© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved

 

Luxor

We arrived at Luxor in the morning and took a horse-drawn carriage to our hotel. It was late August, it was incredibly hot, and Luxor was virtually devoid of tourists. We checked into an old colonial style hotel. Liveried staff greeted us, delivered our luggage to our room, and departed before we had even finished registering. Large fans circling lazily below the high ceilings of the hotel disturbed the otherwise still air of the lobby. It was surprisingly cool despite the lack of air conditioning. The floors were polished marble; the doors and trim, rich, dark wood; the  stone walls were hung with historical oil paintings and tapestries, and the furnishings were large oversized wicker with brocade cushions. Our room, like the lobby, was large with a high ceiling and ceiling fan, its polished marble floor cool under our bare feet. Furnished with a large mahogany wardrobe, large wicker wing chairs, mahogany desk, and a large four-poster bed it had a faded opulence. Wooden, ceiling-high, louvered doors opened onto a shaded marble patio with wicker chairs and a wrought iron, glass-topped table. Meals were served on an open patio, shaded by a vine covered trellis. We sat at linen covered tables set with monogrammed silver and china. Flowers and fresh cut grass perfumed the air. Liveried waiters were friendly, efficient, and attentive to our every need. This was not our world of low budget travel, it was the world of the old British aristocracy transplanted to the outposts of empire. I felt an imposter, an actor in a melodrama, and I revelled in it. The only disappointment at the hotel occurred the next morning. Fresh baked rolls and bread, fresh melon, honeyed fruits, and the aroma of rich strong coffee welcomed us to breakfast. Sadly, what we took to be butter turned out to be unsalted lard and we spoiled our first rolls by spreading them with this unpleasant concoction. Butter would have completed the menu, but even with unbuttered rolls, the breakfast was delicious.

Temple Tours

North of Luxor, dominated by the ruins of the Great Temple to Amen-Re, facing the city of the dead and the necropolis across the Nile, lay the ruins of Karnak. Begun by Senusret I, in 1971 BCE and expanded and rebuilt through the Ptolemaic era around 300 BCE, is the second largest ancient religious site (after Angor Wat, Cambodia,) in the world. Most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom 1550 - 1077 BCE.  The massive Hypostyle Hall with its 134 massive columns, as much as 21m tall and 3m in diameter topped by 70 ton architraves covered 5,000 m 2  and was literally awe inspiring. While exploring Karnak temple, we succumbed to the pleas of a small boy selling “antique” scarab beatles, hand carved from onyx. We bargained hard and purchased one for only 3 pounds ($6.75 Cad), further hard bargaining bought smaller, button sized scarabs for 50 piasters ($1.20 CAD). Later, another young boy offered me a nearly identical scarab. I told him that I already had one and showed it to him. “How much you pay?” he demanded. I told him 1 pound. He immediately responded, “OK 50 piastres.” Across the Nile from Karnak lay the City of the Dead and the Necropolis. The city of the dead contained the royal mortuary temples and housed the priests, soldiers, artisans, and labourers who supported them. The necropolis included the Valley of the Kings (tombs of the Pharaohs) and the Valley of the Queens (tombs of the wives and children of the Pharaohs). We consulted the concierge at the hotel about tours of the temples and tombs. He suggested that we hire a personal guide. There were so few tourists that we could get a personal guide for the cost of a tour. He contacted an Egyptian archaeology student who worked as a part-time tour guide to fund his post-graduate studies. We negotiated a one-day tour of the west bank (the city of the dead and the necropolis). The cost of the guide included ferry fare and bicycle rental for transportation. We visited the ruins of the city of the dead,  the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. Our guide spoke excellent English, was very knowledgeable, and loved sharing his knowledge. The temple of Hatshepsut, stripped of its original paint and ornamentation, was magnificent, but inside we saw a model of the original temple showing its exterior finish. Decorated in the fashion of the times, it was brightly, even garishly painted, as were the other temples and monuments when in use. As much as I regretted the damage done to the structures with looting and the passage of time, I preferred its present understated elegance. We visited Tutankamen’s tomb, famed as the only tomb not plundered in antiquity, but the treasure had been removed to the Cairo museum and we would have to wait until we returned to Cairo to see it. On our return to Cairo, we visited the museum only to discover that most of the best pieces were away on world tour. It was fifteen years before we finally had the chance to see the King Tut exhibit, in of all places, Seattle Washington, a three hour drive from home. An interesting aside to come from our tour of the tombs was an explanation of how the tombs had been lighted during their construction and decoration. Some author’s, anxious to support their theories for extraterrestrial visitations in earth’s pre history, used the construction and decoration of the pyramids and tombs as proof of technology beyond the capabilities of the humans of the time. A favorite example was the elaborate decoration of the interior of the tombs. These were pitch dark inside and yet there was no evidence of smoke or charcoal residue from the torches, candles, or lamps that would have been required to light the work. Our guide solved the problem with a mirror of polished copper and a piece of cardboard wrapped in tinfoil. The copper mirror was held at the entrance of the tomb to reflect a shaft of light into the tomb. Our guide then used the cardboard to reflect the shaft of light onto the walls. The light was bright enough for hand held photography.

