Journey to Egypt, Part 19: Temple at Kom Ombo

December 31, 2018

Kom Ombo Temple is probably my favorite of all the ancient Egyptian sites I saw on this trip. It has several interesting features that make it unique.
20181231_145553dAbout 30 miles north of the city of Aswan, Kom Ombo is located in a region that has a large Nubian community that was resettled here after the construction of the Aswan High Dam, which flooded the area they had come from originally. I will write more about the Nubians in a future post.
20181231_150507.jpgThe town of Kom Ombo has grown considerably in the last 35 years since its founding. It was an important town in ancient times because it was located at a convergence of trade routes to the Nile Valley, the Red Sea, and Nubia.20181231_145713The Temple of Kom Ombo is a double temple, to worship the gods Sobek (the crocodile god) and Horus (the falcon god). Both these gods were depicted, as Egyptian gods often were, as either an animal or a person with the animal’s head.

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Two images of Horus (with falcon heads) anoint the king (middle) by pouring water on his head; Sobek (with crocodile head) stands behind them on the left.


Kom Ombo Temple was built during the Ptolemaic era, between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE. All the remains of the temple date to that period and later, although there has been evidence found of earlier structures, most notably an 18th Dynasty gateway.
20181231_150430d.jpgThe temple is called a “double temple” because it has two of almost everything, which allowed the priests to conduct equal worship rituals for two gods simultaneously. The southern part of the temple is dedicated to Sobek, the northern part to Horus. In addition, there is a small shrine dedicated to the goddess Hathor.


Reliefs on outer walls

Crocodiles, sacred to Sobek, were worshipped here at Kom Ombo and were regarded as semi-divine. They were fed the finest foods, provided with golden earrings, and were even given manicures to gild their nails! Sacred crocodiles, when they were alive, were kept in the northwestern part of the temple. There is now a crocodile museum (included in the entrance ticket) adjacent to the temple where crocodile mummies and other artifacts are on display. We went there after our tour of the temple, but it was quite dark inside and we were not allowed to take photos anyway. However, here is one from a professional photographer.

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Crocodile mummies in the Crocodile Museum


The double entrance opens onto a large courtyard, the only shared space inside the temple’s boundaries. The entrance was oriented toward the river, facing roughly west.
There are two doorways from the courtyard to the outer hypostyle (columned) halls, inner hypostyle halls,

SONY DSCa series of offering halls, and twin sanctuaries, for Horus on the left and Sobek on the right.

Kom Ombo (10)-Sobek on pillar

Sobek with feathered headdress, holding a staff in his left hand and an ankh in his right hand.


Sanctuary entrance

Mohamed showed us a calendar on the southwest wall of the Offering Hall, the first one we had seen.



The goddess Hathor (with cow horns & a sun disk on her head) and the falcon god Horus (wearing the white crown)


Colorful paintings of the winged vulture on the bottom of the lintel over a doorway


Over an adjacent doorway is the symbol of two cobras on either side of a sun disk, with spread wings, like this one.



Detailed relief of Sobek


Lovely dual relief, with the pharaoh offering jugs of water and lotus flowers. The confusing thing about this image is that the pharaoh is both female (with a breast) and a male (beard symbolic of the pharaoh). A female monarch perhaps? I don’t know…

20181231_151458.jpgAnother interesting feature is on the back wall of the outer enclosure – carvings of surgical instruments. Surgical tools found at archaeological sites match those in these carvings – quite amazing!
Another common theme was food, either being offered to the gods by the pharaoh or depicted upon a table.


In this relief, water is being poured onto the food, representing the nourishment of food crops by rain and the river.

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On this column, the pharaoh of all Egypt (he is wearing the double crown) offers food to Horus.

Some of the reliefs show deep carving, especially the largest figures which cover an entire wall. This is the foot of Horus…
…who is holding a staff and an ankh.
Behind him is a carving of Hathor, also holding a staff and an ankh.
Some of the feet show  details of the toes, such as this one of Hathor’s foot – she has very long toes!
This temple was also known for being a place of healing. High up on a wall is a small doorway with a carved ear on either side. These “listening ears” are where people could go to tell the gods about their medical problems in hopes of healing.
Throughout the temple were reliefs amazing in their artistry and imagination.
This bas relief is an interesting one, containing several figures. In the center stands the king, surrounded by familiar gods. To the left are Hathor and Thoth (ibis-headed god); to the right are a lion and two images of Horus. The lion was a symbol of strength and mastery of the natural world when depicted alongside the king. This shows that the lion/pharaoh is the guardian of order, or Ma’at, which was an important concept for the ancient Egyptians. Some gods also assimilated leonine aspects, such as Horus.
Horus assimilated the god Tjel (a feline god), giving a lion image to a god almost always depicted as a falcon. That seems to be the symbolism of this remarkable image, which shows both the lion’s head and the falcon’s wings in motion. Right underneath the lion with wings is Horus in his true nature as a falcon.
The lion is often depicted as female, such as in this relief. This female feline goddess was eventually incorporated into a domestic cat goddess, Bastet.
Enjoy these additional photos of this fascinating and beautiful temple!!
Kom Ombo (16)
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Sources: Symbolism of the Lion in Ancient Egypt by Michael Fassbender
The Temple of Kom Ombo on website Ancient Egypt Online.  In this article,
Horus and Sobek are said to be in conflict, which is why the temple had to
separate them. I had not found this idea of conflict in any other source.
Kom Ombo, Wikipedia.
Fodor’s Egypt, 2009 edition
My own notes from information given to us by our guide






Journey to Egypt, Part 17: Horemheb’s Temple & Gebel Silsila Quarry

December 30, 2018

This afternoon we arrived at the narrowest stretch of the Nile, an area that the Egyptians called “Khenu” or the place of rowing. At Gebel Silsila, high sandstone cliffs come down close to the water’s edge.DSC_0387
20181230_150716dThe Temple of Horemheb is small and not well-known.
Nile cruise ships don’t stop here because they are too large to moor in this area.


