Egypt 2011: The Valley of the Kings and the Approach to the Pyramids of Giza

The Valley of the Kings is an archaeologist’s dream but was something of a disappointment to us in 2011. It is a collection of tombs that a number of Pharaohs had constructed for themselves in the hope of guaranteeing their survival into the afterlife. The god Osiris had a lot to do with this because Osiris, according to Egyptian myth, was resurrected from the dead and the Pharaohs thought this divinity was the source of their own enormous power. So they devised various means of having themselves buried, including leaving their treasures and artifacts in their tombs. thereby carrying them from this world to the next (they could take it with them, or so they thought). Inevitably these tombs were robbed even by some of those who built them, a tradition that apparently continues to this day.

All this happened during the so-called New Kingdom, a period roughly from 1500-1300 BCE when Egypt, whose power then extended all the way to the Euphrates River in present-day Iraq, was for the most part at peace. A good many of the artifacts to be seen in these tombs were not available to us because they were closed or the archaeologists were working in them.

We left the Valley of the Kings for the international airport at Luxor for a return flight to Cairo, where our first tourist stop was Giza and the Pyramids. What impresses most about the Pyramids is their age. As far as we are from the time of Jesus, that’s how far in time Jesus was from the Pyramids.

Our first sight of the Pyramids
Closer Up
Even Closer Up

The first photo of the next post will be the gathering of the camels, followed by photos of guess-who riding one. If you think it was me, you’re wrong. I was too scared..

Egypt 2011: The Lock at Edfu

Egypt is surrounded by desert–Sinai and the Eastern Desert on one side, for example, and the Libyan desert on the other. Furthermore the Nile is hedged around by desert within Egypt itself so that its irrigating waters have always been critical to a sufficient growth of food. That growth was by no means guaranteed when the Nile, dropping its precious silt, flooded the land only once a year. But the twentieth-century construction of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser has made water available at regular intervals, making farming more successful along the Nile and distributing hydro electric power to the population. That technology becomes even more crucial when you consider that the Egyptian population has grown by sixteen-and-a-half million since Mary and I visited in 2011.

Another example of the benefits of modern technology to the Egyptians, citizens and tourists alike, is the lock at Edfu, which allows travel along the Nile to proceed at a fairly normal pace. I took the photos below because the lock seemed to me, as I went through it on our tour boat, not to foul up the environment of the Nile, which is none too lovely as you travel the river further toward Cairo, but rather to beautify it. Engineering and the environment are thus not always at odds. See if you don’t agree.

The Lock at Edfu

Egypt 2011: An American Tourist Speaks to the Leader of our Tour

The leader of our tour was an Egyptian woman, perhaps in her thirties, well educated at the University of Cairo, and obviously capable of more financially rewarding work than leading visitors’ tours (though she certainly put her whole heart and soul into ours). An American woman on our bus mentioned to her that she must not have taken the Islamic faith too seriously since she did not wear a head scarf. The reply was decisive and revealing. “I am a devout follower of the Islamic faith,” the leader said, but I prefer not to wear a head scarf and in fact don’t have to. I am free to follow my own inclinations in this matter.”

There was a tone in the American woman’s stated assumption that the head scarf was a requirement all Islamic women serious about their faith had to follow, and that tone implied her own superiority in being “free” of such old fashioned restrictions. There was also, quite possibly, some irritation at being so expertly schooled by a woman she had trouble regarding as her social equal.

I could not help wonder what the American woman made of our leader’s explanation of the ancient Egyptian myth of Horus, the sky-god of the Nile Valley pictured as a rather stern falcon, and his wife Hathor, pictured with a cow’s ears, who was also the goddess of music and revelry. Hathor visited Horus once a year at his temple in a town called Edfu, from which Horus sailed out on the Nile to meet her. The couple were at length left alone to re-consummate their union while the people, presumably themselves left alone by the attending priests, enjoyed a Festival of Drunkenness. Later on the Greeks identified Hathor with their own goddess of Love and Joy, Aphrodite.

Mary and Ron with Hathor and an interested bystander

I hesitate to think what our American friend on the bus thought of the Horus/Hathor myth, but given her air of superiority I imagine she regarded it as, like the head scarf, more old fashioned nonsense which we Westerners have thankfully discarded.

As for me, the Festival of Drunkenness reminds me of New Orleans on Shrove Tuesday, which she probably also dismisses as some pointless relic of the past. I like what the Latin poet Terrence wrote: “nothing human is alien to me.”

Egypt 2011: The Work-A-Day Egyptian

Tour Groups run you around what’s touristy. They do not go out of their way to help you get photos of, let alone become familiar with, the everyday, work-a-day Egyptian, who is none too familiar himself. But Egypt is not essentially the modern skyline and nightlife of Cairo or even the temples, tombs and monuments in and around Aswan and Luxor. Today’s work-a-day Egyptian descends from centuries of obscure people who tried and often failed to make a living along the Nile, who believed in the religious myths they created and the gods they worshiped in the temples, who obeyed the pharaohs and have stood bemused by visitors to their culture at least since Greek and Roman times. The temples remain the powerhouse of the divine which governed even the pharaohs and these people look at you as if to say, “so what’s so fascinating anyway”? These are the essential Egypt.

So here are the few I was blessed to get a photo of.

Egypt 2011: The Bazaar

Egypt, like other Middle Eastern Countries, is full of bazaars. The bazaar is one of the few places a tourist can mix it up with the people of the country instead of those, almost all Westerners and many Americans, with you on the trip. Also you can negotiate prices but the sellers are wily so that you can walk away thinking you have gotten an article cheap and have actually paid more for it than it’s worth. The sellers are generally poor, though, so what you paid, even if too much, is in a larger sense worth it.

Lots of hats to shelter you from the sun
Had I grown up later I’d have studied Arabic
An honest-to-goodness traffic jam in the streets
Anyone for a dress, or a walking stick?