A June 1999 trip
to Luxor by wanderluster
Quote: This journal focuses on the Luxor portion of our month only honeymoon to Egypt and Jordan. Prior to this we visited Cairo, Aswan and Abu Simbel (check out those journals). Luxor was incredible!! I loved it here.
Although a bustling, tourist-flooded city, we found Luxor to be surprisingly friendly and hassle free. We walked along the riverfront, Corniche Avenue, a multitude of times and were pleasantly respected when we said, "La Shukrane" declining felucca or kalish rides. The temples and tombs were all fascinating to explore, and three days didn't seem long enough.
Arrange tours when you arrive if you can. The tour company we arranged our Valley of Kings tour with messed up our schedule and left us stranded for a day. They prohibited us from joining another tour unless we were willing to pay each company and get permission from both parties. Honor among guides. They also charged us US for a US admission to the Karnak Sound & Light Show. Hire a taxi and go on your own!
Luxor Temple and Luxor Museum are within easy walking distance from most tourist hotels. Karnak is farther north on the edge of the city. You could walk, but most hire a taxi. Keep in mind the heat is often over 100 F. Kalishes are also an option. These horse-drawn carriages charge around 5 pounds per ride, but will drop significantly during slow season. We walked everywhere, but were often offered a ride for only one pound. Feluccas also line the Nile, and you can sail into the sunset if you wish. Cost is supposedly 3 pounds per person per hour.
To visit the West Bank, organized tours are available for around 85 pounds per person for a half day adventure. Transport and guides can be arranged at the ferry landing, hotels or through your travel agent.
Hotel | "Novotel"
Outside, there is a large pool on a floating boat that overlooks the Nile. Across the distance you can see the limestone mountains of the Valley of the Kings where the pharaohs are buried. We hung out at the pool during the hottest parts of the day. It was a popular spot for both Egyptians and tourists. I don't remember seeing any other Americans, yet the music was strangely familiar...a horrible rendition of "Feelings" played over the loudspeakers incessantly...for our benefit?? I hope not. We actually went up to the snack bar area and requested that they play local music! There were plenty of lounge chairs to sit in around the pool, and a little shower to cool off in rather than jumping in the pool if you preferred.
There are six restaurants and three bars on the premises, although I can't recommend the restaurant downstairs. We had poor service, and substandard food. My hamburger was raw on the inside and burnt on the outside. David's grilled cheese was cold and burnt. When we indicated this to our waiter, nothing was offered in the way of replacing our items or a discount. We ate there twice, and experienced the same thing with other food choices. Our luck was better at the restaurant outside near the pool. Pizza was great, and service was good. Hours were very limited however.
Breakfast buffets were included in the cost of our room. The selection of food included typical yogurts, fruit, breads and sweetrolls, hummus, juices, cereals and eggs cooked to your liking.
Room rates are currently (2002) $32 to $50 per person, double occupancy, depending on the season. All 185 rooms are air-conditioned, have private bathrooms, phone, mini-fridge and TV. I would stay here again, just venture out more often for local meals. Tours can be arranged from the hotel to visit the temples, museum or Karnak's Light and Sound Show. Half day tours to the West Bank are $26 to $81 US per person, verses an all day tour for $129 US. Trips to Dendera and Abydous are also offered up to $129 US. And transfers to the airport, cruise ship, or even to Hurghada can be arranged, from $4 to $126 US.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 16, 2002
KHALED EBN EL
It's a somewhat confusing assortment of structures reflective of the many rulers that added his or her mark over hundreds of years. Much of the temple was built by New Kingdom pharaoh Amenophis III in 1380 BC at the site of an older sanctuary, built by Queen Hatshepsut a century earlier. She dedicated the temple to the god of creation Amun, his wife Mut and son Khon. Hatshepsut was also responsible for the avenue of sphinxes that led from Luxor Temple to Karnak Temple, to provide easy transportation for the gods in their annual procession during the Festival of Opet. Today most of the sphinxes are buried under the city of Luxor.
The original Temple of the Theban Triad still stands, although several statues of Hatshepsut have been beheaded and walls defaced by her bitter successor, Tuthmosis III. He believed that he was the rightful heir to the throne when his grandfather died in 1495 BC, but his aunt Hatshepsut declared herself pharaoh, assuming dress and manners of a man, and peacefully led Egypt for 20 years. After her death, Tuthmosis III apparently took his revenge by destroying her monuments and defacing her image throughout the area temples.
Amenophis III added a Colonnade and a Court, both decorated with fourteen massive papyrus columns, and a sanctuary. Young King Tutankhamun decorated the walls in the Colonnade in great detail, illustrating the Opet Festival.