Cruise ship passes us by as we stand on shore. To the right is another moored dahabeya, which possibly had a famous passenger – the queen of Belgium! She is apparently working with or observing archeologists at the site.

The temple itself is not in great condition compared to others we had seen and would see over the next few days. It was interesting because of the different inscriptions, not just hieroglyphic writing, but also hieratic script, demotic writing of later times, with Greek influences, and Coptic script from early Christian times. Early Christians stopped here to shelter and escape persecution during the early years of Islamic reign in Egypt. They are likely the people who wrote some of the later-age inscriptions. For this reason, this site is of particular interest to epigraphic studies (study of inscriptions).


Thoth, depicted with the head of an ibis, was important to ancient Egyptians, for he was the god who gave them the gift of writing. In fact, what we call hieroglyphics (a Greek word), was medu-netjer to the ancient Egyptians, meaning “the god’s words”.  Note the modern writing (graffiti) that a more recent visitor carved, to Thoth’s lower right.

The temple dates from the end of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, during the reign of Horemheb, who dedicated the temple to Sobek (the crocodile god), …

Amun (pictured below, distinguishable by his large feather headdress),
…and other gods, including Thoth.

Thoth, in ancient Egyptian belief, was born with immense knowledge, the most important of which was the power of words. Although he gave this knowledge to humans, he expected them to take it seriously. The main purpose of writing was not decorative or literary. It was to provide a means to bring into existence concepts and events. If something was written, it could be “made to happen” again and again.


Hieroglyphics consisted of phonograms, logograms and ideograms. Phonograms are alphabetic signs, where one hieroglyph represents a single consonant or sound. There are 24 of these in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing and they are the most common. Phonograms could also represent 2-3 sounds, like diphthongs and blends. Ideograms (pictures conveying a concept) were often at the end of words.


Egyptian writing could be written from left to right, right to left, up-down or down-up (and sometimes started in the middle!). Symbols of people or animals, however, always faced the beginning of the text, so if an image of a bird or a woman was facing the right, the text was meant to be read right to left.


This photo shows an example of hieratic writing, which was a faster script, using simplified versions of hieroglyphic symbols. Hieratic writing developed early in the dynastic periods, after hierpglyphic writing had been firmly established. Around 800 BCE, hieratic developed into a cursive script.


This is an example of demotic writing, which replaced hieratic script c. 700 BCE. Demotic writing was called sekh-shat, or document writing.  It was developed in the Nile Delta region and spread southward during the 26th Dynasty (c.1069-525BCE). This became the most popular script for the next 1,000 years.



Note the different costumes worn by the people in the carved image to the left of the writing.



At the top of this photo is an image of people fanning the pharaoh with large palm fans as he is carried on a platform. Below is yet another type of writing – Coptic script. Coptic script was that used by the early Christians. Demotic writing had continual use until it was replaced by Coptic script during Roman Egypt. Coptic script uses the Greek alphabet with some additions from demotic script. Hieroplyphic writing only fell completely out of favor with the rise of the new religion, Christianity.

Rosetta stone image.jpg

Rosetta stone image (downloaded from Bing): The Rosetta stone provided the key to reading hieroglyphic and demotic writing. The text is a proclamation written in Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic script from the reign of Ptolemy V (204-181 BCE). All three are the same text, in keeping with the Ptolemaic ideal of a multicultural society. Until the Rosetta stone was discovered, no one knew how to read or interpret hieroglyphic or demotic writing.

Information on the history of ancient Egyptian writing was taken from the online article Ancient Egyptian Writing by Joshua J. Mark.

Horemheb’s Temple was one of the earliest examples of temples made from sandstone. During the reign of Akhenaten in the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptian temple builders switched from limestone to sandstone.


The pharaoh, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, offers sacred lotus flowers to the god Thoth.


Although this looks like a repeated image and hieroglyphics, on closer inspection, one can see that it isn’t. On the far left are two figures seated side by side, and each of the other single figures has some differences – the second on the left, for example, is holding an ankh in one hand, and the cartouches with names of pharaohs and priests contain some different symbols.


Someone crossed out one of the figures, which appears to be a pharaoh wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt.

Sandstone is lighter in weight and the area of Gebel Silsila had abundant sandstone. In fact, this site was used as a quarry for constructions as far away as Luxor and Amarna, 800 km to the north.
There was a steep path leading up to this hole, which was once part of a temple. Some people in our group, including Mohamed, climbed up and had their pictures taken!

Little niches, or holes, on the rocks near the river’s edge, were where boats were tied next to the shore.
20181230_155944There is an epigraphic survey project going on at Gebel Silsila by a team of archaeologists studying inscriptions, under the auspices of Lund University in Sweden.


The archaeologists’ felucca

DSC_0399That night, back on the Aida, we were enjoying a delicious dinner when several crew members appeared, playing instruments and singing! The captain danced with a couple of the women in our group.

Journey to Egypt, Part 15: Edfu and the Temple of Horus

December 29, 2018

After a relaxing morning cruising the Nile on the Aida, after lunch we were ready for more discoveries. We docked at the city of Edfu, where we were transported to the Temple of Horus via horses and carriages!
Our driver:
The horses clip-clopped through the dusty streets of Edfu.

Mosque as seen from the temple complex:
DSC_0342We arrived at the temple where Mohamed bought us tickets.20181229_142112d.jpg
Edfu Temple, or the Temple of Horus, having been dedicated to the god Horus (who was later adopted by the Greeks as Apollo), was built in the Ptolemaic Dynasty. It was begun in 237 BCE and finished in 57 BCE, during the period of Greek and Roman rule of Egypt. It is one of the better preserved of the ancient temples.  It was built on the site of a smaller temple, also dedicated to Horus. A ruined pylon east of the current site is part of the original structure.
The present temple, originally contained a pillared hall, two transverse halls, and a barge sanctuary surrounded by chapels. The exterior walls are covered with texts that give details about the building’s construction.
The entrance of the pylon is flanked by a pair of statues of Horus depicted as a falcon.

