Our Big Mideast Trip - Part 3

Sphinx and Pyramid of Chefron

From January 30 through February 20, 2009

Organized by Elderhostel

Pharaoh's Island
Pharaoh's Island was fortified during the Crusades by Baldwin I, for use as a control point in the Gulf of Aqaba, as protection for St. Catherine;s and as a place to collect taxes.  Saladin conquered the island, and it is his fortifications that have largely been rebuilt.  Prior inhabitants have included Hiram, King of Tyre (~950 BCE).
Waterfront of Hurghada
Our last taste of the Red Sea came in Hurghada.  This is a seafront town that seems to be in the midst of a building boom.   The colorful facades resemble the facades in at least one other Egyptian seafront town, Taba Heights on the Gulf of Aqaba.
Hilton Hurghada Plaza Hotel
While in Hurghada, we had the waterfront access offered by the Hilton Hurghada Plaza Hotel.  All the usual beach stuff, like thatched shelters and sand.  However, the most striking single thing was the 200-foot tunnel of bougainvilleas, seen at the left.  Clearly a beautiful hotel.
Performaing Goat
From Hurghada, we crossed Egypt's mountainous Arabian Desert.  Near the peak, at a snack and fuel stop, we found this woman, her goat and donkey.   Actually, the goat fell off once during our 20-minute stop, but its balance and dancing were pretty good.
The Nile at Luxor
After traveling for hours through absolute aridity, one starts to understand what a miracle the Nile really is.  The Arabian Desert is behind us, but there is more desert in view.  There is a very narrow green ribbon running through this very large nation.  And 99% of the people live within the green ribbon.
Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel
Our hotel in Luxor was the Sofitel Winter Palace.  The green theme of the Nile is echoed in the hotel gardens.  Why "Winter Palace?"  The original buildings and gardens were used by the Kings of Egypt as a palace in the upper reaches of the Nile.  King Farouk slept here!
Luxor Temple
Just yards from the Winter Palace, you come to the Luxor Temple.  It was largely built by Amenhotep III (~1370 BCE) and Ramses II (~1250 BCE).
Luxor and Abu'l Haggag
Abu'l Haggag lived in Luxor for about 50 years before his death in 1243 CE, and he is regarded as the patron saint of Luxor.  While the Abu'l Haggag Mosque we see here was built in the 19th century, the minaret was probably in place when Abu'l Haggag arrived in town.

This mosque is within the footprint of Luxor Temple, but its ground floor is about 30 feet above the floor of the Temple.  That is the result of 2000 years of silting before the first mosque was built on the site.
Avenue of the Sphinxes
Our main visit to Luxor Temple was at night.  Looking north , we see the Avenue of the Sphinxes.  In "the day," this avenue of statues reached all the way from Luxor Temple to Karnak Temple, a distance of about 2 miles, populated with 2000 sphinxes.  Actually, this avenue was constructed about a centuries after the two temples.
Luxor First Pylons
The massive First Pylons of Luxor Temple lead into the court of Ramses II.  The entry is flanked by two remaining colossi of Ramses II.  The obelisk is the twin of Cleopatra's Needle, which was moved from its position here to Place de la Concorde in 1826, as a gift from Ali Muhammed to King  Louis-Phillipe.
Luxor - Court of Ramses II
This is the court of Ramses II, and you can see why he is known for his modesty.
Collonade of Amenhotep III
The highest points in Luxor Temple are the columns that form the colonnade of Amenhotep III.
Valley of the Kings
On the western side of the Nile, the side devoted to the dead, we visited the Valley of the Kings.  This was where the pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried, and many royal family members were buried here as well.  The Valley of the Kings is remarkably un-photogenic, in large part because the pharaohs of the New Kingdom wanted to keep their grave sites secret.  With the exception of King Tut's tomb, discovered in 1922, the other 63 tombs here were looted long before the modern era.

