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Thursday, April 24, 2014

THE CROCODILE TEMPLE AT KOM OMBO


Getting ready for another exciting tour!
 
Our next archaeological destination was the ancient site of Kom Ombo.

Kom Ombo was situated at an important crossroads between the caravan route from Nubia and routes from the gold mines in the eastern desert. At one time, during the reign of Ptolemy VI (180-145 BC) it was a training depot for African war elephants.

Kom Ombo
Today Kom Ombo is the home of many Nubians who were displaced after the Aswan Dam flooded their lands. They now work in the tourism industry or the sugar cane fields on the river banks. There are also felucca-building yards at Edfu and many Nubians are helmsmen on the river boats.
 

On our way to Kom Ombo we passed by the Colossi of Memnon, two giant monoliths that stand by the road guarding the Theban Necropolis all that remains of a temple built by Amenophis II about 2400 years ago.
The Collosi of Thebes
 
 

 

We entered the temple complex through the remains of the monumental Gate of Neos Dionysos.  Much of the temple has been washed away by Nile floods so only low walls and stumps of pillars in the forecourt remain.  But in the beautiful Outer Hypostyle Hall there are fifteen sturdy columns still standing, with decorated cornices and carved winged sun disks.  The papyrus is the symbol of the Nile Delta and the bases of these columns are carved with the heraldic lily of Upper Egypt and the papyrus.

Temple Column

Me at the Temple of Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo Temple is an usual double temple built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, with later additions by the Romans. It has courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods. The right side is dedicated to Sobek-Re (the crocodile god combined with the sun god Re) along with his wife and their son. Sobek is associated with Seth, the murderer of Osiris and enemy of Horus. In the myth, Seth changed himself into a crocodile to escape. The Egyptians believed if they honored the crocodile as a god they would be safe from attacks by the ferocious creatures.
Nubians
The left side of the temple is dedicated to the falcon god Haroeris “The Good Doctor” (Horus the Elder) along with his consort Ta-Sent-Nefer,“the Good Sister” (another form of Hathor) and Panebtawy, Lord of the Two Lands.
Hanan explains the heiroglyphics to Linda 



Our Egyptologist guide, Hanan, made the tour through the temples interesting by telling the stories etched in the hieroglyphs. There is a relief of Sobek in his snake form on one wall and another shows Ptolemy II making offerings to various gods. The scene on the face of the rear wall was interesting as it may have represented a set of surgical instruments.
 
 
As we had sailed down the Nile, of course I didn't see any crocodiles – until we reached Kom Ombo and there, to my surprise, was a whole temple full of them! They were mummified, of course, but pretty lethal looking just the same!
Mummified Crocodiles

In ancient times, this part of the Nile was known for the crocodiles that basked in the sun posing a threat to the locals. This is likely why one of the temples at Kom Ombo is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god.


After this interesting tour, we returned to the boat and lounged on the deck for a while before heading off for EDFU. 



 
 Linda, Yves and me relaxing on deck
 

 
By Horse and Carriage to Edfu
 
Edfu



Edfu is a small city located on the west bank of the Nile River north of Aswan. This time we were transported by horse and carriage which made it a unique and extra fun experience.  We were swarmed by Nubian souvenier-sellers but politely declined their wares. One young boy caught my attention though. As charming as could be, he kept saying to me “You have a lovely smile, lady! Smile again!” Of course he wanted me to buy some trinkets, and eventually I just couldn’t resist his charm!

The Carriage Ride
 

The cute souvenier seller

The Edfu site has provided archaeologists with more information than many others, dating from as far back as the Predynastic Period right until the Byzantine era. Edfu was the capital of that area of Upper Egypt and one of the few settlements that thrived when others were in decline.
 


The Temple in Edfu is located on the west bank of the Nile which was known in Greco-Roman times as Apollonopolis Magna, after the chief god,  Horus-Opollo. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. It was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 – 57 BC and dedicated to the falcon god Horus.

Because the temple is so well preserved it is a frequent stop for many of the river cruises and tour groups. The day we were there though there were few others,  one of the significant examples of how the tourism in Egypt has suffered in the last two years.