Of course, we had to have a touristy photo taken standing in front of the statue of Horus! The falcon wears the “double crown” – the red and the white, signifying the union of all Egypt.

The doorway leads to the hypostyle hall, with columns typical of that Ptolemaic period, meaning that they have a variety of capitals (tops) – palm-leaf, lotus, papyrus and composite capitals.

20181229_144130The bottoms of the columns, above the bases, are carved with leaves of the type found at the bases of various plants.

Beyond the hypostyle hall are a series of rooms. The last of these is the temple’s sanctuary.20181229_150123
The sanctuary contains a shrine of syenite (an igneous rock) that would have housed the statue of the god set in a smaller shrine made of gilded wood, and in front of the shrine is an altar.

The interior of the temple is decorated with scenes of divinities and kings making offerings to one another.  There are also scenes of the conflict between the gods Horus and Seth, a theme throughout ancient Egyptian history.


The features of the figures in this relief have been scratched out, often by early Christians who thought that they could obliterate the influence of the Egyptian gods and rob them of their power. However, they could not read hieroglyphic writing that described these scenes in detail.

The hieroglyphics on the walls describe the building of the temple and the religious interpretation of this temple. Edfu (163)
Every surface is covered with images and hieroglyphic writing.
DSC_0344Colors were visible in some places, especially on ceilings and lintels.


The vulture with its wings spread in combination with the cobra on the ceiling of a temple signified protection for the pharaoh.


I noticed at Edfu, unlike at other temples (at least that I noticed) there were reliefs that looked 3-dimensional: legs are rounded and arm muscles gently curve outward.
Edfu (5)
Edfu (51)
The Temple at Edfu also contains a “Nilometer” which was a method of measuring the height of the Nile River during flood season. If the water was too low, there would be famine; if too high, there would be destruction. Markings were made to show the ideal height of the river. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Edfu Temple-nilometer
The flood season was extremely important on the Egyptian calendar and many rituals were associated with it.  The Nile was and still is the lifeblood of Egypt. As in many temples and tombs, there are scenes showing the pharaoh and the gods in sacred boats.
Edfu (61) - scene with boats
In spite of the temple being relatively intact, there are still sections that are in the process of excavation and restoration.

The backside of the temple, with magnificent large carvings (photo courtesy of Wikipedia):
Edfu Temple-rear.jpg
The photo below shows the position of the temple relative to the town of Edfu. When discovered, it would have been covered with sand and the town built up around it.
Of course, as we were leaving, we had to endure the hawking of many vendors (you can’t get in and out of the site without going through a line of shops).

We got back into our horse-drawn carriages which took us back to the boat dock. We watched the sunset over Edfu and enjoyed a delicious dinner onboard the Aida.

Journey to Egypt, Part 14: Cruise to Edfu

December 29, 2018

Last night, our first night on our Nile cruise, I slept better than I have since the beginning of the trip! I loved my bed in our stateroom and the temperature was not too hot nor too cold (although the people in the staterooms across from ours did complain that their rooms were too cold), and it’s not stuffy like hotel room air. The pillows are perfect.

There were two choices for breakfast: the buffet in the dining area, or an omelet made to order out on the deck (of course, we could combine the two).


Omelet station on deck of the Aida

We spent the first half of the day cruising the Nile on our way upriver to Edfu. It was a relaxing morning.


Fisherman off el Hegz Island, where we had moored for the night.


Besides fishermen, we saw large cruise ships…


Three types of Nile River boats: a dahebeya, a fishing boat and a cruise ship

…and a heron on an island of flotsam.

Most of the time, the sails of the Aida were not unfurled; a dahabeya does not have a motor, and using only the power of wind would require the helmsman to tack, zigzagging across the river, which would cause delays to our itinerary. However, they agreed to put the sails up and we got into the tug boat so we could see the Aida with its sails raised. We were able to take photos from all angles.



This photo shows another dahabeya going upriver with a tugboat in front, and hauling a small fishing boat behind.


After we were back on the Aida, the helmsman gave us a photo opp by having us pretend to be controlling the sails!


The upper deck of the Aida

More cruise ships and freighters:
When we returned to our stateroom before lunch, the steward had created towel art in the form of a lotus flower.
Lunch was a colorful buffet.

The scenery along the shore became more urban as we approached the city of Edfu.


This was a mausoleum on a hill, built for some rich man.

Finally the Aida approached the dock at Edfu where we would disembark to visit the Temple of Horus.


When we got off the Aida, we walked along this fence to where our rides to the temple were waiting.

Journey to Egypt, Part 13: Cruising the Nile & Visit to el Hegz Island

December 28, 2018

I was looking forward to the next portion of our trip – a 5-day cruise on the Nile, aboard  a 16-passenger dahabeya – in other words, a private ship for our OAT group of 14 people including our guide plus 14 crew members! This dahabeya, called Aida, is one of only two such boats owned and operated by Overseas Adventure TravelAida is the newer of the two and has only been in operation for a few months.20181228_121014d
You know how a new car has a “new” smell? Well, the Aida had a “new ship” smell – primarily of the wood used to build it. It was wonderful! Even more wonderful was that shortly after we boarded, we were served lunch in our private dining area!

Before lunch, we had time to freshen up in our staterooms – there are only 8 or 10 of these and each is named for an Egyptian goddess. Our stateroom was #4, named Hathor.
I had not slept well in either hotel we’d stayed in up until then (this often happens to me in hotels) so I was very tired. First thing I did when we got into our stateroom was curl up on my bed and take a nap!
Within a half hour, it was time for lunch. Aida has a small dining area with a panoramic view of the Nile and surrounding countryside.


I took this photo from the ship’s lounge looking toward the bar. Behind the bar was our semicircular dining area. All meals were buffet style.


