2015 Egypt Trip: Day 5 Part 2 – Temple of Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple

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Temple of Hatshepsut

Once we concluded our tour in Madinat Habu, we moved northwardly to the two most important historical sites: Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings.

Luxor and its famous landmarks
Luxor and its famous landmarks

TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT

Along the way we passed by Qurna Village -an old-fashioned, brightly painted mud-brick houses village sitting on top of suspected ancient tombs – and the Tombs of the Nobles.

Our guide, jokingly said to us that many would say ‘hot chicken soup’ in lieu of Hatshepsut, owing to the difficulty to spell it.  Anyway. Queen Hatshepsut is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs. This mortuary temple is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and is located next to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II.  Unfortunately, the temple was the site of the massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, by extremists that took place in 1997.

What we see today is basically a reconstruction of the temple (that was started in the early 20th century).

The superbly detailed relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh – the first of its kind. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast. Interestingly enough there is a tree in front of Hatshepsut’s temple, claimed to have been brought from Punt by Hatshepsut’s Expedition which is depicted on the Temple walls.

Unfortunately many of the statues and ornamentation have since been stolen or destroyed, at order of Hatshepsut’s stepson Thutmose III after her death.

In later time, the temple became a Christian monastery and therefore it bears its alternative name, Deir el-Bahari (Northern Monastery)

The temple was built into towering pink cliffs back-to-back with the Valley of the Kings, behind the Theban hills. The entrance to the temple complex is quite far so use the train provided especially if you visit the place during hot weather.

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Temple of Hatshepsut and its towering pink cliffs
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What we see today is a reconstructed temple
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The tree brought from Punt by Hatshepsut’s expedition
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View towards the river Nile
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Some of the preserved decorated walls. Seen here Anubis – a jackal-headed god
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Some images of Hatshepsut were destroyed by her successors
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Hatshepsut
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Look at the rich colored walls and roof
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This is the shuttle train…
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Looking faraway imagining what life looked like centuries years back
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Rows of columns and statues at the Temple of Hatshepsut

ALABASTER FACTORY

After Hatshepsut tour our guide took us to an alabaster factory, run by Luxor villagers.

We noticed that he was welcome here and got free tea and cigarettes. I believe that tour guides definitely get commission here, which in turn means higher prices for you.

In this factory, they do a fake demonstration in front of you,  a guy grinding alabaster the old fashion way , serve a hot tea (to prolong your sipping time) and to increase your guilt level). They said that there is no obligatory purchase here etc.

We did buy here, at half the price originally offered (fortunately not much) but it is still 2-3 times much more expensive than the same stuff we later noticed in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili.

We also bought 3 pieces fridge magnets in one of the shops in Karnak Temple and again it’s 2-3 times more expensive. Remember Luxor is much dependent on tourist industry (especially in this climate of low tourist) and that this is just business. As one of the tripadvisor member has said: “I feel deep sympathy for the people of Luxor, their desperation is clear for everyone to see. But their way of dealing with the lack of income is counterproductive, and makes things much worse”

So avoid these similar places (perfume factory, papyrus museum, carpet factory or alabaster factory) if you can, or unless you are pre-equipped with high haggling skills, resist guilt level and know the prices.

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One of the Luxor Alabaster Factory
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Inside of the alabaster factory
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Grinding alabaster the old fashioned way

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THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS

The Valley of the Kings is a valley where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. At first glance there seems to be nothing to see in the valley, hidden behind the Theban hills; if not because of modern day pathways to access the tombs, the area looks lifeless. Towering above the Valley is a mountain, whose shape may have reminded the ancient Egyptians of a pyramid.

The tombs are tunnelled deep into the hillside (some reach hundreds of meters). There are 62 numbered tombs (by initial KV) in the Valley , ranging from a simple pit (KV 54) to a tomb with over 121 chambers and corridors (KV 5). Most were found already looted and ravaged.

Unlike the West Valley, the East Valley contains most of the tombs and is the most commonly visited by tourists.

