Tuesday, January 29, 2008

December 29-31
Written in Saarbruecken

Just a bit about the end of our Egypt trip.

Philae Temple outside Aswan is in an amazing location, after the Hatshepsut temple, the most beautiful location for a temple we saw. It’s on an island between the two Aswan dams, and was moved there because the island it was originally on was getting flooded. There was a lot of time, energy, and money put into saving some of the these temples from the High Dam. We had to take a boat to get out to the temple, and then got to walk around. It had the usual offering scenes, birth house, and additions by later rulers. I’m now about blogged out, and by Philae we were about templed out. We saw a lot of temples, and pretty much could make sense of the architecture and main pictorial themes. To get any deeper and continue to learn would require some real study and more time than we had.

We also went by the High Dam, which we were excited to see, but really you just stop in the middle of the dam and look both directions. There is no tour of the machinery. There is also a very stark memorial to Soviet-Egyptian friendship by the dam, as the Soviets helped pay for a lot of it. On the way back into Aswan, we stopped by an old quarry where a half-excavated obelisk was left when the quarriers realized it had a crack. It was an interesting wander.

We also got booted from our hotel rooms in Aswan at noon although we didn’t have to leave until mid-afternoon. We got back early from our trip and got Maeve down before noon. Then everybody went to check out, while I camped out in the hall outside our room until Maeve woke up. She slept maybe an hour and a half, not too bad.

The trip back to Cairo on the plane was fine, bur our travel agent had booked us in a hotel near the Pyramids instead of a hotel by the airport, and the traffic, as usual was horrible. We were so tired and exhausted by the time we got in. We first negotiated a later pick up time the next morning to get to the airport and ordered to go boxes so we could eat on the run. We got Maeve down, ordered room service, ate, and went to bed. Yay!

The next morning, Mike took a quick picture of the pyramids on our way out of the hotel. We had no problem making our flight from Cairo to Heathrow. We got a quick bite in Heathrow, and we headed for our flight to Frankfurt, leaving Mike’s parents to make their way to Dallas. In Frankfurt, there were no problems getting through the airport and we had time to hit a bakery and the grocery store and still waited a few minutes for our train although I’d originally been worried we wouldn’t have time to make our connection. Two hours later in Saarbruecken, and a taxi ride to the Max Planck guesthouse on the Uni campus, and special for new year’s eve – sleep!

December 28, 2007

We’ve been in Aswan 3 days, and are staying at a hotel a kilometer or two out of town, but luckily, there is a shuttle bus. Aswan is nice, about the size of Luxor, so very walkable on foot. The souk here is very large, and has less touristy parts, meaning that people who live here also buy some things in the market here.

Our trip here from Luxor wasn’t the greatest. We flew out at 9 PM, and it was just way too late for Maeve, who imploded on the flight. We finally got her to stop crying, but Mike and I were both wiped out. We couldn’t stay late in our rooms in the hotel in Luxor because Sarcosy, the French prime minister, was staying in the hotel starting the day we checked out. So we spent the afternoon by the pool, and managed to get Maeve to sleep a bit over an hour, but this wasn’t enough to last until 10 PM. This is the second time Maeve has imploded on a flight, not so bad given the amount of traveling we’re doing and how difficult it is for her, but it’s basically a bad experience for all to have an uncontrollably crying baby.

Our first day in Aswan we all slept in, and then went into town to do some shopping and arrange excursions. We went by Karnak travel, which we’d scoped out in Luxor to by our Abu Simbel excursions. This is a temple 250K south of Aswan, near the Sudan border. It’s an all day car ride trip down, flights are also available but booked out this week. So, we went into Karnak travel and the office was so smoky Mike couldn’t stay inside and took Maeve out. Then we tried to pay with a credit card and their machine wasn’t working. So we went next door to American Express and bought the same tours for $5 less per person, with a credit card and in a non-smoky office. We’re taking turns traveling down to Abu Simbel – the other couple will stay with Maeve and hang out in Aswan. No more imploding babies, please. Maeve had a great time moving brochures from Mike to Carolyn while we completed the travel arrangements.