In the lounge were comfortable sofas and chairs and each end table had an outlet with two USB ports! Needless to say, WiFi was available on board, though the reception wasn’t always great.


Display case at the back end of the lounge

We cruised for a few hours to el Hegz Island on the Nile’s east bank, where we docked and went ashore. Here are some views from Aida‘s deck while we were cruising.


Another dahabeya with its sail aloft.


El Hegz is an island with mostly farms, but there is also a small village. We were given a tour by one of the farmers.

Transportation on the island is by bike or donkey, although there are a few motorized vehicles.
The residents are very proud of their water sanitation and storage system which provides them with always fresh water. The water is piped onto the island and then goes through a sanitation process before it is stored in large tanks.

The vegetation is lush and there is a canal and irrigation for crops.

They grow bananas, sugarcane and other crops. The bananas and sugarcane are cash crops. Others, such as vegetables, are for consumption by the local population.

Scenes of village life
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We made our way back to Aida as the sun was about to set.
Although we got back on board, the ship moored for the night off the island.
Another dahabeya came along. This type of boat does have sails, but usually the crew of Aida did not use them, because that would require a lot of tacking – zig-zagging across the river, which would have delayed us. For this reason, usually we were towed by a tugboat, because dahabeyas do not have motors.
The sunset over the west bank of the Nile was gorgeous!

Journey to Egypt, Part 12: Esna & the Temple of Khnum

December 28, 2018

Most of the members of our group opted to take a balloon ride over the west bank of the Nile. We, however, did not go because Dale is afraid of heights and I was very tired because I had not slept well in either of the hotels we’d stayed in so far. Nevertheless, Dale was up at dawn and took this photo from our hotel room balcony.
20181228_064651dBy the time we went down to breakfast, it was almost 9:00 a.m. and the ballooners were just returning. They reported that it was a wonderful ride -very scenic with clear skies.

We boarded our motorcoach again and drove south to Esna, a town on the Nile’s western bank. Dale and I took these photos from the bus.
The countryside near the bank of the Nile was lush and green.
Banana plantation – banana plants are not actually trees; they are the largest of the plants in the herb family.

Donkey and cart seemed to be the most common form of transportation in the countryside.DSC_0211
Many men make their livelihood, or supplement it, as fishermen.
This photo betrays the image of a lush green country – only a narrow strip of land along the east and west banks of the Nile is fertile. A few miles away, hills rise up and beyond them is desert.
Esna was a larger town than I expected. About 55 km south of Luxor, it has a population of over 68,000.
Old juxtaposed with new: This traditionally dressed man, with his cart and donkey, is talking on his cellphone!

If one ventures into Esna, they will find a relatively peaceful market town, which has a rather extensive covered market and a weekly animal market (we would see one in another town later in our tour). You can also visit weaving and garment making shops and watch merchants and farmers bringing their agricultural products to sell in Esna.

Many people waved as we passed – Egyptians in general are friendly and welcoming.
Another common form of transportation are motorcycles with wagons mounted on back which can carry several people. We would have the experience of riding in some of these the next day.
What brings tourists to Esna initially is, of course, the Temple of Khnum, another of Egypt’s antiquities. (Note: It is not on the cruise ships’ itinerary, which generally bypass Esna going north and go directly to Luxor).

The bus dropped us off at the Temple of Khnum. From the street, we had to go down a flight of stairs to get to the temple site, which is about nine meters below street level and there is evidence it was built on top of an earlier temple. Although historians generally consider the temple to be connected with Thutmose III, but this is one that depicts several Ptolemaic rulers, who were the last of the true ancient Egyptian pharaohs. The temple was built by Ptolemaic rulers in the 2nd century BCE and the Romans in the 2nd century CE.
20181228_111513d.jpgThe temple is remarkably well preserved, and is one of the few of ancient Egyptian temples that retains a roof and various eras of construction are evident. The walls are covered with well-preserved images of kings, gods and ancient Egyptian daily life.
20181228_114744dIn the main hall there are four massive rows of columns, which retain some of their ancient colors to the present day.
Unique texts and hieroglyphics can be found at Khnum as well as at smaller buildings in the vicinity, which were dedicated to various gods.


In the courtyard outside the temple is an area of excavation as well as temple walls that rise up under the city of Esna.

The main hall with its 24 columns is the only part of the temple that can be visited today. Much of the temple is still buried under the town of Esna. The interior is dark and atmospheric, but soon one can discern hieroglyphic accounts of temple rituals carved on the walls and columns, and astrological (zodiac)  motifs on the ceiling.

If you look closely, you can see some differences in the depictions of pharaohs and gods on these walls compared to those at older temples like Karnak. Some of these are purely stylistic (and, I think, less sophisticated than their earlier counterparts) while others show clearly different facial features and headdresses that reflect later periods – the Ptolemaic and the Roman eras.DSC_0241SONY DSC


Thoth (left, the ibis god) and Horus (right, the falcon god) bless the pharaoh in the middle. 



Ceiling detail: Snake on the ceiling meant eternal life. The hippopotamus (to the left of the snakes) was known as the goddess Taweret. She was much feared (hippos, as ancient Egyptians knew, can be very dangerous animals) so to pacify her she was called Taweret, meaning “great one.” She was also the goddess of childbirth and fertility. 



The image of the scorpion possibly represents Serket, the scorpion goddess of healing, protector against venom and snakebite. 



In the middle of this wall is a panel showing Nekhbet (left), the vulture goddess holding a shen ring representing eternal life. To her right is Sobek, the crocodile god, who controlled the waters of the Nile and the fertility of the soil. To Sobek’s right is the pharaoh making offerings to these gods. 

The main temple was dedicated to Khnum, the ram-headed creator god. It was begun by Ptolemy VI Philometer (180-45 BCE). The hypostyle hall (hall of columns) was added by the Romans, with varied floral capitals (column tops) in the form of palm leaves, lotus buds and papyrus fans. Some even have bunches of grapes, a Roman feature.
20181228_113038dInside the corners are two hymns to Khnum: a morning hymn to awaken Khnum in his temple, and a hymn of creation, proclaiming him the creator of all. These hymns extensively use hieroglyphics of crocodiles and rams. The inscriptions on the columns are texts about different festivals held at the temple throughout the year.

