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Aswan was source of granite stone that Pharaohs favoured for building temples and other monuments. The Northern Quarries are site of giant Unfinished Obelisk. Had obelisk been successfully completed, it would be single heaviest piece of monolithic stonework -reaching about 42 m and weiging over 1168 tonnes. It must have broken hearts of builders, who supposedly abandoned it, after coming across defects in rock formation.
The next stop on cruise is Kom Ombo, 48 km to north of Aswan. The main attraction here is Graeco-Roman temple. Work on temple was started by Ptolemy VII in early second century BC and continued by some of his successors. The Romans Emperor Augustus built part of temple at around 30 BC. The Temple of Kom Ombo actually consists of two separate temples, each with its own entrance, colonnades, hypostyle hall and sanctuary. The southern temple is dedicated to Sobek -the crocodile god, while northern one honours Horus -the falcon god.
Though two gods shared same grounds, in mythology, Sobek was associated with god Seth, an enemy of Horus. At Kom Ombo, gods took liberty to bring along family - Sobek sneaked in his consort Hathor and son Khonsu, while Horus had his wife Tesentnefert and son, Panebtawy. If you have not seen mummies before, be sure to see mummified crocodiles in Sobek part of temple.
At Edfu, you disembark to see Temple of Horus. Edfu was cult centre of Horus falcon god. It is perhaps best preserved of ancient temples of Egypt. The temple standing today was started by Ptolemy III at about 237 BC on site of an earlier Pharaonic structure. Work continued under some of Ptolemies that followed. Appropriately, entrance adorned by two majestic granite falcons. The walls bear reliefs depicting Horus. One scene would please any tyrant -it shows Ptolemy XII dealing mercilessly with his enemies.
You next stop and highlight of cruise is Luxor. The range, magnificence and diversity of monuments in Luxor area is unsurpassed in all of Egypt. Known to Greeks as Thebes, Luxor became capital of Egypt at around 2040 BC. The city survived sacking by Assyrians in 7th century BC, but steadily declined, and was finally destroyed by Romans in first century BC. Among celebrated monuments dating from Luxor's heydays are necropolis complexes at Valley of Kings, Valley of Queens and Tombs of Nobles. You will also come across some outstanding temples scattered in region.
The Egyptians buried their dead in direction of setting sun and west bank at Luxor was final resting place of royalty and high officials. The Valley of Kings is where rulers of period historians refer to as New Kingdom period (BC 1550-1070) awaited afterlife. The Pharaoh normally picked spot for his tomb and had it built in his lifetime. Tomb building for royalty and high officials was very serious business and it supported a battery of architects and craftsmen, who had a settlement in valley. The valley contains over 60 tombs that have so far been excavated.
The tombs have suffered in recent years due to increased number of visitors, pollution and rising ground water that has come with Aswan High Dam. For this reason, not all of them are open to public at any one time. Unless you are a scholar, visiting three or four tombs should be sufficient. Among best tombs are those of Ramses I, Tuthmosis III and Ramses VI. Tutankhamun's is today most famous - though he is not considered a significant Pharaoh and he died at only nineteen.
Treasure hunters had over years looted most tombs in valley. But Howard Carter, British archeologist, discovered Tutankhamun's tomb almost intact in 1922. The treasure that was found here is truly amazing- statues, chests, chariots, beds, weapons, and many items he needed for afterlife. The main item today at Tutankhamun's tomb is his mummy. About 1700 items recovered at tomb are now at display at Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The most outstanding of collection is 11 kg solid gold death mask. Imagine then, what looters carried off from bigger tombs of more illustrious Pharaohs!
On other side of Valley of Kings is Temple of Deir el-Bahri, built by Queen Hatshepsut. Hatseput. The temple is very impressive from a distance and is a great place to take photos. The name Valley of Queens is misleading, as both male and female royals and some high officials were interred here. About 80 tombs have been identified, of which most famous is that of Queen Nefertari. Take more photos at Colossi of Memnon -two huge statues that are sole legacy of temple of Amenhotep III.
Amenhotep III also built Temple of Luxor on east bank. The temple was dedicated to god Amon, though inside you also find a shrine dedicated to Alexander Great. The temple's entrance is lined with Sphinxes, and inside you find colonnades, courts, obelisks and wall murals. The mosque of Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built on top of part of temple. You can also visit Luxor Museum, which has interesting exhibits from area.
The incredibly impressive Temple of Karnak is a huge complex that was dedicated to god Amon. In New Kingdom period, this was most important temple is Egypt. It is probably largest religious building ever and it can carry no less than 10 average Christian cathedrals. Some of interesting structures within complex are gigantic hypostyle hall, Kiosk of Tarhaka, statue of Ramses II, temple of Ramses III and sacred lake.
The best time to take a Nile cruise is over cooler months of November - March. These are also peak months and to avoid crowds, always start out early each day. October, at end hot season is tolerable, especially when you factor in that it falls with off-season period: it is cheaper ad less crowded. When visiting monuments, you are advised to hire a guide who will explain historical context at each site. If you are on a Nile Cruise package, services of a guide will usually be included.
You do a lot of walking, and you need to bring along suitable shoes. Other items you ware encouraged to pack are: sunglasses and sun screen lotion. Remember also to carry bottled water and photographic film, which you can buy at cruiser or at a bazaar. Light clothing is generally recommended though you may need a sweater and jacket for winter evenings.
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