We walked a bit in the souk and saw a number of bakeries where they were pulling out steaming pita bread and putting them on wooden racks to cool off. There were long lines at the bakeries – Carolyn and I were in line at one while Mike and Paul went to a nearby fruit stand to buy bananas. Some Egyptian came by and facilitated our purchase and we got some yummy pitas, paying only 1 Egyptian pound more than the price for the expediting. The pita were yummy – we’re also buying yogurt, fruit, juice etc to self-cater. The cheese we buy is a variety of La Vache que Rie, little processed cheese wedges that are ubiquitously sold here. Maeve really likes these and scarfs four wedges at a meal – she’d eat more but we cut her off.

After the afternoon nap, we headed uphill out of town from the hotel to get dinner at the Nubian House. It was a farther walk than we thought, about 15 minutes, but doable. It’s comfortable weather here, but I can see how it must be really hot in the summer, as we’re located right on the tropic of Cancer. The restaurant had a wonderful view over the Nile – the Nile here seems much narrower – mostly because there are lots of islands and hills close in on both sides, so there is very little arable land. We weren’t able to actually eat there, as they weren’t going to be able to feed us for at least an hour – their kitchen was booked with tour groups, I suppose. There were little boys outside the restaurant running around with “baby crocodiles” that you could touch for baksheesh. So we walked back to the hotel and ate on the terrace there, which turned out to be great. We got Maeve a strawberry milkshake, which here does not include ice cream. We discovered that she liked this in Luxor, when Paul ordered one and then Maeve drank it all. This has become part of her dinner – a habit we will probably change when we’re not traveling, but for now it means very heavy overnight diapers and a well-hydrated baby.

Yesterday Mike and I went to Abu Simbel and the grandparents hung out with Maeve. We went in convoy at 11 AM - there’s also a convoy at 4 AM which I expect is very popular in the summer, but we opted for the later one that gets back at 7PM. We went in a “limo” which was a Toyota corolla. The 30 K or so outside Aswan is habited- you go over the old dam, past the airport etc. And the 30 K or so outside Abu Simbel is also habited – mostly human impact is irrigation projects, though you also pass the airport there. But everything else in the middle is just desert. It really makes you realize the power of the Nile – this land is all desert except for this very thin strip, but the fertility of that small strip powered civilization.

Abu Simbel is one of the many many temples built by Ramses II, Ramses the Great. It was built on the border with Nubia, by the viceroy in charge of administering this area for the pharaoh. It’s cut straight into the cliff face of the Nile. This temple was one of many that would be inundated by the High Dam, and a Unesco lead effort cut it out of the mountain and moved it up 100M. The temples are now under artificial mountains, but despite this, they are pretty impressive. The main temple is for Ramses, and the second one is for his wife, Nefertari. Not Nefertiti, who was the beautiful wife of Akhenaton, but Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramses II. Her tomb is the best in the Valley of the Queens and visitable for the small sum of $4000.00. Needless to say, we didn’t visit it.

In the sanctuary of the main temple, there are statues to four gods, the god of night, the god of the noon-day sun (Amon-Re), Ramses, and the god of the morning sun. Two days a year the sun would shine on 3 of these status – not the god of the night. When they moved the temple, they kept the same orientation, but the sun now shines in one day later.

Mike and I figure we’re getting templed out – we thought Abu Simbel was neat but weren’t overwhelmed by it. One of the most interesting things was making sense of all the offerings. Most of the side rooms in the main temple showed Ramses making offerings to different Gods, including himself. We’re starting to be able to identify some of the gods as well as some of the different offerings, like lotus, bread, other food, essential oils, and incense being burned in censors. That’s interesting. We’re trying to learn the cartouches for the different kings, and took some pictures of Ramses’ cartouche on the outside of the temple – photography wasn’t allowed inside. But these didn’t match the cartouches in the inside so this remains a bit of a mystery. When we get home I’ll have to look at all the pictures of cartouches I took and see if I can sort it out.