Tourist access to the Valley is through a single gate entrance complex where a simple information hall, tourist market and ticketing office are clustered. The ticket is valid only for 3 tombs; a tomb keeper would punch your ticket against the access. So please go pre-armed with information on which tombs are found to be most interesting. No camera is allowed inside the tomb; I’ve seen at least two occasions were tourists caught by the guard for taking pictures. Please be aware that some tombs may be closed for preservation precautions.

Unfortunately, although it is almost a compulsory stop on most organized tours and the best-known of all tombs, tomb of Tutankhamun is an anti-climax. A separate ticket is to be bought for Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Check Theban Maping Projects for a detailed description, images, and map/plan of every single tomb in this valley:

Tombs Map & Plan (http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/sites/)

Our guide selected for us three tombs he thought of most interesting, and now  pity I can’t really remember except two and that I found it worth visiting: KV 14 (Tomb of Tausert and Setnakht) and KV 17 (Tomb of Seti I). The other most interesting tomb is KV 9 (Tomb of Rameses V and VI).

  • KV 14: a joint tomb; a joint tomb, used originally by Tausert and then reused and extended by Setnakht. It has two burial chambers, the later extensions making the tomb one of the largest of the Royal Tombs, at over 112 metres.
  • KV17: is one of the best decorated tombs in the valley, but now is almost always closed to the public due to damage. The longest tomb in the valley, at 137.19 metres.
  • KV 9: Ramses VI took over the unfinished tomb of his predecessor, so he was getting a head start in construction of his own. Reaches 83m into the hillside and its wall richly decorated with complex illustration of the Book of the Dead ( a kind of guide to the afterlife)

Note:

We visited in April and it got very hot in the Valley. Do bring hat, umbrella, sunglasses and water. They provide several shades though.

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Amid hot weather enjoying a visit to the Valley of the Kings
Tombs of Towsert and Sethnakht
Tombs of Tausert and Sethnakht with its descending corridor and nice murals (Source: Wikipedia)
Tomb of Seti I (Wikipedia)
Tomb of Seti I depicting the Book of the Dead, a kind of guide to the afterlife (Wikipedia)
Tomb of Ramses VI
Tomb of Ramses VI

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Once we finished our business in the West Bank, our last stop would be Karnak Temple on the East Bank. We opted to take a lunch break and start the tour at 3pm to catch up our flight back to Cairo at 6pm and to avoid sunblasting walking tour in the temple

Fortunately enough Nefertiti Hotel allowed us to use one of the rooms to take a rest.

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KARNAK TEMPLE

It is worth visiting Karnak twice: once in the evening for the excellent Sound and Light Show, and second time during the day when we can see the vast scope of the complex and look at its detailed inscriptions, reliefs or murals.

Entrance is by a processional avenue guarded by ram-headed sphinxes which leading to the first pylon and then the Great Court.

Two granite colossi of Ramses II guard the second pylon, leading to the Great Hypostyle Hall, famous for its 134 gigantic columns (with diameter up to 3 meters and 10 meters high). Further ahead are more pylons gateways leading to the oldest section of the complex. The most striking feature is the 29m Obelisk of Hatshepsut (one of the three remaining obelisks in the entire Egypt).

The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued through to Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere.

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Visit to Karnak concluded our one-day visit to this largest open-air museum. We’re lucky enough to visit Luxor, and still amazed on the level of architectural feats of the Ancient Egypt. To me, Luxor is a must visit. Keeping all those tourist traps and hassles, a tour to these historical sites will definitely be an eye opening experience.

Thanks to Nefertiti Hotel and Aladdin Tour for their excellent service, knowledgable guide, and hospitality!

BTW, Luxor Airport has a very nice facade. Don’t miss it.

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Western tourists still visiting Karnak Temple although the numbers are far less than before the Revolution
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Avenue of ram-headed sphinxes that lead to the first pylon of Karnak Temple
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The Second Pylon past the Great Court
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Statue of Ramses II
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Columns in the Hypostyle Hall
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This used to be covered by a roof
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Some columns measure up to 3 m in diameter
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Obelisk of Hatshepsut

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