Lessons Learned

We learned two very important lessons from our guide. The first explained the constant hassles we had been having with men grabbing and touching Barbara. We asked him why Egyptian men were so aggressive towards western women. He explained that it was not all western women, it was because of the way Barbara was dressed. She was wearing a floral jump suit, high-collared neck and covered to the ankles. We thought it pretty conservative, but her shoulders were bare and this was considered very risqué in Egypt. So risqué in fact, that men considered that she must be a prostitute. He offered this by way of explanation rather than excuse. Barbara changed to high-necked, long-sleeved blouses with a long skirt and the hassling virtually stopped. The second important lesson was that when we were with our guide, the faux-guides and souvenir sellers left us alone. When we were by ourselves, we were constantly being hassled. The solution was simple, when on our own we would hire a young guide. His instructions were that he was to keep the other faux-guides and souvenir sellers away from us, he was not to take us to any perfume parlors, antique stores, or carpet sellers, and in exchange, he would get a bonus if we had a peaceful day. We put the theory into practice the very next day as we toured Karnack temple. It worked marvellously. As soon as the souvenir sellers or faux guides broke cover, our young guide would rush toward them, yelling in Arabic, and the interlopers would return to cover.
Luxor (Ancient Thebes) Columns and architraves of teh hypostyle hall, Karnak. Karnak temple. Karnak temple. Photo taken by reflected light in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

 

Luxor

We arrived at Luxor in the morning and took a horse-drawn carriage to our hotel. It was late August, it was incredibly hot, and Luxor was virtually devoid of tourists. We checked into an old colonial style hotel. Liveried staff greeted us, delivered our luggage to our room, and departed before we had even finished registering. Large fans circling lazily below the high ceilings of the hotel disturbed the otherwise still air of the lobby. It was surprisingly cool despite the lack of air conditioning. The floors were polished marble; the doors and trim, rich, dark wood; the  stone walls were hung with historical oil paintings and tapestries, and the furnishings were large oversized wicker with brocade cushions. Our room, like the lobby, was large with a high ceiling and ceiling fan, its polished marble floor cool under our bare feet. Furnished with a large mahogany wardrobe, large wicker wing chairs, mahogany desk, and a large four-poster bed it had a faded opulence. Wooden, ceiling-high, louvered doors opened onto a shaded marble patio with wicker chairs and a wrought iron, glass- topped table. Meals were served on an open patio, shaded by a vine covered trellis. We sat at linen covered tables set with monogrammed silver and china. Flowers and fresh cut grass perfumed the air. Liveried waiters were friendly, efficient, and attentive to our every need. This was not our world of low budget travel, it was the world of the old British aristocracy transplanted to the outposts of empire. I felt an imposter, an actor in a melodrama, and I revelled in it. The only disappointment at the hotel occurred the next morning. Fresh baked rolls and bread, fresh melon, honeyed fruits, and the aroma of rich strong coffee welcomed us to breakfast. Sadly, what we took to be butter turned out to be unsalted lard and we spoiled our first rolls by spreading them with this unpleasant concoction. Butter would have completed the menu, but even with unbuttered rolls, the breakfast was delicious.