Nefertari’s temple was interesting because she featured in many of the decorations. In the valley of the Queens, we visited two tombs of princes. Their tomb decorations included depictions of the youths with a sidelock, denoting their childhood. But in these pictures, they invariable followed behind their fathers. The guide said that because they were children, they didn’t know about the afterlife and their fathers, the pharaoh, acted as their guide through the underworld. But the effect for me, at least, was that their tombs seemed more about their fathers than about them. In most of the iconography we’ve seen, the pharaoh is physically much bigger than his wives, and children are even smaller. Even in the mastabas we saw at Saqqara, the person being buried (a man) was shown very large and the members of his household much smaller. So Nefertari’s temple was quite an exception, in that she’s depicted the same size as her husband and making her own offerings to the gods. In a couple of scenes, she’s watching Ramses defeat their enemies, but in others either she or Ramses are making offerings, and there is a scene of her coronation. Also the columns are square and have Hath or heads, the god the temple is dedicated to, which is a human head with cow ears. I like those columns.

In our drive back, it was mostly dark and our driver mostly didn’t have his headlights on. Here, like in Tanzania, they use their directional signals to tell you when it’s okay to pass and when not. They also use their headlights, as in turning them off and on, to make sure a car going in the other direction sees them at night. In the city, there are generally street lamps, and many cars run with either parking lights or no lights at all.

Lake Nasser, the huge lake formed behind the high dam, in addition to covering lots of temples, swallowed up all the fertile land on the banks of the Nile for hundreds of kilometers, completely displacing the Nubians from their ancestral land. There are cliffs on either side of the lake, at least the parts we could see, so it’s not a simple thing to farm using the lake waters, as they’d have to be pumped pretty high to be useful. The Egyptian government is sponsoring some large-scale irrigation plans at Tosca, not too far from Abu Simbel, but all the Nubians basically got relocated 40 years ago, giving up their land. It’s not clear to me how they’re making a living now.

This morning Mike and I took Maeve to the Nubian museum, which she also visited yesterday with her grandparents. It was built about 10 years ago, also in response to the destruction of the Nubian lands by Lake Nasser, as a way to preserve some of the cultural artifacts that were submerged. The museum is well labeled in English, with the usually misspellings and grammar errors that seem to be the status quo. There was tons of information, but both Mike and I felt it was a bit hard to keep track of the Nubian history – we needed more of an overview of the different periods and how independent Nubian states interacted with and were incorporated into the Egyptian dynasties. There were also many dioramas about Nubian life as well as models of old buildings, forts etc. Maeve liked these, as well as the ramps throughout the museum.

Today we had to replenish our larder and this afternoon went out to buy more fruit, yogurt and cheese. We had a lot of trouble finding yogurt, and learned the Arabic word for it – zabaadi. Several stores only had plain yogurt, which is fine for Maeve but Mike’s parents don’t like it. We found some strawberry yogurt at the third store and bought it. Shopping today was much more pleasant, at this point, we more or less know the prices for things, so are able to know how to bargain for a fair price and are paying something closer to the Egyptian prices, with a tourist premium thrown in I’m sure. We then tried to buy stamps, it costs 150 piasters, or 1.5 Egyptian pounds to send post cards. I went to the bookshop in our hotel, which sells stamps, but they were selling each stamp for 4 pounds. A bit of a markup. We decided to find the post office, which we did, but it was closed because today is Friday.

We had dinner at a restaurant on the corniche. We walked through the restaurant, past an internet café, down one level on the corniche and across a little walkway to get to a floating dining room on the water. It was a great view across to Elephantine Island, and we got there right at sunset, in time to see fellucas and ferry boats bringing their loads of tourists in. It was a perfect setting, except for the intermittent aroma of diesel fuel. The waiters (all male) were as usual enamored of Maeve and all wanted to play with her. Maeve liked the water, which was covered with a sheen of oil, but you could still see pretty large algae plants in it.

Tomorrow our plan is to do a half-day tour of Philae Island, a temple to Isis that got moved after the High Dam was built, and see the high dam. Sunday we’re leaving for Cairo in the afternoon, and again can’t stay in our rooms past noon as the hotel is fully booked. We’re trying to think about how to make sure Maeve gets a nap.

Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut

Luxor Take 2
Covering Dec 23-25, 2007
Originally written in Aswan and lost somehow
Rewritten January 28, 2008
Saarbruecken, Germany

Let’s see what I can remember, first about interesting happenings while in Luxor and then a bit about the monuments on the West Bank, which were phenomenal.

