The one overwhelming fact that is apparent throughout this country—apparent from the moment we stepped off the plane in Cairo—is the contrast found in every scene. One is surrounded by contradictions.
Another overwhelming fact is the scale of everything—man is but a speck compared to the monuments.
Nowhere was this contrast more pronounced than when we disembarked at 7 a.m. in the city of Luxor. A city of approximately 450,000, Luxor lies in the fertile delta of the life-giving Nile River. Lush greenery greeted us as we wound our way by motor coach to the West Bank of the city. An excellent 4-lane road took us past bougainvillea hedges, date palm trees, handsome buildings, and rows of lopsided houses seemingly propped up by clothes pins. Our coach shared the road with donkeys, sheep, and an occasional camel as we passed verdant fields of sugar cane, wheat, onions, and clover. Despite the early hour, men, women and children were busy in the fields or scurrying around the dirt yards.
A 15-minute ride soon brought us to the huge, tan, undulating mountains and desert terrain of Luxor . Our destination: the Valley of the Kings. Here we visited two or three excavated tombs of ancient royalty. To stand before one of the entrances carved out of sheer rock was an unforgettable experience. Talk about feeling small! To enter and go deep in the earth, surrounded by drawings and hieroglyphics on the granite walls was beyond unforgettable. The kings wanted to be buried in style, with real records of their lives' work. Stylized drawings, primitive yet sophisticated, gave accurate accounts of flora, fauna, favoritism with the gods (or disfavor), the weather, and everything else worth remembering.
The king's crypt is always in the final chamber of these tombs. Most of the tombs follow a similar plan with slight, if any, variations. Alas, King Tut's tomb , famously opened by Howard Carter in 1922, was not open to the public today. Each of us remarked on the stillness of this vast, dry, colorless, mountainous area.
Next stop, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, more commonly referred to as “Hot Chicken Soup.” This colossus of a temple stretched for miles, and was built more like an American version of a memorial, with central axis and rows of statuary in front. The “first female pharaoh,” as she was called, had a struggle in life, but left many lasting remembrances in death.
Next came a stop at the Valley of the Queens, and more royal tombs. Memorable in all of the tombs, in addition to the larger-than-life scale, were the vivid colors of the engravings on the granite walls, ochre birds flirted with green fish, while scantily clad kings marched in striped tunics. Lizards floated in blue water under starry skies—simple, sophisticated drawings—centuries old!
Afternoon adventures took a hot group first to Karnak, then to the temple of Luxor. Both temples are on the East Bank, dedicated to the living (as opposed to the West, which is for funeral crypts). Karnak encompasses over 100 acres, and the scale is beyond any imagination. The temple of Luxor is smaller, but no less impressive. Ramses II is the Big Guy here, but the Avenue of tre Sphinxes, still being excavated, was the star attraction. When complete, over 1,350 sphinxes will connect Luxor Temple to Karnak. Now that is scale!
We are an enthusiastic, weary group.
Posted by Barbara Dickinson