That is what happens when tomb builders moonlight as tomb robbers.
Typical Tomb
Photography was not allowed inside the tombs, but the outer facades (modern, of course) are not much to see.  This opening leads to the burial chambers of a pharaoh.  Our traveling companion, Donald, is standing out front.
New tomb
The Valley of the Kings continues to be a very active archaeological site.  Here we see excavation in KV64, a tomb discovered in 2008.  And there is a KV65, yet to be excavated.  Everyone hopes for another King Tut situation.  Tut was a very minor pharaoh, but the treasures from his tomb fill an entire floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak
The Avenue of the Sphinxes, this time at Karnak.  Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple were in the city of Thebes, which was the capital of Egypt from about  2100 BCE until around 1400 BCE.  
First Pylons entering the Precinct of Amun at Karnak
These pylons mark the entrance to the Precinct of Amun Re, one of three huge complexes forming Karnak Temple.
This is the other side of the pylons above, and they are not finished.  This pile of mud bricks was once the scaffolding used to build up the wall.  Afterward, it would have been finished from the top downward, tearing down the mud brick ramps as the workmen completed the decoration  of each plateau.
Hypostyle hall in Karnak Temple
This is a hint at the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak Temple.  It is made up of 134 columns in 16 rows.  They are at least 10 feet in diameter, and about 35 feet tall, except for the twelve that are 65 feet tall.
Obelisk of Hatshepsut
This obelisk was erected by Hatshepsut, a unique pharaoh.  She was the sole female pharaoh, a fact that subsequent pharaohs tried to suppress.
The central halls of the Precinct of Amun Re
The central halls of the Precinct of Amun Re, which are a small fraction of the whole precinct.  There is even a good size lake.
Mastaba of Mereruka
The regions of Saqqara and Giza lie at the edge of the desert, west of Cairo.  This region became the burial grounds for the pharaohs and other nobles of the Old Kingdom.  This is  a mastaba, the style of tomb that predated the pyramids.  Mereruka, the one-time occupant of this mastabe, was vizier to the Pharaoh Teti, and his tomb has 32 decorated rooms.
Step pyramid built for Zoser
The first pyramid was the step pyramid of Zoser, designed and built by Imhotep around 2600 BCE.  The idea was a stack of masatabas, one on top of the other.
Sneferu's Bent Pyramid
Not too long after Zoser's Step Pyramid, the pharaoh Sneferu undertook the construction of a non-step pyramid.  The sides started out too steeply, and the angle had to be changed to avoid disaster.  Sneferu made another try, and defined the contours that we all know as Egyptian pyramids.  It looks like a masataba tomb in the foreground.
Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids of Giza include the Great Pyramid of Khufu on the left, which is actually larger than the "White Pyramid" built by his son Khafre on the right.  These pyramids were built around 2500 BCE.  Ramses II had his temple builders harvest some of the limestone casing from these pyramids to build one of his temples.  That would have been around 1250 BCE.
Khafre's pyramid and sphinx
The sphinx is part of Khafre's overall burial complex, with a carefully graded causeway running from the sphinx and temples below to the tomb (pyramid) above.
Camels neear Memphis
Camel Driver

Camels are everywhere, Israel, Jordan, Sinai, Egyptian deserts and here on a road near the site of ancient Memphis (suburban Cairo).  And take a closer look at the guy on the lead camel.

Yes, cell phones were everywhere, too.  The Sinai Bedouins had them; the Wadi Rum Bedouins had them, and everyone else, too.  In the Sinai, the cell phone towers were solar powered, of course.
Ramses Hilton Hotel and the Nile
 Here is the Nile in Cairo, with the Ramses Hilton Hotel on the right.  We stayed at the Ramses Hilton.
Pyramids of Giza from the Citadel
Saladin built a citadel on the eastern boundary of Cairo, and this is the view of the Khafre and Khufu pyramids on Giza.  The proximity of modern Cairo and these pyramids is sort of surprising.
Alabastar Mosque
The Alabaster Mosque is located within the confines of the citadel.  This mosque houses the tomb of Ali Muhammed, the first modern king of Egypt.  He started its construction in 1830, and the style came from the Ottoman Turks.
Dome of the Alabaster Mosque
To me, the interior of the Alabaster Mosque is at least as pretty as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Cairo Street Scene
This scene in central Cairo shows a lot of typical Cairo.  First, note that the traffic is grid-locked in the vicinity of the green sign.  There are merchants spilling all over the sidewalk and street.  Pedestrians cross where there is a real or prospective gap between vehicles.  I tried crossing some Cairo streets, and it is clearly an acquired skill.

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