night) which is how Adventures Abroad got us there. I have also written a separate post on that wonderful experience which you can read Here.

Abu Simbel Photo
Abu Simbel

So after you’ve visited the Philae Temples and Abu Simbel what else is there to do in Aswan? Plenty.

The Nubian Museum

Acknowledging that Lake Nasser was going to destroy hundreds of thousands of artifacts, UNESCO, which oversaw the removal of the Abu Simbel and Philae Temples to higher ground, decided to save as many as possible and house them in a museum in Aswan. Opened in 1997, the Nubian Museum is one of the finest small archaeological museums you will find anywhere. We had a free morning, took the Mövenpick boat over to Aswan and had a very enjoyable fifteen minute walk along the Kornishe to the museum. Along the way we passed two of the more modern Aswan monuments.

This is the Old Cataract Hotel as seen from the water. Operated by Sofitel, it is one of those legendary Victorian era hotels where anyone who was anybody has stayed on a visit to Aswan.

Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan
Old Cataract Hotel

This is Archangel Michael’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, seemingly larger than any mosque we saw in Aswan. The Copts number in the many millions in Egypt and have gone through varying degrees of discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority. Recently there have been bombings of Coptic churches in Cairo and Alexandria, but in Aswan it appears that the relationship is closer to one of mutual respect than outright antagonism. As we passed the cathedral on the way to the museum we saw many Coptic women dressed in traditional garments that were not that different than the hijabs worn by many Muslim women.

Coptic Cathedral, Aswan
Coptic Cathedral, Aswan

From the outside the museum is quite striking, mirroring traditional Nubian architecture and surrounded on all sides with gardens and fountains.

Nubian Museum, Aswan
Nubian Museum

Inside the museum is spacious, low lit and laid out in a manner that takes you from the earliest Nubian cultures right up to the present day. Here are a few of the highlights.

This is a burial that goes back to the earliest period of Egyptian civilization – 3,500 B.C., well before mummification began.

Grave dating to 3500 B.C., Nubian Museum, aswan
Grave dating to 3500 B.C.

The most sacred part of every Egyptian temple was the Holy of Holies where statues of the gods for whom the temple was built, were kept. They were usually in a small flame lit room at the very back of the temple and the Egyptians really believed that the gods actually resided in the temple – kind of an ancient precursor to the modern saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Very few of these Holy of Holies have survived and this is what is left of one from a now flooded temple in Nubia. They were likely defaced by the same Christians who now complain of discrimination in modern Egypt.

Holy of Holies
Holy of Holies

This is a mummified ram with a real golden fleece, at least in part.

Mummified Ram, Nubian Museum, Aswan
Mummified Ram
Khnum
Khnum

Khnum was the ram headed god thought to be responsible for the source of the Nile River and he was a big deal in Aswan. His main temple was on Elephantine Island, where the Mövenpick is located, but very little of it remains today and it’s not on most tourism itineraries. That’s the Old Cataract Hotel in the background.

Temple of Khnum
Temple of Khnum

There is a small collection of sarcophagi in the Nubian Museum of which this is the best example. The paint is still vibrant after over 3,000 years.

Mummy of Unknown Priest, Nubian Museum, Aswan
Sarcophagus of An Unknown Priest

No self-respecting Egyptology museum would be complete without at least one statue of Ramses II and the Nubian Museum is no exception.

Ramses II - Who Else?
Ramses II – Who Else?

Among the most impressive displays are these two horses that were found inside a tomb. I guess the person buried with them wanted to have ready transportation awaiting him on the day he was reborn.

Horses Buried in a Tomb
Horses Buried in a Tomb

The Nubian Museum also tells the story of the removal and replacement of the temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari at Abu Simbel. Here is a chart showing the flags of all the countries that participated, including Canada’s.

Countries that Contributed to Abu Simbel Relocation
Countries that Contributed to the Abu Simbel Relocation

The final section of the museum is dedicated to life in modern Nubia. I particularly liked this diorama of a Nubian classroom. Notice the colourful head caps worn by the boys. These are very common in Aswan and make for one of better souvenirs you can pick up in the area. They are the real deal as opposed to the ersatz crap being sold at most tourist sites.

Diorama of Nubian School
Diorama of Nubian School

On the way back to the Kornishe from the museum we were followed by a group of young boys between six and ten. They were trying to sell us some god awful beads and when that didn’t work they appeared to break out in a spontaneous rendition of Frere Jacques followed by other well known children’s songs. The only problem was that we had heard these same songs, in the same order, at least twice before in different cities, so it was anything but spontaneous. Lurking somewhere probably nearby would be an Egyptian version of Fagan, damning these little kids to a life of deceit and poverty.

I have not come to the end of the reasons for visiting Aswan, but this post is long enough already and I’ll finish it off in Part II.


For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again!