Luxor, like most of Egypt, has a fairly strong tradition of aggressive tourist touts. Walking up and down the corniche, you’re constantly approached asking if you want a felucca ride. On the sidewalk anywhere, horse-drawn carriage drivers approach you. Walking through the tourist souk, shop keepers approach you right and left. One afternoon while Maeve was napping and Paul was supervising/napping from the adjoining room, Mike, Carolyn and I went out to look for a small plate for Carolyn to take home as a souvenir and water and other food for the group. We went first to the tourist souk. On the way there, we passed a shop that said “hassle-free zone.” Several shops advertised this, as a way to make tourists more comfortable. On the sidewalk, while walking past this shop, we were approached by a driver. The owner of the shop came out and started yelling at the guy hassling us and throwing rocks at him. We were somewhat taken back by his aggressive method of promoting his hassle-free space.

In the souk, Carolyn saw a shop that had porcelain plates, and eventually bought one. The “owner,” they all say they’re the owner, but often somebody young who speaks decent English is the one helping you, so I don’t think all the 20-year-olds can be the owners, offered Mike some tea (not Carolyn or I) and was very hospitable. Carolyn bargained a bit, but at her first counter offer the owner accepted her price, so we figure she overpaid, about $7-8.00 for a pretty porcelain plate. But she was happy with her purchase. On the way home, we decided to walk back to our hotel a different way, via the train station. On the way back, we found a shop off the tourist track and bought about 9 liters of water very cheap. Probably actually close to the Egyptian price which we were always assured we were paying. Then we had to cross some construction work to get to the road back to our hotel, which we did by walking a plank across a ditch in the dark. Always an adventure.

Our first day on the West Bank was great. It started out with a new guide, who we could understand as he spoke slowly and loudly and talked towards Paul. Much better. He also, however, had some relationships with other vendors around the sites, but he was open about this and let us choose whether or not we were interested, so we didn’t feel pushed. He also gave good info, so we were all much happier and kept him for the rest of the trip. The guide really makes all the difference.

We started the morning by visiting the Colossi of Memnon, which aren’t really Agamemnon, that’s just what the Greeks thought when the first saw them. Rather, they’re what’s left of a mortuary temple for Amenophis III. Apparently the rest of the temple got re-used by later Pharaohs. They were nice and big, and the AM balloons were coming down all around the area so it was a nice brief stop. Then on to the Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Her temple is set in the side of a hill that arches around it, possible the most dramatic setting I saw in Egypt with a majestic interaction between the natural features of the landscape and a huge human architectural endeavor. Hatshepsut was one of the few female Pharaohs, and had two obelisks at Karnack (one fell over) and had a relatively long reign, most as a regent to Thutmosis III, who after she died did his darndest to erase her memory. We heard several stories about why – one was because she was a woman and women shouldn’t be pharaohs, and the other was that she was his regent for a long time and he wasn’t able to assume the throne until she died, although he was already grown.

We had to park some 300 meters from the temple, and there was a little bus made of multiple little golf-cart like carriages to take tourists from the parking lot to the temple. This wasn’t really necessary for us, but I can imagine that the Egyptians do everything they can to make the visit more bearable in the heat of the summer.

The temple itself was built into the hillside, in a series of receding colonnades. Much of the carving was defaced, but we could see several series of stories, one of the most famous was the Punt Colonnade, which showed the exploits of a expedition Hatshepsut sponsored to Punt (Somalia) with her soldiers bringing back exotic items like myrrh trees (the stump of one that’s 3500 years old remains outside the temple), wild animals etc. There are fish depicted that aren’t the fish in the Nile, so the reliefs are showing the exotic fish of the Red sea. Most of the portraits of Hatshepsut were chiseled out. There were several ramps with steps to walk up to the top terrace, which contained the real temple, which we weren’t allowed to go in. It was a dark hole leading into the hillside. On the way out, we again to the little trolley and then passed by the ubiquitous tourist souk on the way to the bus. Every antiquity has a souk attached to it where you can buy books about the site, post cards, t-shirts, and other tourist junk. You run the gauntlet to get back to your van.