Ramses II added huge granite statues of himself which flank the entrance, and built a Great Court containing 76 papyrus columns, statues and vivid pictures of his victorious battles on the walls. Ramses II simply removed the heads of Amenhotep III and sat them on the ground, so that his own statues would be more imposing.
Alexander the Great had the Barque Shrine rebuilt to his liking, and added images of himself and Amun interacting and communing. Even the Arabs built to the Luxor Temple by creating a mosque in one of the courts in the 13th century.
Admission is 20 pounds and hours are from 6 am to 9 pm.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 11, 2002
A row of sphinxes line the entrance to Karnak Temple. During Queen Hatshepsut's reign these sphinxes lined a paved avenue all the way to Luxor Temple 3 km away. Only the sphinxes near both temples have been excavated. The others are buried beneath the city.
Entering the much photographed Great Hypostyle Hall, we were dwarfed by the seeminly endless array of magnificent stone columns, 134 of them to be exact! Built by Amenophis III originally, Seti and Ramses II both added more pillars during their reigns. Ramses II also erected large statues of himself at the entrance to Hypostyle Hall, and built a double rowed avenue of ram-headed sphinxes, apparently trying to outdo Hatshepsut.
In the oldest part of the complex, Tuthmosis III again attempted to erase evidence of his aunt's reign by destroying Hatshepsut's monuments. He erected a sandstone wall around her two pink granite obelisks. Today one of the obelisks stands proudly beyond hypostyle hall, while the other lies on the ground beside the Sacred Lake. At 29 meters high, it is the tallest obelisk in Egypt. It was interesting to see the hieroglyphic images that were carved into the stone are larger at the top, allowing people to read easily from the ground.
Near the Sacred Lake (where priests cleansed each morning) is a large scarab beetle which was built by Amenophis III to signify good luck. Legend has it that if you walk around the beetle counter-clockwise seven times, you will have a child. So I scampered off to the scarab, and sure enough, it brought good luck. I now have a baby daughter!
There were lots of cubbyholes and interesting places to explore and take photos. But we didn't come close to visiting all 29 temples within the 200 acre complex. Later, we visited Karnak at night for the 90 minute Sound & Light Show. Rather than being seated for the presentation, like at the pyramids, we were shuffled through the complex as a large group in the dark, and stood at the sights as they were explained and illuminated. Near the end, we were led to stadium seats overlooking Sacred Lake for the remaining portion of the presentation.
Tip: Our tour company charged us $30 US to attend the Sound & Light Show at Karnak, when the admission cost only $9 US. Beware! Your guide will not accompany you inside, so why pay triple for transportation? Grab a taxi and go independently. You can purchase tickets at the site.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 15, 2002
North Luxor on Corniche Ave
Most everything displayed here was found in either Luxor Temple or Karnak Temple. Magnificent statues. Beautifully carved inscriptions and art. Stelas. Hieroglyphics. Jewelry. Canopic jars. King Tut's funerary boat. Even furniture.
On the 2nd floor, a large exhibit labeled "Wall of Akhenaten" displays 283 sandstone blocks excavated from Karnak. The reliefs illustrate the pharaoh and Nefertiti making offerings to Aten, their newly appointed god; and scenes from daily life such as farming, bread making, and washing. (Amenhotep IV was the funny looking king...big lips and womanly body... who decided that Egyptians should worship just one god, and changed his name to Akhenaten in honor of that god, Aten.) There are several statues of him scattered throughout the museum, one eerily emerging from the solid background of a wall.
My favorite statue was that of Tuthmosis III, a grand polished black granite statue of the once bitter pharaoh who childishly defaced his aunt's images and monuments after her death. He looks magnificent, powerful and young.
A new exhibit displays 16 statues that were recently excavated at Luxor Temple in 1989. These include black granite statues of Amun and Mut, the original Theban gods; Amenhotep III, and Thor, the god of knowledge and wisdom.
Although there are signs posted in the museum, "No tipping allowed," museum attendants were scattered around everywhere, extending that familiar hand asking for baksheesh. They would point to a feature on a statue (no clue what they were pointing at, they just smiled), remove a cord from the statue (so your photo wouldn't be obstructed), bring a chair to stand on (for a better photo), or just stand there smiling. There were very few tourists in the museum besides us, so we were followed quite regularly by these grinning attendants comically creating ways to get another tip.
Museum hours are 9 am to 1 pm, and 5-10 pm daily. Admission is 15 pounds ($5 US). Permission to take photos cost another 10 pounds. No flash or tripods are allowed so bring fast film. And visit when it's hot to appreciate the air-conditioning even more.