Information for this post was obtained from my notes and from:
Egypttours: Temple of Khnum – A Must-See Attraction in the Quiet Town of Esna
Lonely Planet, Temple of Khnum
Wikipedia, Taweret and Serket
Fodor’s Egypt, 2009

Next: Cruising the Nile!





Journey to Egypt, Part 11: Luxor – Lunch, a Ferry Ride, & Dinner with a Local Family

December 27, 2018

A Walk to Lunch

Back in the city of Luxor (about 850,000 population), our bus driver dropped us off in the vicinity of the place where we would have lunch. The restaurant was a few blocks away down dusty streets, and we had to walk. I was glad for this because as it turned out, there were many buildings with interesting doors and I kept stopping to take pictures! Most of these doors I have already posted for Norm’s Thursday Doors, but here are a few of them again, plus some other sights along the way.

Mineret of a nearby mosque
interesting building
Dale stops and looks back to see where I am – taking pictures, what else?!
Here’s one Dale took – he found this sign amusing.

The restaurant where we had lunch


We ate on an open terrace – it was a beautiful day!

Ferry Ride

After lunch, we walked back to the bus, which took us to a boat dock. We took a ferry called “King of Love” across the Nile!
The ferries were all colorfully painted and named.

One of the cruise ships that take tourists up and down the Nile – we were to see many of these in the next few days.

Our Hotel: Sofitel Winter Palace

We had “down time” for the rest of the afternoon – well deserved, after seeing so many monuments in the morning! I will use this space to post pictures of our hotel, the Sofitel Winter Palace.

The hotel was decorated for Christmas, including this unique Christmas tree.

Dale thought the decorations of an ancient priest carrying a boat looked like a menorah!

Returning to our room, I discovered that the attendant had left flowers in a vase and on the sink in the bathroom.

The Winter Palace Hotel was built in 1886, in the luxury style of many old hotels in the Victorian age.
Underneath the hotel, where the arches are below the railing, there were some shops, including one that sold antiques, including jewelry. Merchants are not allowed to sell anything that is more than 100 years old, to discourage the marketing of possibly valuable artifacts.
Behind the hotel are the century old Royal Gardens.

There are large, lavishly decorated salons like this one.
They had hats for guests to try on, like Dale in this fez!

Dinner with a Local Family

For dinner, we were split into two groups. Each group would go to a different local household for dinner. Dale and I went with four other people. The home-hosted dinner is one of the highlights of OAT tours.

Our family, of modest means, was very welcoming.  The father’s name is Mohammed, the mother is Doah (pron. Doh – AH) and they have four children – two boys (Faheed, age 15 and Kareem, age 10) and two girls (Rana, age 14 and Zena, age 2).



Left to right: The cousin-translator (I don’t remember his name), Doah, Zena, Mohammed, Kareem, Faheed 

Little Zena was so cute! She loves to dance to music, which she was too happy to do, because she sought our approval – she was not at all shy!


Zena enjoyed her juice, as did we all – it was delicious!



A couple in our group is from Florida and they brought this Miami Dolphins t-shirt which they gave to Kareem.

Rana enjoys drawing and wants to be an artist. Her drawings were passed around among us, as well as photos of the family, to admire. Rana didn’t get home until just before we left – just in time for a family photo!


Rana (in the white hijab) joined the rest of the family for this photo.

A nephew was there when we arrived, but he had to leave; then another relative, Iman, came, who spoke a little more English. Both parents did speak some English.

Mohammed is a farmer. He has an old car, which at 38 years old is the same age as his wife! He drives 20 km to the farm, where he grows vegetables.

Doah is a housewife. The meal she prepared was delicious, even the eggplant! I have never liked eggplant, so when she told us what each dish was, I didn’t put any of the eggplant in tomato sauce on my plate. Doah seemed to think I didn’t know what it was, so she repeated: “Eggplant!” Of course, then I had to take some to be polite. But when I took a bite of it – I liked it! The sauce it was cooked in definitely helped, but I vowed to try eggplant again to see if I still liked it. (I did try it, and I did like it!)

The family lives in a modest apartment with two bedrooms – the three older kids share one bedroom and Zena sleeps with her parents. (Since there is no crib or extra bed in the parents’ room, I assume she sleeps in the same bed with them.) The kitchen is quite small and very basic. There is no room in the kitchen for the refrigerator, so it is kept in the parents’ bedroom!

Doah in some of the photos dressed more western style, but now she wears colorful long dresses and a hijab. Girls start wearing hijabs at age 12. Doah showed us Rana’s school uniform – a black jumper, mid-calf length, with a white shirt underneath and a white hijab. The boys’ uniform is less austere. Kareem wears a blue shirt and blue jeans! That doesn’t sound fair to our Western sensibilities, but on the other hand, most Egyptian men at adulthood begin wearing the long, traditional robe for men, the dalabeya. Most of the men we saw wore plain ones, usually white, black or gray. Although Doah was wearing a colorful dress and matching yellow hijab, most women we saw on the street were covered head to toe in black, although their faces are generally covered. (Some do veil their face but the majority, at least that I saw, did not.) I noticed that older women, 20181227_204314despecially, dress in black.

We spent about two hours at the family’s home, during which we asked questions about their lives, told them about ours, and looked at their photos.

When it was time to go, the van driver who was to take us back came to the door and we went downstairs. This bird statue was on the first floor of the apartment building.



Journey to Egypt, Part 10: Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut & Memnon Colossi

December 27, 2018

All the funerary temples and tombs are located on the west bank of the Nile. The ancient Egyptians believed that death was associated with the sunset, and thus all the temples to the deceased were to be built on the side of the setting sun. All temples of the living (such as Karnak) were built on the east side of the Nile.

