"The World's Greatest Open Air Museum"
30.03.2010 - 03.04.2010 37 °C
The Valley of the Kings is a place I’ve been wanting to visit ever since I learned about the pharaohs’ tombs in a history course I once took in CEGEP (It was most likely one of the few classes that kept me awake). Luxor, where this ancient valley is located, is frequently called the “world’s greatest open air museum” and it certainly lives up to its name. Civilisation has existed here for over 5000 years and there are many magnificent archaeological sites around to explore like the Karnak and Luxor Temples, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the most fascinating of them all, the Valley of the Kings and its Pharaohnic tombs. Thanh and I spent three days and four nights exploring as much as we could.
We were fortunate enough to fly “business/platinum” class for this trip down south to Luxor. Unfortunately for us there weren’t many luxuries for us to enjoy. There was no queue at check in, so the priority lane was useless, we didn’t get to board the plane first, and we pretty much had regular sized seating. So much for enjoying business class. Oh wait, hold on. We did get a free sandwich and we did get to get off the plane first. LOL!
The Nile splits Luxor in two, the West and East Banks. The East Bank is the more urban part of the city and besides the many restaurants, shops, and hotels, this side has the Karnak and Luxor Temples. The West Bank, on the other hand, is more rural and much quieter, and where the bulk of the attractions are located. The West Bank is where the Valley of the Kings is found. We chose to stay at a guesthouse on the West Bank which was good for sightseeing. As it turned out, we would use the public ferry service, which was only one Egyptian Pound each (around $0.20 CDN), several times a day to cross the Nile.
We started our first day of sightseeing on the East bank. We took a full morning to visit the humongous and highly impressive Temples of Karnak Temple, and then spent the afternoon and night visiting the Luxor Temple.
The Temples of Karnak were quite something! This place is really massive. Our Lonely Planet states that it’s over two square kilometres and is the largest religious building ever built. It’s loaded with awesome ancient Egyptian artwork, hieroglyphics, obelisks, columns, and many fragmented artifacts. We basically spent the whole morning here making sure we didn’t miss a thing.
After a lunch comprised of traditional Egyptian mezes, we ventured off to Luxor Temple. This temple was smaller and a little less impressive, but it was amazing nonetheless. We actually visited this temple twice in one day. Our fiends Paul and Gretchen, whom we met in Indonesia, recommended we visit this at night when it’s all lit up. We did this and we also wanted to see what it was like during the day. While the daylight allows you to see the details of the artwork better, the lighting at night makes it a little eerie, much more atmospheric, and fun.
We then concentrated on the West Bank for the next two days. Since the tombs and temples are quite spread out, we hired ourselves a driver, and thus managed to explore many sites. Some of them were in amazing condition and others just looked like a pile of rocks. The highlights were; eight tombs in the Valley of the Kings, two Tombs of the Nobles, the Temple of Hatshesput, Medinat Habu, and the Ramessum. We did visit a several more sights but they aren’t really worth mentioning in this blog.
The Valley of the Kings. Apart from the Giza Pyramids, this is what I was waiting to see in Egypt. I was expecting to visit all of the tombs, or at least try to as there 63 of them spread out in the valley. To our disappointment one admission ticket only allowed you to visit three tombs of your choice, plus you had to purchase extra tickets in you wanted to enter the tombs of Tutankhamen or Ramses VI. Moreover, cameras were not permitted inside the site. In the end we managed to visit eight fascinating and lovely tombs; Ramses VII, Ramses IX, Ramses VI, Ramses III, Tuthmosis III, Siptah, Tawosret/Sethnakht, and Ramses I. We chose not to visit Tutankhamen’s since it was very expensive and our guide book said it wasn’t one of the nicest ones. The tombs are pretty fascinating. They are all different as some are larger than others, some more details and prettier, and their conditions vary greatly. When you enter, basically follow a long tunnel that brings you several different chambers, which are fully decorated with murals and hieroglyphics, and then ends at the room with the sarcophagus. Unfortunately there are no treasures in the tombs as they are now in museums around the world.