Center Corniche Avenue
The Valley of the Kings contains 64 tombs of pharaohs, while the Valley of the Queens contains burial sites for female royalty and the children. It is still being excavated today. Not all of the tombs are open, as they are rotated every few years. Others, like Ramses II, are permanently closed to tourists because of extensive damage.
We began our tour at 5:30 am. Our guide picked us up from our hotel and drove us over to the West Bank. The landscape looked like eroded mountains of the American west. Nothing appeared to grow in the severe harsh environment.
We passed a group of tourists riding donkeys en route to the Valley of the Kings, and were the first in line to buy our tickets. Admission to Valley of the Kings allows you to see three tombs for 20 pounds ($6 US). Valley of the Queens tombs cost 12 pounds ($4 US), except Queen Nerfertari's tomb costs an extra 100 pounds ($33 US) to visit for ten minutes. Worth it!! Only 150 people are allowed in per day to see "the finest tomb in all of Egypt."
Visiting the decorated, unique tombs was incredible and indescribable. Absolutely fascinating to enter a hole in the limestone mountain, and follow the maze-like passage into the interior of the tomb. Each was decorated differently with hieroglyphics, vivid colors, images, art and designed with hidden doorways, deep shafts and fake sarcophagi to fool the cunning robbers. As soon as you enter, you are wowed by the visual array of images. Such detail all along the passage. And then you get to the burial chamber and see the original sarcophagus. Amazing! (No, the mummy has been removed.)
The only thing I wasn't impressed with was our guide. We paid $100 US for a "guided tour" plus admission. Our Egyptologist was in poor physical shape. He mostly sat in the shade while we explored on our own. He indifferently recited a litany obviously memorized and couldn't answer any questions. And instead of going inside Hatshepsut's Temple, (which we had paid for), he retold the story of her reign while sitting in the comfort of his air-conditioned car. "Changing our program" he then brought us to the Ramesseum to view the ruined temple of Ramses II for a quick ten minute walk on flat surface.
There were the broken colossal statues of Ramses II that many people (in)correctly credit as the inspiration for Shelley's poem, "Ozymandias." In his poem, it states:
"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert...
near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies...
nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck,
boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away."
So where are the trunkless legs here? On the ground. Is his face half buried in sand? No. Here his face is smashed against the limestone floor of the temple. Where are the endless sands that stretch far away? Not here. There are mostly mountains all around.
What does seem to fit perfectly is Ramses' site in Abu Simbel instead. There, at the Great Temple of Ramses II, sit four massive statues of him. One statue fell in 27 BC as a result of an earthquake. His legs are still intact, but the trunk has fallen to the ground. His face is buried in the sand, with his ear visible. All around the site is endless sand that stretches literally for miles and miles. From the airplane, the desolation is astounding. As soon as we saw Abu Simbel, my husband and I both said "Ozymandias" simultaneously.
Visit both sites and compare for yourself.
Back to the Ramesseum. The structure itself was fairly traditional with courts, a hypostyle hall, and sanctuary. But one thing unusual about the complex was the inclusion of a small temple dedicated to Ramses' mother Tuya. There are many columns in the hypostyle hall still standing, 29 of the original 48 to be exact. Walls depict his military achievements during his 67 year reign.
Unless you're a literature buff, or a tremendous fan of Ramses II and need to see everything he ever built, I would probably skip this temple. You will see better statues of Ramses at Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and of course, my favorite, Abu Simbel. Instead, here in the Valley of the Kings I would probably spend the 12 pounds to see Queen Hatshepsut's Temple (the site of the terrorist attack on tourists back in 1985) or put it toward the 100 pound ticket to see the awesome, awesome tomb of Queen Nefertari.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 15, 2002
Ramesseum (Mortuary Temple of Ramses II)
Attraction | "Tomb of Ramses VI"
Outside you face a tall white mountain of rock. Near the base a black hole beckons you to enter one of the 64 tombs of the Valley of the Kings. It was the first tomb we entered and my first word was "WOW".
I was struck by the colors first, and the incredible designs and hieroglyphic images second. We walked down a wooden pathway, wide enough for three people, that was surrounded by pure Egyptian art all around us.
Paintings and text assisted pharaohs into the afterlife, providing them with directions and necessary knowledge before they entered the boat of Ra, their sun god who visited the Valley of Kings nightly. Once aboard, they were brought to Osiris, god of dead, where they were judged. If they passed, they'd board a second boat for their journey to the east, living forever in the company of the sun.