As we drove toward Hatshepsut’s Temple, the landscape was littered with caves and archaeological excavations.

As we approached  the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, it looked like a modern building. Its appearance surprised me. Fodor’s Egypt (2009) calls it “a sublime piece of architecture” built by the architect Senenmut. It is composed of three double colonnades rising on terraces built into the limestone cliff on which is was built. Senenmut modeled it after the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II, who founded the 11th dynasty in the Middle Kingdom. Mentuhotep II’s temple is right next to that of Hatshepsut, and it served both as a model and a quarry, for by that time, a thousand years later, there was not much left of the older temple, eroded by time and vandalism.
Hatshepsut (254)
Hatshepsut (217)
I was tired after having visited the Valley of the Kings and Howard Carter’s house that morning and felt somewhat sick. I climbed the first set of stairs to the large terrace between the first and second colonnades, talking to Laura, an older woman in our group. She was coming down with something and suggested I join her in “sitting this one out.” She sat down on a ledge and I was tempted to join her, but no – this was one of the places I most wanted to see!
A friend of mine who is really into ancient Egypt told me that Hatshepsut was her “favorite queen” so, curious, I read up on her. Hatsheptsut of the 18th Dynasty was the most important woman ever to rule Egypt. In fact, female rulers were exceedingly rare. She was brought up to be self-confident and she was also ambitious. Already queen, having been married to Thutmose II, and stepmother to his successor to the throne, Thutmose III, she acted first as regent when he was first named as ruler – the boy was only about three or four at the time. As he grew and learned more about the duties and responsibilities of a king, she continued to rule alongside him and declared herself pharaoh, an unprecedented move for a woman.

As a girl, Hatshepsut had been well educated and taught to perform religious duties, and as queen she became “God’s wife,” the most important role a woman could normally have in ancient Egypt.

Instead of waging war to expand Egyptian territory like her male predecessors, she chose to consolidate the country, built monuments and organize expeditions to the land of Punt to bring back myrrh, incense and offerings for the gods – and a tree.
The reliefs inside the first colonnade are damaged and we didn’t go into the lower level, but they include a detailed scene of how the queen’s granite obelisks were transported on boats from Aswan to Karnak.

We took the ramp up to the second court. On the left is a chapel dedicated to the goddess Hathor.  The tops of the columns are carved in the shape of a face of Hathor as a woman, with cow’s ears and a sistrum on top.  (A sistrum is a musical instrument of ancient Egypt used in many religious ceremonies, especially those dedicated to Hathor. It consisted of a handle and a metal frame with crossbars that had small rings or loops. When shaken it makes a jangling sound, like the modern tambourine which has largely replaced it.)


Hatshepsut (231) suckling from cow

In this image, Hatshepsut associates herself with Hathor’s offspring Ihy and takes the child’s (or calf’s) place suckling from Hathor as a cow.

DSC_0171 (2)

To the right of this chapel is the second colonnade. The first half commemorates expeditions to Punt (scholars are not sure exactly where Punt was) and show the many products brought back from Punt.
Hatshepsut (250)
On the right is the colonnade celebrating the divine birth of Hatshepsut. Showing that she was of divine origin legitimized her reign.
Hatshepsut (246)

On the right of the 2nd terrace is the better preserved chapel dedicated to Anubis, the god depicted as a jackal, who ushered souls into the afterlife and was the protector of graves.


This image of Anubis shows the jackal god seated in front of offerings. Anubis is the god who oversees the dead, who takes the brain out of the deceased’s body and puts four other organs in canopic jars, prior to mummification. The heart is not removed because it is believed to be the source of intelligence and reasoning.

Hatshepsut (443) Anubis chapel

Above the door to the chapel, notice a line of cobras just below the ceiling with red disks above them. Also notice two vultures with their wings spread wide, with a red disk in the middle and cobra heads on each side. Cobras and vultures on a wall meant unification. Cobras and vultures on a ceiling meant eternal life. The red disks represent the sun, the source of all life.

Hatshepsut (441)

This relief in the Anubis chapel shows Thutmose III (right) worshipping Horus (left), the falcon god.

Hatshepsut (249)

A beautiful relief of the vulture goddess, Nekhbet, with her wings spread. She carries a shen ring  in her talons. Nekhbet was worshipped locally in predynastic times as the patron goddess of the city of Nekheb and later became the patron goddess of Upper Egypt. After unification, she was one of two patron deities of all Egypt. The shen ring, a circle with a line tangent to it, in hieroglyphics stood for a loop of rope. The shen ring represented eternal protection.

The third terrace is reached by another ramp flanked by two statues of Horus.

In front of the colonnade is a row of statues of the pharaoh. They are generic in terms of facial features, including the false beard portrayed on many such statues.

In the hypostyle hall are carvings showing priests carrying barques with statues of the gods and the pharaohs followed by musicians and dancers. These barques represent the connection between the living and the dead.
Hatshepsut (269)-3rd terrace priests carrying barques
Hatshepsut (302)-barquesHatshepsut (298)-3rd terrace-barques

Hatshepsut (299)-3rd terrace barques

At the back of the third terrace, cut into the rock cliff is the sanctuary of Amun, the “Holy of Holies” where Amun’s boat would rest awaiting the next day’s festivities.


Entrance to the Sanctuary of Amun


This depiction of a pharaoh wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt was carved in granite, which is one reason why it is well preserved.


At the bottom of this photo is Thoth, whose name means “He who is like the ibis” and is portrayed with the head of this sacred bird who was also kept as a pet in ancient Egypt.


To the left of the doorway is the god Amun, identifiable by his crown of double feathers. Noticeable also on this wall (just to the left of Amun’s crown) is demotic Egyptian writing with its influence of Greek and ancient Egyptian hieratic and hieroglyphic writing. This was etched on the wall many centuries after this temple was built and in use.



In spite of the damage to these images, I marveled at their intricacy and color, and imagined how beautiful they would have looked in ancient times.