A hairy incident happened to me while we were exploring the Tomb of Tawosret/Sethnakht. It is forbidden to bring a camera into the Valley of the Kings. We didn’t know that until we got there but we still managed to smuggle ours in. While we were in one of the tombs, I attempted to change a setting on the camera when a turban guy (see below) saw me fiddling with it. Quickly, I put it away in my pocket and tried to pretend I was doing something else with my hands. Eventually the turban guy confronted me and asked me for my camera. I played innocent for a bit and managed to remove the memory card before showing it to him. He snatched it out of my hands, confiscated it, and told me he was taking me to the Tourist Police. I was pleading my innocence but he was having nothing of it. Eventually he tried to bribe me by letting me know that he wanted a little baksheesh to settle the whole thing. I surrendered 20 LE (less than $5 CDN) and got my camera back. As we walked towards the exit, I was still pleading my case that I hadn’t taken a picture. In front of the other employees and guards, I turned on the camera and showed that my camera was empty. At this point, he had no proof that I was guilty of breaking the rules. In the end, he gave me back my money while I had actually taken several pictures….he he he.
Holy s**t! The amount of hassling you encounter in Luxor is mind-boggling. Apart from the touts selling souvenirs, or taxi, motorboat, and caleche drivers wanting your business, we had to deal with the exceptionally persistent “employees”, or as Thanh likes to call them, the “turban guys”, at the sites. These turban guys, who I assume are supposed to act as some type of security, are very aggravating and really, really, exhausting. They are always following you at every step, trying to get your attention and talk to you so they can point out the obvious to you so that they can earn a tip, or as they call it in Egypt, baksheesh. They will also invite you to enter a no trespassing zone so they can get a tip from you. As well, if you are caught doing something disallowed, like taking pictures in a forbidden area, they will attempt to bribe you. These guys are really scandalous and I hope one day the Egyptian government will do something about these guys. They really got on our nerves and they took a lot of pleasure away from the whole experience. To add to this, every time, and I mean every time, an Egyptian would ask where we were from, we would answer “Canada“, and they would say “Canada Dry”, thinking they were so cleaver. It was funny the first time, but not the hundredth! LOL!
Anyways, the Tombs of the Nobles are similar to the ones of the pharaohs but are not as elaborate nor as large, but the wall paintings are largely intact. There are over 400 of them and again we had to chose which ones we wanted to visit. We chose the tombs of Menna and Nakht and they both had very beautiful and colourful artwork. The artwork here was in much better shape than those in the kings’ tombs, most likely because less tourists visit these ones (humans create humidity while breathing and sweating. more humidity = more damage). We could not take pictures inside the tombs.
The architecture of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshesput, in Deir al-Bakri is, simply put, amazing! It’s not like any other of the tombs we visited. The temple was built into the mountain hills, has three levels, with lots of stairs. The place looks like something you might see in Indiana Jones.
Ramses III’s memorial temple is called Medinat Habu and it slightly reminded me of the Temples of Karnak. It was in decent condition and had several walls (pylons) still up and many chambers to explore. We should have and would have stayed longer, but the strong sun and especially annoying turban guys were too much to handle here.
I’m sure the very large Ramessum, which is Ramses II’s memorial temple, was once an impressive complex, but today it is not in good shape. This temple is pretty much in ruins.
While we greatly enjoyed the ancient ruins, we were a little pharaohed-out by the end as each site started to look the same. Besides having seen so much in little time and being harassed so much, the sun in Luxor was quite strong, the air was very dry, and the temperature was somewhere in the mid to high thirties, plus the air quality is also not great in Luxor, which added to our fatigue and desire to move on. All that said, we were itching to return to Cairo and catch our flight to Paris.
Speaking of moving on, our next blog will be about our four nights and three days in Paris, the City of Love!!!
A bientôt chers amis!
GO HABS GO!!!