The ceiling was painted a dark blue with bright gold images of winged cobras, decapitated enemies and an elongated form of the goddess Nut, with stars and suns on her belly...details enlivening the Book of the Day and Night. Walls were decorated with scenes from the Book of the Dead, Book of the Caverns, and the Book of the Gates (which charted the course through the underworld). We followed the straightforward passageway that gradually sloped down and led to his burial chamber, which extended 83 meters inside the mountain.
In the final burial spot, a small room contains a smashed sarcophagus that resembled a large gray rock. Apparently robbers had broken it in two to see what treasures laid inside.
This is the 3rd largest tomb yet discovered here in the Valley of the Kings. The other two, Seti I and Ramses II, are permanently closed to the public because of extensive damage. I believe this tomb is usually included by most guides as part of the classic tour, likely due to it's vast size and relatively easy access. (It was the only tomb our breathless guide actually accompanied us into, as the rest were too strenuous to walk.)
Ramses VI Tomb
Valley of the Kings, West Bank
Attraction | "Tomb of Ramses III"
The unique feature in this tomb were the ten side chambers that depicted agricultural scenes and a music scene. Looked like two blind men playing harps. Other scenes included stacked jars and vessels, and necklaces to illustrate what contents were kept inside the chambers.
But the part I thought was cool to see was the pit. All of a sudden the hieroglyphic images on the walls quit. And a littler farther on was a grey stone pit, meant to trap the grave robbers who trespassed looking for the treasures. It didn't work. All the tombs were raped except for famous King Tut's tomb.
This tomb was very easy to walk into, but disappointing because of the plastic shield which made it difficult to see the images. It looked like the tomb was in heavy need of restoration at the time of our visit. Even the burial chamber was off limits, as it is apparently unexcavated and closed to the public.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 15, 2002
Ramses III Tomb
Valley of the Kings, West Bank
This tomb had just re-opened last month after being closed to the public for five years. There were still men on the scaffolding near the entrance cleaning the ceiling, and we could smell fresh paint that turned out to be varnish on the new wooden stairs.
The entry passageway has more than 90 steps slanting downward, and is built over a large pit that was meant to trap grave robbers. It's one of the deepest tombs in the Valley of the King. Amenophis' designer was tricky! Not only did he have this big pit to deter unwanted visitors, but also led them to believe that the tomb was never finished because the paintings abruptly ended. The hallway had a few lined drawings next to the unfinished painted images, and the next room was completely void of any drawings, designs or color, just rough hewn rocks. Yet, the secret passageway was there to the sharp left, down below, and led to the beautiful, pastoral burial chamber. Persistent grave robbers did find it after all, and stole the pharaoh's treasures. But, they never found his sarcophagus. French archaeologists found his mummy with a garland of flowers around his neck intact in his sarcophagus!
In fact, when this tomb was discovered in 1898, archaeologists found not only the mummy of Amenophis II, but also his son Webensenu, his step-mother Queen Tiy, and 13 other royal mummies in a tiny, unmarked side room of the burial chamber. The priests had apparently hidden them together afraid that the grave robbers would loot the mummies if left in their burial chambers.
This tomb was markedly different from the others, in color and style of art. The primary hue is a soft blue. There are the standard other colors, such as the yellows and reds, but they appear muted and darker hued like the blue. Pillars stand in the burial chamber. On each squared pillar is a large drawing of a life-sized figure of the king performing ritual acts for a different god, such as Hathor, Anubis and Osiris.
It was the first time that the king was painted with the gods in a tomb, and was subsequently added on future pillars and walls in tombs. The figures are drawn in black on a beige background, with minimal color, and almost look cartoonish. Striking. The pillared art is bordered with stripes of white, black and red.
Along the walls in the burial chamber is the entire text of the Book of Amduat, written in hieroglyphics, and illustrated with more line drawings. Above, is a blue ceiling with a zillion yellow starfish stars. On the floor in the center of the burial chamber sits the original sarcophagus. Reddish-brown in color, the sarcophagus is decorated with hieroglyphics, and images of gods in gold and black. (No, his mummy is no longer in there.)
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 16, 2002
Tomb of Amenophis II
West Bank, Thebes
Attraction | "Tomb of Merneptah"
Merneptah was the son of Ramses II. He ruled only a short time, thus the simple tomb.
Entering, we descended another steep passage unadorned with vivid hieroglyphics, or artistic images seen in other tombs. There were faint, faint images of Osiris, Isis and Re, guardians of the dead, that decorated the long, 80 meter corridor. At the bottom of the stairs, laid his simple, rectangular granite sarcophagus. Otherwise, there were no decorations, hieroglyphics or images carved into his final resting place. More like a coffin than a sarcophagus.
