Jan 18

Take a journey with me to some of the most fabulous and famous sites in Egypt.

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara

The Great Step Pyramid Complex at Saqqara, known to the ancient Egyptians as kbhw-ntrw (libation of the deities), is one of those superstars of Egyptian monuments that is almost always on the itinerary of antiquity tours to Egypt, and for good reason. Few monuments hold a place in human history as significant as that of this Pyramid. It can be said without exaggeration that the Step Pyramid complex constitutes a milestone in the evolution of monumental stone architecture, both in Egypt and in the world as a whole. It is the beginning of an evolutionary period that would eventually see the polished, smooth faced true pyramids of the 4th Dynasty master builders.The Step Pyramid 1

According to tradition, it was built for Horus Netjerikhet, better known as Djoser, a major ruler of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty, by Imhotep, Egypt's most famous architect who was subsequently deified during the New Kingdom. Djoser is actually the name given to this king by visitors to the site one thousand years after its construction, but actually the only name found on its walls is that of Netjerykhet.

Here limestone was first used on a large scale as a construction material, and here the idea of a monumental royal tomb in the form of a pyramid was first truly realized. In a 19th Dynasty inscription found in South Saqqara, the ancient Egyptians were already describing its builder as the "opener of stone", which can be interpreted as meaning the inventor of stone architecture.An overall view of the Djoser Complex at Saqqara

The complex is surrounded by a wall of fine white Tura limestone, which when built, measured some 10.5 meters (34 feet) high and was 1,645 meters (5,397 ft) long. Within was an area of about 15 ha (37 acres), which would have been the size of a small town during the Old Kingdom. It contained a vast complex of functional, as well as what we believe were dummy buildings, including pavilions of the North and South, large tumuli and terraces, finely carved facades, ribbed and fluted columns, stairways, platforms, shrines chapels and life-size statues. There was even a replica of the pyramid substructure, called the South Tomb, but the centerpiece was, of course, the Step Pyramid itself, rising to a height of about 60 meters (197 feet), in six steps and containing some 330,400 cubic meters (11,668,000 cubic feet) of clay and stone.

It is also the first known pyramidical structure to act as a tomb. It probably started out as a mastaba (the principal tomb structure of the time). A mastaba is a low rectangular structure built over a shaft that descended to the burial chamber. The Step Pyramid originally began as a mastaba, however a series of mastabas, decreasing in size, stacked one on top of another became its final form whether by design or accident. Whatever the origin, it creates an impressive structure rising from the floor of the desert.

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Avenue of the Sphinxes

The temples at Karnak and the Temple of Luxor were connected by an impressive avenue, flanked with grand sphinxes on both sides. The entire avenue was more than 3 km long, and must have had more than 2000 sphinxes all together.But the sphinxes do not belong to the original cult structure of Luxor. It was built under King Nectanebo 1 in the 4th century, about 1,000 years after the temples it connects.

Avenue of the Sphinxes

The Avenue of Sphinxes

This avenue of Sphinxes leads to Luxor Temple, about 2 kilometres south of the Karnak Temple. These sphinxes combine the body of a lion with the head of Nectanebo I (380-363 B.C.E.).

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Luxor Temple

One of the grand constructions of ancient Egypt, this temple stands today as a reminder of the lavish civilization that once thrived on the banks of the Nile River.

The most famous view of the temple is from the outside where the Avenue of Sphinxes once greeted royalty. They stand across from a granite obelisk. This is one half of a set of twins. The other is now in Paris, given to the French in exchange for a clock. The Sphinxes were built for Nectanebo the First, but he wasn't the first or the last emperor to put his special stamp on this holy place. In fact, some of the later rulers actually carved their own messages, boasts, and tales of triumph over the war legends of those who preceded them.

Luxor Today

Luxor Temple is an progression of structures erected by succeeding kings. The principal entrance today is the Pylon of Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 B.C.E.), which is flanked by two seated statues of the king (one is behind the obelisk) and one standing statue (of an original four). The remaining obelisk of pink granite is situated in front of the easternmost seated statue. The western obelisk has stood in the Place de la Concorde in Paris since 1836. The vertical niches held flagstaffs.

The pylon entranceway is suggestive of the Egyptian hieroglyph, which means "horizon." In the hieroglyph, two stylised mountain shapes flank the circle of the sun. Most Egyptian temples had an east-west axis so that the sun would symbolically rise and set between these pylon/mountains. Luxor Temple, however, along with Dendera has a north-south axis.

Luxor from the South

An Aerial View of Luxor from the South

Two colossal seated statues flank the entrance pylon of Luxor Temple. The easternmost (pictured here) is 46 feet/14meters in height. Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 B.C.E.) wears the royal nemes headdress topped by the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The uraeus (rearing cobra--head now lost) surmounts his brow.

Entrance Statues

Colossal Entrance Statues

Beyond the entrance pylon of Luxor Temple is the Court of Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 B.C.E.). The colonnade of closed papyrus-bud columns, which originally lined the court on all four sides, today are interrupted in the northeast corner by the presence of the Mosque of Abu el-Haggag. Standing statues of Ramesses II punctuate most of the spaces between the columns. The crowns of several of these figures sit on the ground beside them because they were carved separately and have fallen off.

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The Temple of Isis

Rendition of Temple of Isis

Artists Rendition of the Temple of Isis

The Temple of Isis of the Ptolemaic Period, which was originally located on the island of Philae, now dominates the island of Agilkia. After the construction of the Aswan Dam (1898-1912), the island of Philae was completely out of the water only from August through December.

Temple of Isis

The Temple of Isis Today

The waters controlled by the High Dam (completed in 1971) would have covered it. Therefore, the temple was moved in the late 1960s, but it is still known as Philae Temple.