After Hatshepsut, we went to the Valley of the kings. Here there was a new Japanese-funded visitors’ center. The most interesting part of the center was a 3-D fiberglass model of the valley. As you walked over to the model, you could see the valley with all the entrances to the tombs marked. Then from the backside, the model looked like a many-legged spider, as it showed the actual shafts. Very interesting and gave you a feeling for exactly how much digging these guys were doing and why is was near-impossible to hide their tombs. It was a huge industry, and it’s no wonder they all (except Tut) got looted thousands of years ago. The valley is just that – a not so impressive valley in the desert. There’s absolutely no vegetation, just rocky sand, as the valley is well out of the flood plain of the Nile. When I think of a valley, I tend to think of a wooded, alpine valley with water running through it, which would of course have been completely out of place in Egypt.

The valley of the kings is situated in the hills, so that the pharaohs that were buried here were still technically under a pyramid, just a natural one. The hope was that the remote location without a man-made pyramid on top acting as a beacon for grave robbers, that the pharaohs would be able to have a safe journey though the afterlife. When the priests tried to hide the tombs after the Pharaoh was buried, they could just push sand and rocks on top of it, and it would look like the sand had been there forever. The priests clearly tried to protect the pharaohs in the afterlife, near Hatshepsut’s temple they made a secret cache of 40 or more mummies in an attempt to keep them from getting stolen. I need to do some more reading, because the priests were trying so hard to keep the tombs secret, but there were whole villages working on building the tombs, and the tombs almost always got robbed. Also, we saw one tomb, of Ramses III, that had its axis shifted after builders broke through into another tomb, but this didn’t happen often. Even though the tombs were hidden, there was clearly some way of determining where the tombs were so that the next Pharaohs could use a new area, and this must have been in writing as the New Kingdom lasted a long time, and there are over 60 tombs there. I never got clear on exactly how all this worked.

With the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, you get to see 3 tombs. From the visitors’ center, there is again a little trolley that takes you up to the tomb area, where there are several areas with benches and roofs where you can sit and chat. Our guide had picked up some nice photos of the murals in some of the tombs, and walked us through some of the iconography we were likely to see, and then recommended three tombs to us. The guides aren’t allowed in the tombs – tourists with guides take longer and they don’t want that much sweat in the tombs. For each tomb, we had to go down staircases of varying lengths, usually waiting a bit in line. There was a guard at the entrance to the tomb who stamped our tickets, only three stamps allowed. And you couldn’t take photos inside. Once in the tombs, there was usually a wooden floor and the walls were covered in plexiglass so you couldn’t touch. There was plenty of lighting so you didn’t need a flashlight. It was also incredibly warm and stuffy in all the tombs, despite it being December and not too hugely crowded. Summer must be miserable.

We visited the tombs of three Ramessoid kings: Ramses IX, Ramses III, and Ramses I. The entrance to all of the tombs had the same figure over the lintel: the winged sun disk. This figure was also often over the portals. The tombs had somewhat different iconography, and I can’t now remember exactly what was where, but here’s some of what we saw.

Many of the tombs had depictions from some version of the book of the dead, where the deceased wanders through the netherworld and is judged on whether or not the soul should be allowed into heaven. On the way down to the coffin rooms, there were often several side rooms which were used to store goods that would be useful in the afterlife (i.e. things like oil that you couldn’t get from the gods – one goddess was a cow so it wasn’t necessary to take milk with you). Many of these had depictions of offerings as well. Of course, none of the tomb goods were in there – everything was bare except for the decoration. Ramses IX was late in the dynasty, and a lot of his tomb was just painted instead of also carved. His tomb had a depiction of Nhut, the sky goddess. She’s usually dark, and wraps around the whole ceiling. Her arms go down one side, her body along a long side, and her feet along a third. She’s swallowing the stars and giving birth to the day. We ended up seeing her represented several other places, most notably on the roof sanctuaries in Dendara, but this was the first time I tried to make sense of her depiction. Another common theme was different depictions of the sun god – as a scarab beetle in the morning, the sun disk at mid-day, and the waning sun of the afternoon – depicted as a ram-headed god with horns sticking out to the sides. Falcon-headed Horus was also a popular depiction.