This doorway leads to the sacred chamber of the sanctuary.


Ceiling of the outer sanctuary which was painted like a starry night.


The carving on this rock is some kind of plant – perhaps wheat, possibly one of the products brought from Punt.


The lower part of columns that once filled this terrace.

Here is the third court as seen from above. In the lower part of the photo is the entrance to the Sanctuary of Amun.
Hatshepsut (398) 3rd terrace from above.jpg
Although he apparently bore no ill will toward her, upon Hapshepsut’s death (apparently from an abscess after extraction of a tooth!) Thutmose III went about erasing his stepmother’s name from all monuments and expropriating her temple to honor himself and his accomplishments. So thoroughly was her name and image erased from ancient Egyptian records that her existence was unknown until the 19th century! Thutmose III did this to assert his power as ruler and he even backdated the beginning of his rule to the date when she became regent during his early childhood.

Upon leaving the Temple of Hatshepsut, we briefly visited the colossi of Memnon. These statues of the seated pharaoh Amenhotep III rise over 50 feet tall and are the main vestiges of his mortuary temple. Alongside the legs of the colossi are standing figures of the king’s mother and his queen, Tiye. Tiye and Amenhotep III were the parents of the “heretic” king Akhenaten (whose name was Amenhotep IV before he changed it to honor who he believed was the one and only god, Aten), and the probable grandparents of Tutankhamen.


This article was written from my notes and the following sources:
The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, gen. ed. Helen Strudwick (2006)
Fodor’s Egypt (2009)
Nekhbet – Wikipedia article
The Temple of Hatshepsut – article by Joshua J. Mark (July 18, 2017) for Ancient History Encyclopedia
Hatshepsut Temple in LuxorMemphis Tours article
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut Wikipedia article

Journey to Egypt, Part 9: Valley of the Kings & Howard Carter’s House

December 27, 2018

(This post is part of my travel journal, and also for Your Daily Prompt 3/8/19: Nobility; and for Norm’s Thursday Doors 3/7/19 ).

This morning we visited Valley of the Kings, where there are 62 tombs of Egyptian nobility – specifically, pharaohs, including Tutankhamen. They date from Thutmose I of the 18th Dynasty to Ramses XI of the 20th Dynasty, all rulers of the New Kingdom, and most of the tombs have been raided by tomb robbers. Howard Carter hit the jackpot when he accidentally discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922: most of the burial items had been left intact, giving archaeologists insight into the artifacts that would have been buried in the king’s tomb and outlying chambers.

To get to the Valley of the Kings, we took a motorcoach out into the desert.
20181227_084634To get to the tombs, there were trams shuttling groups of people back and forth.
20181227_090715We were only allowed to take photos inside the tombs if we paid 300 EP (Egyptian pounds), the equivalent of about $15.00.  Only one member of our tour group was willing to pay to take photos. Dale and I decided not to pay and refrain from taking photos, but in hindsight, I should have paid the 15 bucks – after all, it helps the Egyptian economy. Dale is too cheap, in general, to pay and he usually finds a way to take pictures anyway, which he did.

I opted, instead, to pay the equivalent of $30 for a 2-DVD set, including one containing over 11,000 photos taken by Egyptologist Mohammed Fathy all over Egypt. I figured that way I would have photos of everything, including what I missed. I have already posted a few of these photos to “fill in the blanks” and will do so again here.

We visited four of the tombs. The first was Ramses IX, which is the first tomb encountered when entering the Valley of the Kings via the modern entrance.
The king’s body was found in 1881 at Deir el-Bahri, also known as Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, which we would visit later today. Some of the funerary items are now at the British Museum.20181227_091213
Entering the tomb was via a shat which opened into a long corridor with steps down into another corridor.  This tomb map and some information is from the web site The Tomb of Ramesses IX, Valley of the Kings, Egypt  .
ramesses9 tomb plan.jpg

There were a lot of tourists visiting, and Dale noticed some Asian tourists taking photos with their cellphones and getting away with it (he didn’t know if they had paid the 300 EP). So he started taking pictures surreptitiously. (The unlabeled photos are his.)

Along the walls, there were inscriptions and paintings, no doubt extolling the pharaoh’s victories in battle. Every surface was covered and much of the color has been preserved.


Syrian captives

The texts and decoration inside royal tombs contain illustrations of spiritual texts, including the Book of the Dead (on the left wall). These texts were to accompany the deceased pharaoh through the netherworld into the afterlife, with the expectation of eventual rebirth. Here are two photos I took recently at the Field Museum in Chicago. The first is a piece of a replica of  the Book of the Dead. The second is a diorama illustrating the second phase of the deceased’s journey to the afterlife, receiving protection from the gods during his journey.
Continuing on down the corridor, everywhere we saw spectacular artwork all around us. It must have taken many years for the pharaoh’s artisans to prepare this tomb to receive his body.

Niches line the corridor which contain representations of different gods. Below is a collage of photos taken by Mohammed Fathy of various scenes in Ramses IX’s tomb. The large red circle depicted in several of these photos represent the sun disk.

At the end of the corridors was this doorway, decorated overhead by a snake, the scarab holding the sun disk on a boat, and the eye of Horus, a symbol of protection for royalty.

20181227_091637dIn the burial chamber, the god Nut is represented on the ceiling as part of another spiritual text, the Book of Night.
The burial chamber is empty – it does not contain a sarcophagus.
These photos taken by Mohammed Fathy show details of the ceiling of the burial chamber.
Ramses IX (13)

Ramses IX (14)

Amun-Ra (creator god combined with sun god) – or possibly Horus – stands in the center of a sun disk, flanked by four baboons, which among other things “scream” to announce the sunrise.

Ramses IX (15)

This shows the symbol for a man, presumably the king, sitting in the middle of the sun disk. The goddess Hathor (goddess of fertility and love) is represented by the horns and sun disk, and the wings are the protective presence of Horus, the falcon god, who will lead the deceased to the underworld.