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The Temple of Horus at Edfu

Temple of Horus

The Facade of The Temple of Horus

The Temple of Horus at Edfu has a massive entrance pylon covered with sunken relief carvings. This Ptolemaic temple was constructed between 237 and 57 B.C.E.

Horus Falcon Front Pylon at Temple

The Horus Falcon and the Front Pylon at the Temple of Horus

Once a year for the "Feast of the Beautiful Meeting," Hathor travelled from Dendera to Edfu to visit her husband/consort, Horus. Her arrival was scheduled for the afternoon of the new moon. The statues of the deities remained in the mammisi or birth house until the end of the festival at the full moon. The result of their union was their son Ihy or Horus-Sematawy.

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Karnak: Temple of Amun

The Most Impressive Temple in Egypt - 1500 BC

Karnak temple is close to the temple of Luxor. It is quite enormous and largely constructed between 1500 and 1000 BC, though construction continued for around 1500 years in toto. Many argue that The Temple of Amun (also known as the Temple of Karnak) is the grandest of all the Pharaonic temples. During the heights of power in Thebes, as Luxor was once known, this temple was pre-eminent. The entire site measures 1.5 x 0.8 km and the further into the temple you venture, the further back in time you travel.


Courtyard of the Temple of Karnak

Like most temple complexes in the Nile Valley, the effect of entering the temple is designed to instil in the visitor the awe of getting closer and closer to the holy of holies, by making the architecture smaller as you walk through. The outer pylons are massive, the first hypostyle hall similarly large, but by the time one reaches the chapels, shrines and courts of the inner sanctum, the size has diminished. Clearly, in these places, only the Pharaoh and the high priests were allowed not the general public.


Massive Columns

The entrance to the Temple of Karnak is guarded by two rows of Ram headed Sphinxes and is known as the Avenue of Sphinxes or the Processional Way. Although they are not large in size, they are numerous. The original Avenue of Sphinxes connected this temple with the Luxor Temple located 2 miles away.

The Processional Way leads to the massive First Pylon which at 370 feet wide and 141 feet high is the largest pylon in Egypt.

First Pylon

The First Pylon

Inside the Karnak temple it has the incredible hypostyle columns. The Hypostyle Hall is found after passing through the Second Pylon. The hall is considered to be one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces.


A View inside the Hypostyle Hall

Leaving the hypostyle hall through the third pylon you come to a narrow court where there once stood several obelisks. One of the obelisks was erected by Tuthmosis I (1504 - 1492 BC) who was the father of Hatshepsut. This obelisk stands 70 feet (21.3m) tall and weighs about 143 tons. During the centuries between Tuthmosis I and Ramesses VI, the kings of the time, did more than their share of destroying and dismantling. This obelisk was never touched. The original inscription was left in its place. However, two kings did add their inscription on either side of the original.


Obelisk of Hatshepsut

Beyond this obelisk is the only remaining Obelisk of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC). It is 97 feet (29.6m) high and weighs approximately 320 tons. Besides the Lateran obelisk in Rome, this is the tallest standing obelisk.

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The Great Temple of Abu Simbel

The great temple of Abu Simbel, is dedicated to the glory of Pharaoh Ramses II. Though the temple is officially dedicated to the triad Amon-Ra, Ptah and Ra-Harakhte, four gigantic statues of the great Pharaoh himself dominate its front. He had this temple built in this otherwise desolate area on the actual site of a much older shrine of a local personification of the god Horus.

Facade of Abu Simbel

The Facade of Abu Simbel

Because of their remote location near the Sudanese border in sourthern Egypt, the temples were unknown until their rediscovery in 1813. The Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni first explored them in 1817.

The colossi of the king, wearing the characteristic nemes headcloth and double crown (of upper and lower Egypt), are each 20 metres high, while the facade is more than 35 metres wide and 30 metres high. The king is depicted with wives and children who are much smaller in size. Above the entrance stands is a figure of god Re-Harakhte and the top of the façade is crowned by a row of baboons.

The Wives & Children Ra-Harakhte The Baboons

Photos in order are The Wives and Children, Re-Harakhte and the Baboons

The central entrance leads into a large hall with massive pillars fronted by Osiris figures of the king. The most remarkable feature of the site is its precision. It is oriented so that twice every year, on 22 February and 22 October, the first rays of the morning sun shine down the entire length of the temple-cave to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the four gods (Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramses II and Re-Harakhte) seated there.

Map Of Abusimbel

Map of the Layout of Abu Simbel

A - The four statues of Ramses II

B - Entrance

C - The hall with eight massive pillars

The HallThe Hall 2

The Hall

D - Second hall with four square pillars, decorated with religious and offering scenes

E - Vestibule (probably for offerings)

F - Innermost Chamber with the four gods

The Inner Chamber

The Inner Chamber

G-K Storerooms (probably), with images of the king offering to various gods

L-M Chapels

N - Stairway to the temple plateau

Also at Abu Simbel is The Temple of Hathor built by Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 B.C.E.) to honour both Hathor as the goddess of love/music and his wife Nefertari as the deified queen.

Facade of the Temple of Hathor

The Facade of the Temple of Hathor

The facade, resembling a pylon, has six standing colossal (over 33 feet/10 meters high) statues. On each side of the entrance, two statues of Ramesses flank one of Nefertari dressed as Hathor. Smaller statues of their children in turn, flank the colossal statues.

Aerial View if Abu Simbel

The Reconstructed Site of Abu Simbel

With the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, the temples were threatened with submersion under the rising waters of the reservoir (Lake Nassar). Between 1964 and 1966, a project sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Egyptian government disassembled both temples and reconstructed them on top of the cliff 200 feet above the original site.

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