Continuing downward along the same linear corridor was the burial chamber, in a sorry state of repair. Here sat another sarcophagus set up on blocks, embellished with a granite mummy and hieroglyphics etched into the base. Apparently this tomb has been destroyed by extensive flooding over the years. The paint, barely visible of the walls, has mostly worn off.
Although not as colorful or visually interesting compared to other tombs in the Valley of the Kings, I was still awed to be there. It's fascinating to imagine what is was like thousands of years ago for the architect, designers, artists, laborers, and even the grave robbers. Finding the treasures wouldn't have been hard to do in this tomb, as the passageway was one linear tunnel to the burial chamber without any side rooms, pits or turns.
The tomb was discovered 8th in the Valley of the Kings. A lot of people emerged huffing and puffing, but we weren't winded at all. Guess it depends on your health and fitness level. Our guide told us he couldn't make it, and stayed back again, in the shade of a tree while we explored on our own.
West Bank, Thebes
Attraction | "Tomb of Amonherkhopeshef"
In his tomb, the colors of the walls were decorated in vivid aquamarine blues and oranges in addition to standard colors of gold and black. Images were of the prince being introduced to different deities, such as Anubis, Thoth, and Ptah. Realistic and almost life-sized figures jumped off the walls.
In fact, this tomb was considered the best preserved with the brightest paintings until the marvelous tomb of Queen Nefertari was re-opened to the public in 1995. If you don't get a chance to see her tomb (limited to 150 visitors per day) then make every effort to see this one. It will give you an idea of the former glory encased inside these ancient burial sites.
In the burial room stood a small sarcophagus and a small glass case containing the aborted 6 month old fetus of his younger brother. Guides claim that the Queen aborted her baby in horrified grief when her older son died.
Although your admission ticket allows you to see three tombs, this was the only tomb supposedly open out of more than eighty in the Valley of the Queens the day that we visited. Doubtful, perhaps, but what are you going to do?
You can always pay the extra 100 pounds around ($35 US)to see Queen Nefertari's tomb, which is not included in your 12 pound general admission to the Valley of the Queens. We did, and recommend it highly.
Valley of the Queens is in another limestone mountain range, near the Valley of the Kings. You could walk there, but keep in mind the soaring temperatures will make the walk almost unbearable. Also, take water. We didn't see anywhere to buy beverages once over in Thebes.
West Bank, Thebes
Attraction | "Tomb of Queen Nefertari"
The American Getty Institute along with the Egyptian Antiquities Organization spent six million dollars and seven years restoring and preserving this tomb. It was opened to the public in 1995 at the cost of 200 pounds per person. Years later the number of people allowed to visit is still restricted to 150 per day, but the price has dropped to 100 pounds ($35 US)for the ten minute visit.
It is worth every pound!
Queen Nefertari was Ramses II favorite wife. When she died in her early forties, Ramses had this tomb lovingly created for her. She was a beautiful queen, and her image throughout the three chambered tomb reflects this. Wearing a soft white gown, she looks pure, confident, graceful and exquisite.
Colorful scenes, nearly life-sized, abound of her interacting with gods, illustrating Nefertari's journey into the afterworld. She appears before gods to receive their blessings, then waits for her rebirth on the eastern side of the heavens. Apparently she decided which chapters from the Book of the Dead she wanted painted in her tomb, carefully selecting the concepts she believed would facilitate her rebirth.
My favorite chamber was to the right as we entered. A huge bright yellow sun disc with orange falcon gods brightly filled the doorway. Scenes of polka dotted folkartsy cows she apparently adored filled the walls. (Remember her temple in Abu Simbel was dedicated to the cow goddess Hathor?) It was stylistically unique and playful to see the elongated spotted creatures.
In the burial chamber, there are many squared pillars. Each side is decorated with life-sized pictures of Nefertari communing with a different god or goddess. A striking one of her with Isis wearing her orange sun disc headpiece immediately greets you upon entering. Isis is presenting Nefertari with an ankh, the symbol of life. The ceiling is dark blue with stick figure yellow stars painted closely together, representing the heavens. It is in poorer shape that the three outer chambers, and no sarcophagus remains.
No photos were allowed in the tomb, in fact we couldn't even take our cameras inside. We were the only visitors in the tomb at the time. It was very difficult to fully absorb this fantastic masterpiece because the minute we stepped inside, attendants followed us, pointing and talking and pestering us to look here and there, with a smile and outstretched hand for tips. They insisted on leading us elsewhere before we had time to see what was before us. I just wanted to be left alone to immerse myself in the incredible artwork, to appreciate and remember the vivid details.
Valley of the Queens, West Bank