Really really old

Kom Ombo relief

We got our first glimpse of ancient Egyptian edifices on the ferry from Sudan, as we passed the magnificent Abu Simbel, beautifully lit up, at night. Between Aswan and Luxor (upper Egypt), we have expanded our repertoire by visiting Kom Ombo Temple, Edfu Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Workers, Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple — all constructed during the Middle and New Kingdoms.

Edfu Temple

The Egyptian Temples were dedicated to life, while the tombs were dedicated to the afterlife, the latter of which was of far greater importance. The Temples are all built on the East side of the Nile, the side on which the sun rises, and the Tombs are all built on the West side, where the sun sets. The Temples were all magnificent, soaring masses, dedicated to Pharaohs, with walls covered with hieroglyphics, carvings and sculpture. Karnak Temple was by far the most impressive and largest, spanning almost 2 acres of desert in Luxor.

luxor temple - avenue of the sphinxes

The Valley of the Kings, located on the West bank of Luxor, contains the tombs of over 60 Kings from the New Kingdom. During the Old Kingdom, they started building conspicuous pyramids as tombs for the kings, making them easy targets for treasure thieves. Because keeping a tomb and its mummy safe was of the utmost importance to the Egyptians for afterlife, one smart king decided to do away with the pyramid design and dig deep into the sides of a hidden valley, the Valley of the Kings. Some of the chambers dug into the alabaster cliffs are only a few metres in, some are extremely steep and tunnel in for 120 metres before reaching the tomb chamber. The inside chambers are richly decorated with paintings or painted bas-reliefs depicting great stories from the King’s life and symbolic depictions of judgement day.

To minimize further degradation of the paintings in the tombs, no photography is allowed inside, or even outside. If you’re caught taking a photo inside the Valley of the Kings, it’s an automatic $2,000 fine. Oddly enough though, the plain-clothed security guards will let you behind sectioned off areas for a baksheesh, or tip. It’s quite aggrevating — they try to do this at all the tourist sites, but that’s another post!

valley of the workers

Equally as fascinating as the Valley of the Kings was the nearby Valley of the Workers. They wanted so badly to keep the location of the Kings tombs a secret that they hired an entire city of workers and housed them in another secret valley, the Valley of the Workers. The workers stayed in this valley until they died. They lived with their families who would grow up to become the next generation of workers. They were paid very well to keep this secret and for their work on the tombs. But since they were not allowed to ever leave, they didn’t have much to spend their money on. And when they had time off, they had nowhere to go. So what did they do? They built their own tombs and temples. We saw one man’s tomb where the quality and craftsmanship was better than most of the Kings. Despite all these elaborate measures to keep the mummy kings safe, they were all eventually robbed too.

karnak temple

There are so many more incredible archaeological sites to visit in Egypt, but we saw enough to get a fix and a feeling for how impressive the Egyptian Kingdom really was. When you see these buildings with their elegant proportions and superbly stylized decoration, it’s impossible to believe that they’re nearly 5,000 years old. They’re nearly 5,000 years old and still intact! Then you look around at the delapidated excuses for homes they’ve since built in the neighbouring cities and it becomes even more unbelievable. It’s as though humankind has degressed along the evolutionary line since the great Egyptian civilizations. It feels quite humbling, especially when you consider that the mighty British Kingdom, of which there are still feeble remnants today, lasted a mere 150 years, whereas the Egyptians dominated for thousands of years. Needless to say, we were in awe.


    It is remarkable that despite the best efforts of the kings and the builders to hide the tombs that eventually they were almost all looted. Such a shame. The Eyptian tombs are truly amazing and I don’t mean to detract from them by any means, but they had at least two things going for them which many other civilations did not. They are located in the desert, no water, no rot, no decay – a great perserver of Pharoahs and buildings. Secondly, how can a pyramid fall down, it is a solid rock!

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