As we made our way back, a man approached Dale, gesturing wildly and demanding, “Ticket! Ticket!” He meant the ticket issued if you pay to take photos. Of course, Dale didn’t have one. He acted all innocent, saying, “I didn’t know” and “our guide didn’t tell us” but the man wasn’t buying it.

I suggested to Dale that he delete the photos with the man watching, but instead the man grabbed Dale’s cellphone and turned to leave with it! Of course, Dale had to follow. Outside, he asked Dale, “Where is your guide?” Whether Mohamed was within view or not, I don’t know, but Dale wasn’t going to point him out. He just looked around and said vaguely, “He’s around here somewhere.”

The man got frustrated and didn’t know what else to do, so he gave Dale his phone back and walked away!
20181227_094943dThe next tomb we went in was that of Ramses VI, which was better preserved and contained a sarcophagus!

Dale once again took a few photos! He was caught again, but once again talked his way out of it, so we do have these shots he took with his cellphone.
He even took a photo of me in one of the corridors of the tomb!
This tomb’s structure was basically the same as that of Ramses IX.

These photos are all from the collection of Mohammed Fathy, from the DVD I purchased.

Fathy even included a photo of the mummy!
Ramses VI (49).jpg20181227_094831
Next was KV 14, the tomb of  King Tausert/Setnakht.20181227_095343
Dale took a few pictures again, but this time did not get caught!


Tausert’s burial chamber


The fourth and final tomb we visited was the long anticipated tomb of Tutankhamun. It was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 after digging for six years – no one knew who this young king was, but his name had appeared occasionally on ancient writings and artifacts so Carter began excavating in the Valley of the Kings, presumably where his tomb would be.

Tomb of Tutanchamun (7)

Present day entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb. There is a separate entrance fee for this tomb (100 EP) and photography is strictly forbidden.

Each of the 62 tombs is numbered by the order in which they were discovered (Ramses IX is labeled with K.V. 6). Tutankhamun’s tomb is number 62. Very little is known about this king who died at the age of 18 or 19. He ascended to the throne at the age of eight, as the rightful heir of Akhenaten, the “heretic” king; Akhenaten is believed to be his father, but his mother was not Akhenaten’s beloved first wife, Nefertiti, who bore only daughters. It is speculated that Tutankhamun was the child of one of Akhenaten’s lesser wives, a woman named Kiya. It is also possible that he is not Akhenaten’s son, but rather his much younger brother, next in line for the throne because Akhenaten and Nefertiti had only daughters.

From what I have learned about ancient Egypt, it was very common for pharaohs to have a harem of lesser wives – the principal wife was the preferred mate to produce a male heir, but failing that, the pharaohs had other wives who could produce a son. Whatever the case, Tutankhamun, while officially enthroned at the age of eight (his rule is officially stated as 1333-1323 BCE), had a regent named Ay who was the vizier of his probable father, Akhenaten. Ay had been close to the royal family since Akhenaten (formerly known as Amenhotep IV) was a child. When Tutankhamun was old enough – probably in his young teens – he took the reins of power but unfortunately died after only a few years on the throne.
Tomb of Tutanchamun (5)
Although there has been much speculation about the cause of Tutankhamun’s death – a Discovery Channel documentary even theorized that he was murdered – recent improvements in DNA technology have allowed scientists to determine that he died of malaria, which must have been common in Egypt as it was in much of Africa.


Tutankhamun was buried in a hurry; his original tomb (no. 23) was not completed at the time of his death. Tomb 62 is smaller than average for a pharaoh’s burial site. (No. 23 would end up being the tomb of his successor, Ay.)
Tomb of Tutanchamun (4)
In 2007, his mummy was removed from the marble sarcophagus where it had been since Tomb of Tutanchamun (6)the tomb was opened to the public. The body, without its mummy wrappings, is now on display in his burial chamber. We had seen several of his coffins, as well as many funerary objects and his burial mask, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Photography, even if you’ve paid 300 EP, is prohibited in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Even Dale didn’t take illegal photos there – I doubt he would have been able to talk his way out of that infraction!!

The tomb has four rooms, but only the burial chamber is decorated.
Inside the burial chamber is one of the gilded coffins in which the king’s mummy had originally been placed. There was an old man, dressed in the galabeya (a type of afghan) that traditional Egyptian men wear, in the chamber with a flashlight. He smiled at us with a mostly toothless grin and shone the flashlight onto the body’s blackened feet. I’m not sure why he did this, perhaps there was something particular we were supposed to notice about Tutankhamun’s feet. In any case, the rest of the body was covered with a shroud so only his lower legs and feet were visible.

Mohammed Fathy includes these photos (including of Tutankhamun’s body above) in his small collection of photos from the “boy king”‘s tomb, but they are not labeled and I don’t think he took them.
Tomb of Tutanchamun (1)
Two views of the burial chamber in different lighting.

Tomb of Tutanchamun (9)

Items found in King Tut’s tomb, apparently while in storage


Informational signs about Tomb no. 62


This informational sign is at Howard Carter’s house.


Adjacent to Valley of the Kings is the home of Howard Carter, the archeologist who discovered and excavated Tutankhamun’s tomb. We took a short tour through the house.

In 1908, Lord Carnavan was introduced to Howard Carter, who had spent the previous 17 years working in Egypt, but at that time was unemployed and at a low point in his life. In January 1909, Carnavan offered Carter a job and help in building a house, which was dubbed “Castle Carter.” 20181227_105637d


The garden


The doors of Howard Carter’s house (posted for Norm’s Thursday Doors, 3/7/19).
A small door in a corner (for a dog maybe?) – open…
and closed.
Door of a safe
Doors and a mirror of an armoire

Information for this post was obtained from:

Fodor’s Egypt, 2009 edition.
Web site page The Tomb of Ramesses IX, Valley of the Kings, Egypt (linked above) .
My own notes and photos.