What was really amazing was the color. Some of the tombs had parts that were partly destroyed, like the second half of Ramses III’s tomb, which is closed off, but in general, the detail, color, composition, everything was just amazing, given that these tombs were built 1300BC-1100BC (at least the three we saw). And we later saw similar iconography at Dendara and Philae, which were Greco-Roman temples from 1300 years later, that still had a similar pictorial vocabulary. And the new Kingdom was continuing a tradition from the pyramid builders, from 2500 BC. It’s hard to fathom that length of cultural tradition.

We also had a lot of fun figuring out each Pharaoh’s cartouche, a game that continued throughout the trip. Everything they owned, everything they offered to the gods, everything that they hoped would happen to themselves in the afterlife, they clearly labeled with their own names. We saw this again in the Valley of the queens two days later, where we visited the tombs of two princes. Since the boys died young, their tomb art showed their fathers leading them around through the underworld. And these were labeled with their fathers’ cartouches. Also, when every pharaoh added to a temple, they made sure to label their additions with their own cartouches. Actually, Ramses II was famous for erasing other King’s cartouches and replacing them with his own so he’d get the spiritual credit. At Ramses III’s mortuary temple (Medinet Habu) the cartouches were incised very very deeply so they couldn’t be erased. He’d learned something from his daddy.

After the Valley of the Kings, we made our last stop of the day which was at Medinet Habu, the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III. On our way there, our guide offered to take us by an alabaster workshop, where he knew the owner. Mike’s parents were interested, so we went. First they showed us how they worked the natural alabaster, which was neat. Maeve enjoyed watching the guys sitting on the ground and chiseling the rock, and she enjoyed playing with the drills they use to hollow out the inside of the vase. The pieces were lovely, but heavy, and we couldn’t imaging having to tote it around. Carolyn bought a piece as a gift.

Medinet Habu was impressive. Particularly all the carvings. Like the other temples, it was formed by a series of pylons leading into ever higher and darker courts and finally to the covered sanctuary. Although there was no roof left, many of the pylons still had lintels and a fair amount of color remained. Farther into the temple precinct there was just a sea of column bases left.

On our way back to the hotel, which was well after noon, we asked the guide to stop by a kushari joint for us to pick up a quick lunch of the noodles, rice, lentils, spicy red sauce and fried onions we’d come to love. He thought we were a little weird to be asking for this, but found us a place. The first place was closed, and then we walked a bit to another place that was on Television street, near the local shopping area (as opposed to tourist bazaar) that Mike and I had walked around in the day before. Mike and I managed to order 4 servings of kushari, which in Luxor came with the addition of a few chickpeas on top. We got ours in round plastic containers with lids, and got two kinds of sauce in little bags to add on if we wanted. There were school boys getting maybe a fifth of what we got each, mostly rice and noodles and very little sauce, which they got in plastic bags to eat. We took it back to the hotel and ate a quick lunch before getting Maeve down for an afternoon nap.

The evening of Dec 23, we ate dinner at a tourist restaurant on the corniche almost in front of our hotel. The food was fine, but not amazing. We did get to see lots of tourists offloading from boats coming back from the West Bank while eating dinner. Paul ordered a strawberry milkshake and let Maeve try it. That was the end of his milkshake – Maeve was a fan. She ended up drinking quite a bit of strawberry milkshake, which was basically just strawberry milk, no ice cream, for the rest of the trip.

On Dec 24, we went to Dendara, which is a temple for Hathor, the cow-headed nice goddess, that dates from the Greco-Roman period. We picked up in time to hang out with the tourist convoy – all the tourists going to Dendara, and all the tourists leaving Luxor for Hurgada on the Red Sea, travel “together” down the road. This just means they all leave together and then get all spread out over time, as far as I can tell. So a load of busses, vans, and limos (i.e. private cars) all massed around the staging area and left together. At major crossroad, the traffic in the opposite direction was stopped and there were tourist police out with big guns. We went through Qena, a big town, right before we turned off for Dendara, but weren’t allowed to stop. Once we got to the turn off for Dendara (most were going on to Hurgada) we had to wait until all the cars going to Dendara were together and then we took off again.

