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Egypt: Luxor: These Buses Are Giving Me a Karnak Headache

May 8, 2011

sunny 106 °F

We had a wakeup call scheduled for 8am but actually awoke to the call to prayer at 6:00am from the mosque across the street! That motivated Ruby to get up so she started working on the blog for a bit before our guide arrived. We learned that the East side of the Nile River represents life and the West side of the Nile represents the afterlife. Since the Egyptians considered the afterlife far more important and long-standing than their temporary time here on earth they built gorgeous temples to last for an eternity on the West side, but their East bank homes didn’t get quite as much attention.

We drove on the dusty pavement passing holes dug up along the road for active excavations until we arrived at the huge temple complex at Karnak. Apparently it was over 63 acres and originally connected to the Luxor temple. It was built during the 30th and last dynasty and is possibly the largest temple in the world. It is also the only “joint” Egyptian temple—dedicated to more than one king. We walked across a paved courtyard to arrive at the imposing “Avenue of Rams” that marks the entrance. When you walk in you can see two huge statues of Ramses II and his favorite wife Nefertare at his feet. In death the arms were crossed across the chest and when alive the statues show Ramses II standing in “military pose” with left leg forward and hands at his sides.

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This is one of the most famous places in Egypt, yet right away we could tell that there were very few tourists. It wasn’t until we had the entire hypostyle hall to ourselves that we realized just how down tourism is in Egypt. This hall has 134 columns built started by King Seti I (1313 BC) and completed by his son Ramses II (1225 BC). The columns were meant to resemble a papyrus marsh. The first 12 columns are open papyrus flowers and the other 122 that were built by Ramses II have closed papyrus tops.

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There are lots of carvings showing how the kings kept slaves to help build their temples. You can see several walls dedicated to the slaves that “helped” build them. By the way, most of them are shown with bound together by their arms and that one of their hands was cut off. Walking inside these stone temples it is cool and dark but in order to have light the Egyptians built holes in the ceiling to allow natural light in or reflected light off of shiny metal such as silver or gold (like on the tops of obelisks in the past).

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After meandering through the hypostyle hall we came across two large obelisks, the first and smaller was for Thoutmosis the father of Queen Hatepshut and the second which is 30m tall was for Queen Hatepshut herself (Ruby’s favorite). There’s rumors that there may be something important buried underneath the obelisks but we’ll never know unless they topple over!

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At the far end of the complex in King Thoutmosis’ temple you can see evidence of the Roman Coptic religion in the form of saints with “halos” as well as some beautiful carvings showing some of the animals (antelope, birds) and plants he brought to Egypt. Royalty used to bathe in the huge green pool with stair entrances on all sides—it doesn’t look like it’s used very much today!

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After this we made the hike back through this huge complex and headed to the Temple at Luxor. This one was discovered under the sand in 1833. Much like Karnak, you are welcomed by a long avenue of statues—this time sphinxes at the entrance of this temple. Front and center Ramses II can be seen in the form of 6 different huge statues and although Abu Simbel remains his most famous structure, he had many more architectural projects. We thought we finally made it to a country without monkeys but we were wrong! At the base of the obelisk you can see 4 baboons dancing and facing the sunlight at the entrance. There was a 2nd obelisk but it was taken in 1836 to the Concord in France.

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As we said, this temple was found under the sand almost 200 years ago but not before a mosque had been built on top of it during the Islamic period! It’s great to see the combination of the old with the new since the Egyptians chose to preserve the mosque and now it sits on top of a portion of the temple at Luxor. We tried to take some funny pictures of the many huge statues of Ramses II inside. He has a set of three that depict him transforming from boy to man. There’s also a really aged statue of King Tut and his wife. In the very back you can see evidence of the Greco-Roman period with murals painted over hieroglyphics depicting scenes of saints. There's also a carved scene of a king collecting "power" from the fertility god Amun-Min, see if you can spot that one :) They even have an “open air museum” with relics such as column tops from other eras including the Greco-Roman period as well as some artist renditions of what hieroglyphics are supposed to look like when fragments are pieced together.

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Afterward, we stopped at a local bar for a cold beer and glass of wine before our long night bus to Sharm. We were in the mood for something a little different so Tony went next door to a McDs—now we can add Egyptian McDs. Our guide dropped us off to the bus stop. We were excited see a shiny new bus in the parking lot…but that one was not ours! We’re booked on the local bus (East Delta Travel) . . . needless to say it was a long night. The seats had minimal padding making them very uncomfortable but we got to get out of them often enough since the bus stopped every 30 min or so for the first 5 hours! Ruby sent Tony out to pick up a midnight snack . . . so what does he get? Disgusting twinkies from Egypt. .it’s hard to believe that they could be even worse than the ones made in the US. To make matters worse, we swear the driver must have been hard-of-hearing because they played Arabic music at a deafening level for most of the night. Just when we thought we could get some rest they decided to start an awful cheesy Arabic action movie. I think Ruby was bordering suicidal at this point so we made some makeshift earplugs and tried our best to pass out around 3am.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:22 Archived in Egypt

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