Temple Tours

North of Luxor, dominated by the ruins of the Great Temple to Amen-Re, facing the city of the dead and the necropolis across the Nile, lay the ruins of Karnak. Begun by Senusret I, in 1971 BCE and expanded and rebuilt through the Ptolemaic era around 300 BCE, is the second largest ancient religious site (after Angor Wat, Cambodia,) in the world. Most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom 1550 - 1077 BCE.  The massive Hypostyle Hall with its 134 massive columns, as much as 21m tall and 3m in diameter topped by 70 ton architraves covered 5,000 m 2  and was literally awe inspiring. While exploring Karnak temple, we succumbed to the pleas of a small boy selling “antique” scarab beatles, hand carved from onyx. We bargained hard and purchased one for only 3 pounds ($6.75 Cad), further hard bargaining bought smaller, button sized scarabs for 50 piasters ($1.20 CAD). Later, another young boy offered me a nearly identical scarab. I told him that I already had one and showed it to him. “How much you pay?” he demanded. I told him 1 pound. He immediately responded, “OK 50 piastres.” Across the Nile from Karnak lay the City of the Dead and the Necropolis. The city of the dead contained the royal mortuary temples and housed the priests, soldiers, artisans, and labourers who supported them. The necropolis included the Valley of the Kings (tombs of the Pharaohs) and the Valley of the Queens (tombs of the wives and children of the Pharaohs). We consulted the concierge at the hotel about tours of the temples and tombs. He suggested that we hire a personal guide. There were so few tourists that we could get a personal guide for the cost of a tour. He contacted an Egyptian archaeology student who worked as a part-time tour guide to fund his post-graduate studies. We negotiated a one-day tour of the west bank (the city of the dead and the necropolis). The cost of the guide included ferry fare and bicycle rental for transportation. We visited the ruins of the city of the dead,  the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. Our guide spoke excellent English, was very knowledgeable, and loved sharing his knowledge. The temple of Hatshepsut, stripped of its original paint and ornamentation, was magnificent, but inside we saw a model of the original temple showing its exterior finish. Decorated in the fashion of the times, it was brightly, even garishly painted, as were the other temples and monuments when in use. As much as I regretted the damage done to the structures with looting and the passage of time, I preferred its present understated elegance. We visited Tutankamen’s tomb, famed as the only tomb not plundered in antiquity, but the treasure had been removed to the Cairo museum and we would have to wait until we returned to Cairo to see it. On our return to Cairo, we visited the museum only to discover that most of the best pieces were away on world tour. It was fifteen years before we finally had the chance to see the King Tut exhibit, in of all places, Seattle Washington, a three hour drive from home. An interesting aside to come from our tour of the tombs was an explanation of how the tombs had been lighted during their construction and decoration. Some author’s, anxious to support their theories for extraterrestrial visitations in earth’s pre history, used the construction and decoration of the pyramids and tombs as proof of technology beyond the capabilities of the humans of the time. A favorite example was the elaborate decoration of the interior of the tombs. These were pitch dark inside and yet there was no evidence of smoke or charcoal residue from the torches, candles, or lamps that would have been required to light the work. Our guide solved the problem with a mirror of polished copper and a piece of cardboard wrapped in tinfoil. The copper mirror was held at the entrance of the tomb to reflect a shaft of light into the tomb. Our guide then used the cardboard to reflect the shaft of light onto the walls. The light was bright enough for hand held photography.

Lessons Learned

We learned two very important lessons from our guide. The first explained the constant hassles we had been having with men grabbing and touching Barbara. We asked him why Egyptian men were so aggressive towards western women. He explained that it was not all western women, it was because of the way Barbara was dressed. She was wearing a floral jump suit, high-collared neck and covered to the ankles. We thought it pretty conservative, but her shoulders were bare and this was considered very risqué in Egypt. So risqué in fact, that men considered that she must be a prostitute. He offered this by way of explanation rather than excuse. Barbara changed to high-necked, long- sleeved blouses with a long skirt and the hassling virtually stopped. The second important lesson was that when we were with our guide, the faux-guides and souvenir sellers left us alone. When we were by ourselves, we were constantly being hassled. The solution was simple, when on our own we would hire a young guide. His instructions were that he was to keep the other faux-guides and souvenir sellers away from us, he was not to take us to any perfume parlors, antique stores, or carpet sellers, and in exchange, he would get a bonus if we had a peaceful day. We put the theory into practice the very next day as we toured Karnack temple. It worked marvellously. As soon as the souvenir sellers or faux guides broke cover, our young guide would rush toward them, yelling in Arabic, and the interlopers would return to cover.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Luxor (Ancient Thebes) Columns and architraves of the hypostyle hall, Karnak. Karnak temple. Karnak temple. Photo taken by reflected light in Tutankhamun’s tomb.