The ride up to Dendara, which is downriver from Luxor, was interesting – we followed the highway that parallels a big canal off the Nile. We passed lots of villages and agriculture – they have portable pumps that they use for a bit in one location and then can move to another irrigation ditch to pump water into a different part of the field. It’s very intensive agriculture, but that’s necessary given the very small amount of land on either side of the Nile that is available for irrigation. Since the high dam ended the flooding, they can now get in three crops a year. With this comes the usual problems of needing to use fertilizer and the slow salinization of the soil. None of these have been worked out yet, but the Egyptians are not starving, unlike people in some of their neighboring countries. We also saw many partially constructed houses – people were living on the first or on several completed floors, and there were steel beams sticking up covered with concrete and spaces for windows but no roof on the second or third floor. In some cases, these upper floors were also inhabited and covered with thatch. We figured that people built more as they got more money. I enjoyed the stop signs that were in both Arabic and English.

It turns out that about 40 tourist vehicles visited Dendara the day we were there – that was there whole tourist output for the day. We were there maybe 90 minutes, after an over 1 hour drive there each way. We had to head back at the time of the convoy that went into Luxor. A big pain, those convoys. Dendara was much more laid back in terms of its tourist bazaar – it basically didn’t exist, maybe because of the small number of tourists.

The site was beautiful and the temple grounds had a newly refurbished visitors center and gardens. It would have been nice to be able to hang out there for a bit, but we basically barely had time to wander thoroughly through the temple, first with our guide and then a bit on our own. This temple is much newer, built around 100BC. It has the requiset birth house, in which the ruler that’s putting up the money for the temple creates a story saying how they were born to the gods, suckled by goddesses, and therefore have the right to tell all Egypt what to do. This was particularly important for the Greco-Roman rulers, as they were foreigners and had legitimacy problems. But the main site was the temple itself. It was so special because the roof was still intact, and seeing this temple really helped me imagine what the other, often larger and more ornate, temples might have looked like.

The front façade of the temple had six huge columns all with Hathor as the column top. You can tell it’s her because it’s a human female face with little cow ears sticking out from behind the ears. I liked the Hathor columns. The interior of the Hypostyle hall was also filled with Hathor columns. And there was a roof, which was mostly blackened with smoke. We heard a couple different stories for the origin of the smoke. One idea was that early Christians hid out from Roman persecution in the temples and their cook fires blackened the ceilings. Another was that the early Christians hung out in the temples to avoid persecution and wanted to deface the pagan icons. In Dendara, as in other temples, you can often see Christian iconography, including crosses or altars. These are often not at floor level, as the temples got sanded over and the floor level was sometimes meters above where it’s been excavated to. In Dendara, the reliefs at floor level were beautiful for maybe 2 meters, then there was a lot of destruction and chiseling out of the images. Then towards the ceiling again the releifs were intact – the Christians clearly defaced what they could reach at the time.

Nonetheless, there was still a good bit of color, especially the blue stripes on the Hathor column’s crowns. And where they were doing restoration work, the blue of the ceiling was beautiful. The side rooms around the sanctuary were full of carving, showing rulers making offerings to Hathor, Hathor the cow walking around and being bountiful, Hathor’s barque being taken out on the river so she could consort with her godly husband Horus once a year. It was quite dark inside, even though there were ancient skylights that brought light down from the roof. The releifs were lit with electric lights, so it was easy to see the walls, but you got a much better impression of what the temples must have been like in ancient times.

From a side hall, you could go down into one of the many crypts that were used to store offerings. You had to crawl down a ladder and then could walk along a small passageway on either side of the entrance. These too were covered in carvings. On either side of the main sanctuary, there was a well-worn stairway leading up to the roof. The front part of the roof had more ceremonial rooms on it, and there was also a second story on top of those, but tourists weren’t allowed to go up there. The roof was interesting because you could see how they made the skylights – they went from the upstairs rooms all the way through the ceiling so that the inner sanctuaries wouldn’t be completely dark. There was also an Egyptian zodiac on one ceiling – the priest apparently made some pretty accurate start charts. The zodiac in Dendara was a replica – the original was stolen and is now in the Louvre. The Egyptian zodiac is recognizable, with most of symbols being recognizable. In another room was a depiction of Nhut, the sky goddess who devoured the night and gave birth to the day. And all the doors had the familiar winged sun disk on the lentils. There was also a room that depicted the Osiris myth, where he got cut up by his jealous brother Seth, his wife Isis found him and managed to put him together enough to get pregnant while she flew over him as a bird, and then he died and became the god of the afterlife. There were pretty graphic pictures of Osiris masturbating to be able to impregnate Isis. Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, was the husband of Hathor.

