Thebes, the city of the god Amon, was the capital of Egypt during the period of the Middle and New Kingdoms. With the temples and palaces at Karnak and Luxor, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Thebes is a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height.
As the highlight of the Festival of Opet during the annual flood of the Nile, priests would transport statues of the local gods from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple on the mile-long Avenue of the Sphinxes.
On our Egypt and Jordan trip, we flew from Cairo to Luxor to start a Nile cruise. Cairo traffic was heavy on the way to the airport. Following distance is minimal, there are no lane lines, a cow rides a truck with its head over the side of a truck, and metal barrels are tied in a tall pile on another truck.
That afternoon we toured the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs were buried after the Egyptian capital was moved to Luxor. We saw and several others, but photos aren’t permitted in the tombs. The contents of King Tut’s tomb are in the Egyptian Museum. Tut’s tomb is remarkable because it’s the only tomb that wasn’t looted and therefore provides a glimpse of the riches of the pharaohs.
After seeing the pyramids and Khufu Ship, we went for a camel ride and saw the Sphinx. This was my time being close to camels, and I had the impression that they could be temperamental, so I was a bit apprehensive.
Getting on the camel and staying on the camel is tricky. You mount the camel when it’s sitting down, which is good. But you’re sitting on a saddle on top of the camel hump, so we still have to climb up to get on the saddle.
But then, the camel has to stand up. I forget which comes first, but the camel gets up with its front legs and hind legs separately, and the camel legs are long. So when the camel rises, its body is severely tilted, and you need to lean far forward and back to stay on the camel. From the photo, you can see that it’s a long way down if you fall.
The Khufu Ship is a large, ancient boat discovered disassembled in a pit next to the Pyramid of Cheops. “Like other buried Ancient Egyptian ships, it was apparently part of the extensive grave goods intended for use in the afterlife, and contained no bodies, unlike northern European ship burials.”
About 4,500 years old, the ship is “one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved vessels from antiquity. It measures 43.6 m (143 ft) long and 5.9 m (19.5 ft) wide.” Khufu is another name for King Cheops.
The Egyptian pyramids, funerary monuments to pharaohs, are incredibly old, a testament to the wealth, government, and culture of ancient Egypt. Above, the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, was built in the 27th century BC, 4,800 years ago. The Egyptian pyramid fields are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you’ll see, the pyramids are huge and precise. Building them required a civilization with manpower, engineering, and political will. Ancient Egypt had the wealth and organization to specialize crafts and devote tremendous resources to build these tombs, at a time when the rest of the world lagged far behind.
The initial tomb design was a mastaba, which “comes from the Arabic word for a bench of mud”. A mastaba is a solid structure of mud brick. Located in a Cairo suburb, the Step Pyramid is constructed with six steps of cut stone, with each step taking the form of a mastaba on top of the earlier one. Stone is stronger than mud brick, enabling a taller and more durable structure.
Our Jordanian guide told us about T. E. Lawrence and Jordan being surrounded by Israel and powerful Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt. Steve, a person in our tour group, suggested reading Lawrence in Arabia. Knowing little beyond seeing Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O’Toole, I took Steve’s advice.
Lawrence in Arabia was an eye-opener and sobering. The Middle East is important, and Lawrence played an outsized role. The British looked down on the Arabs. British diplomats lied to the Arabs to encourage their revolt, without intending to fulfill the Arab self-determination they promised.
Above are dunes of red sand at Wadi Rum, Jordan, where Lawrence passed through and where much of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.
After the Gayer-Anderson Museum, we visited Cairo‘s Museum of Islamic Art, “considered one of the greatest in the world, with its exceptional collection of rare woodwork and plaster artefacts (sic), as well as metal, ceramic, glass, crystal, and textile objects of all periods, from all over the Islamic world.” As expected, the Islamic art focused on geometric and vegetal patterns and Arabic calligraphy.
The museum reopened in January 2017 after “a car bomb attack targeting the Cairo police headquarters on the other side of the street caused considerable damage to the museum and destroyed many artifacts” three years before. We noticed that the police headquarters has a curved blast wall that directs any blast away from the police building and toward the museum.
Inside, there were few visitors on a weekday afternoon, and the museum was excellent.