Egypt is where history first emerged. It is here that we have first pictographic record of events and persons. hieroglyphics, system of writing used by ancient Egyptians can be traced back to about 3200 BC. At about 3180 BC nations of Upper and Lower Egypt were brought under rule of a single king titled Pharaoh. The first Pharaoh is thought to have been Menes, who set his capital at Memphis, 22 km south of Giza in today's Cairo. The Pharaohs established systems that brought forth highly successful Egyptian civilization.
The history of Ancient Egypt lasted for about 3,000 years. Ancient Egypt declined, was overrun and thereafter ruled by foreign powers. The Greeks and Romans who ruled after decline were aware of great similarity between their own gods and those of Egyptians. They not only tolerated Egyptian religion, but also expanded existing temples and dedicated new ones to existing cults. Some of new overlords, Alexander Great for example, styled themselves as divine priest-kings in imitation of Pharaohs.
Emperor Theodosius, who reigned after Christianity became state religion in Rome, extinguished last remnants of living culture. The Egyptians worshipped hundreds of gods - a great offense against monotheistic religions; whose first article of faith is that there is only one God. Theodosius decreed in AD 391that all pagan temples in Roman Empire be closed. The Arabs, who brought Islam to Egypt in 640 AD, also had no time for deities such as Anubis jackal, Horus falcon god or even Amon king of gods.
Ancient Egypt was dead for one thousand five hundred years, until French came across Rosetta Stone in nineteenth century invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. This priceless discovery was inscribed in both Greek and Egyptian, and it was key that allowed deciphering of Hieroglyphics by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822. The voluminous literature produced by Ancient Egyptians was now accessible to curious scholars. This rekindled great interest in Ancient Egypt in West that remains undiminished to this day.
Religion is common theme running through attractions of ancient Egypt. The diversity of gods found worthy of worship is astounding. There were over 2,000 of them of either sex and they supposedly manifested themselves to earthlings as animals. There were overlaps and same gods could be known with different names in various parts of country. There was hardly any part of life experience that was not assigned a deity- digestion, mummification, sexuality, feasting, childbirth, writing - you name it. Some gods came and went out of fashion, but those connected with basic aspects of life were enduring. Such deities had cults and temples dedicated to them.
The afterlife was taken very seriously, and a lot of monuments relate to preparation for that glorious time. Mortuary and burial preparation was so elaborate as to ensure a painless and enjoyable afterlife. The custom of mummification, for example, was seen as necessary for soul needed a physical body to occupy in other world. There was however great inequality in preparation for eternal life. The Pharaohs and other royals, nobles and key officials were mummified and accompanied by grave goods and great treasure. The common folk who could not afford full treatment had to do with statuettes of mummies.
The main draw to Egypt is legacy of Pharaohs and Greeks and Romans who ruled after them. Basically this legacy is associated with temples, tombs and burial places. People in Egypt from earliest times to present have always lived along River Nile and this is where you find richest harvest of ancient monuments. As many travelers will testify, best way to experience classical Egypt is by taking a Nile cruise. The cruise is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get close to attractions of antiquity, most of which are not far off from banks of river. You also get a glimpse of rural Egypt where many eke out a living just as their forbearers did thousands of years ago.
The typical Nile cruiser is really a floating hotel. Amenities on board will include lounges, restaurants, bars, swimming pool, discotheque and shops. The rooms are rather smaller than those of a land based hotels but will have air conditioning, TV and enough room for twin beds, private shower, nightstand and dresser. The quality of cruisers varies and they are graded with stars just like hotels. Top end cruisers have spacious suites and amenities almost equal to those of ocean cruisers. Generally, quality and romance of Nile cruisers surpasses other riverboats anywhere else in world.
Nile cruises normally take three, four or seven nights. You will be able to see most important and interesting monuments on shorter and more popular cruises that ply between Luxor and Aswan. The longer sail takes you up to Dendera. The boats sail both downstream and upstream and on shorter cruises, you can embark at either Aswan or Luxor. The more adventurous travelers or those on a tight budget avoid luxury cruisers in favour of fellucas- traditional Nile sailboats. Though amenities onboard fellucas are very basic, those who can survive them, visit all attractions along Nile at a fraction of cost of cruisers.
At Aswan, Nile is deep, calm and is at its most glorious. It is a good place to embark on your Nile cruise. Aswan was for long Egypt's southern frontier city and its gateway to Africa. This was region known as Upper Egypt, being upstream of Nile. After Aswan, Nile passes through a section of hard rock, resulting in rapids or cataracts. Thus by nature did Aswan attain its strategic position and it has served as a garrison town for those who have ruled Egypt over centuries. And for this reason, there are monuments here associated with Pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Christian Copts and Islam.
At Aswan, make sure to visit Philae Temple. Ptolemy II started temple when Greeks ruled, and Romans completed it. It was dedicated to goddess Isis, an important figure in Egyptian mythology that was worshipped across Roman Empire. Even after Emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan temples to cease operations, Isis was still being glorified at Philae, until about AD 550 when Emperor Justinian finally shut down temple. The early Christians converted temple's hypostyle hall into a chapel. For good measure, they defaced some of pagan reliefs adorning its walls.
The temple forms an excellent backdrop for nightly sound-and-light show. The temple was nearly lost after Aswan High Dam was commissioned in 1960's. It took UNESCO and Egyptian government ten years to move it, one stone at a time, to higher ground on Agilka Island. Most people also visit Elephantine Island, which has temples and a museum. The Island has been inhabited since about 3000 BC and was an important trading and cultural centre.
Aswan is home of Nubians, a dark skinned people, related to people of north of Sudan. You can see some Nubian villages at Elephantine Island. The Nubian museum celebrates Nubian culture right from prehistoric times. Aswan was once an important centre for Christian Copts. You can see ruins of once majestic Monastery of St Simeon, which was destroyed by conqueror Saladin (Salah ad-Din) in 1173 AD.