The stairs going up and down to the roof were interesting. In one direction they showed the priests bringing offerings up to the goddess, and in the other direction showed them coming back down. The last interesting part of the Dendara temple complex was that Cleopatra was depicted on the back of the temple giving offerings to the gods. You could tell it was a woman, and women were rarely depicted giving offerings, which is what made Nefertari’s temple in Abu Simbel so special.

This evening, we went to find another kushari/fitter joint outside the tourist beaten path. This restaurant, like Gad in Cairo, had the kitchen on the first floor and the second floor was the dining hall. We were the only non-Egyptians there, and ordered falafel for Maeve as well as some fitter for ourselves. The savory fitter came out more like pizzas, but the sweet ones were more like pancakes. Definitely all very yummy. We generally found that the Egyptian food was quite tasty, and the tourist-produced food was fine but not necessarily as yummy as what the Egyptians were eating. We left as soon as possible because Paul and Carolyn were going to the sound and light show at Karnak temple. That turned out to be mostly another tour of Karnack, walking though at night with explanations and then sitting down a little at the end for a light show with more history. They very much enjoyed it, although it wasn’t what they expected and they came back pretty tired.

Our last day in Luxor was Christmas Day, and we’d planned an easy day because we were flying out late to Aswan, always a tricky maneuver with a young child. I’d been checking with reception the whole time we were there, trying to be able to stay in one of our rooms later so Maeve could nap. It was a no-go because Nicolas Sarcosy and retinue was coming in from France and the hotel was completely booked up. Bummer. Anyway, we did the second day of the west bank, which included the Valley of the Queens, valley of the Nobles and the Ramaseum. The Valley of the Queens was much smaller, and we visited one Queen’s and two princes tombs. The colors here were just amazing. For the two princes, the principal themes were their fathers showing them how to make offerings to the gods and otherwise easing their way into the afterlife. The princes were distinguished by their sidelock of youth. The queen was allowed to do this for herself, and her burial chamber had a neat picture of Hathor as a cow.

Next we went to the Valley of the Nobles to see two tombs, Ramose and Userhat. Ramose’s tomb had a huge courtyard that included a change in artistic style, as he was a court official when Akhenaton came to power and moved the capital to Armarna. So in some pictures he is making the usual offerings to different gods, and in others he’s receiving the bounty of the sun-god Aten. His features also change so that in the later pictures he has the more elongated Armarna style. His tomb was unfinished because he also moved to Armarna, so you can see the grid lines traced in red that the artists were using to make the design on the wall for the carvers. Userat’s tomb was smaller, but had two interesting quirks. First, it had been a cell for a monk at some point, and you could see Christian fish and other symbols drawn over the reliefs. Luckily, the monk added his icons but didn’t destroy the art already there. The other was that the tomb has no lighting, rather the guards use mirrors (cardboard coated in tinfoil) to light the interior, which is apparently what the ancient Egyptians did as burning candles or lamps would have damaged the interiors.

Our last stop for the day was the Ramaseum, or mortuary temple of Ramses II. This was mostly ruin. The most impressive part was a huge statue of Ramses that had fallen over and broken into multiple pieces. It’s amazing how they could cut and transport something that big. There were also extensive excavations happening outside the Ramaseum precincts.

After a picnic lunch in the Hotel gardens after being kicked out of our rooms, we went to the pool to hang out and try to get Maeve to sleep. She finally got an hour of so of sleep, not enough to last through a late evening. Mike spent some time trying to locate our mail – we had had a package of mail forwarded to us in Cairo, but it didn’t make it there. Then it was supposed to be sent to Luxor, but it apparently never made it there either. In Aswan, we tried one last time to get it, but ended up having to send it back to the states were it could be sent to us again in Germany. Two day delivery does not work in Egypt. We had Christmas dinner at the same restaurant on the Corniche near our hotel – convenient and decent food. They had Christmas music playing, which Maeve just loved, and after dinner we had a quick Christmas dance. A nice Christmas dinner.

The trip to Aswan wasn’t great, but more about that in the next blog.