The temple of Edfu is the largest temple dedicated to the gods Horus and Hathor and was the centre of sacred festivals to honour the gods’ sacred marriage. The ancient Egyptians believed that each year Hathor travelled south from her temple at Denderah to visit Horus at Edfu. It was an important festival  and pilgrimage.
 
Me and Horus

What makes this temple unique are the inscriptions on the iwalls which provide important information on language, myth and religion during that period in ancient Egypt. The most unique thing is the inscribed building texts that provide details of the temple’s construction and information about the mythical interpretations.



Hanan pointed out the important scenes and inscription that told the age-old conflict between Horus and Seth. (Seth was the god who killed Horus’ father, his own brother Osiris).

It was such an intense and interesting day of touring that when we got back to the ship in the evening none of us had the energy to join in a “Gallabia Party”.  I peeked in to see though. Everyone was dressed in Egyptian costumes and having a great time dancing to Egyptian music. I kind of wished I’d had the energy to attend as it looked like everyone was having a lot of fun.  But we needed a good night’s sleep because the next day we were headed for Luxor and the Valley of the Kings!
The Egyptian Party
 


Nile Sunset



NEXT: THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS AND THE AMAZING TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT

Friday, April 18, 2014

SAILING DOWN THE NILE







 If you’ve never been on a Nile River cruise, I suggest you mark this on your ‘bucket list’. It was something I’d always wanted to do, though I’d often visualized myself on one of the Nile sailboats called a felucca. However, fortune had it that I was invited on a tour of Egypt that included a Nile cruise. 
 
The Sonesta Star Goddess
We boarded our river boat, The Sonesta Star Goddess, at Aswan. We were greeted at the gangway by the crew dressed in navy middies, and escorted into the elegant lounge where we were offered warm scented cloths to refresh our faces and hands, and a drink of citrus juice.  After having traveled by plane and van for many hours, this was indeed a welcoming! Then we were shown to our suites.
 
The Crew


The lounge
 




The cruise ship has 33 suites. Mine was a two-room suite with all the amenities and a small balcony overlooking the river.

 


After we were settled  we were invited for cocktails on the deck and given a tour of the ship. There’s everything a larger cruise ship might have including a spa, exercise room, dining room, bar where there is evening entertainment, various small shops. On the top deck there’s a swimming pool, hot tub, bar and lounge area where you can sit and watch the river slide by.




Sonesta’s fleet of five Nile River cruise ships offer 3-, 4-, and 7-night trips between Aswan and Luxor. http://www.sonesta.com/nilecruises/

I’d had no idea that the Nile River was quite as wide or as beautiful as it actually is. It’s the world’s longest river, flowing approximate 4665 miles out of the heart of Africa, northward to the Mediterranean Sea. There are two sources: The White Niles from equatorial Africa and the White Nile from the Abyssinian highlands. The cataracts, a progression of white rapids form the southern border of Egypt at Sudan. The First Cataract is at Aswan.
 
 
 

 
We traveled north from Aswan to Luxor on our three-day voyage, stopping each day to visit archaeological sites. Usually we set sail in the late afternoon, sailing during the evening and early morning. It was remarkable how quiet it was, as if the ship was sliding with the current, the pastoral shores slipping by like a silent movie.
Nile Sunset

Past Aswan, at Edfu, the great Nile Valley begins. Limestone cliffs run parallel along the shore for more than 400 miles, sometimes stretched toward the desert. These cliffs reach heights of 800 feet in some places with mesas and plateaus. The cliffs on the west are like sentinels standing before the Libyan Desert, and on the east they withdraw into the Arabian or Red Sea Deserts. At the delta in Lower Egypt, it fans out with seven major tributaries into the Mediterranean Sea.


For some reason a children’s song kept running through my head as I sat on the deck watching the river flow by:

Oh she
sailed away on a
pleasant summer's day
on the back of a crocodile.

You see, said she, "He's as
tame as he can be, I'll
float him down the Nile."

But the
croc' winked his eye as she
waved to all good-bye,
wearing a sunny smile.

At the
end of the ride the
lady was inside, and the
smile on the croc-o-dile!

But it seems there are no crocodiles lurking that part of the Nile now. Since the building of the Aswan Dam in 1960 they all reside on the south side of Lake Nasser, in the White Nile. However, I’d learn later that there is a crocodile museum at Kom Obo.
I was also reminded of Agatha Christie's book Death on the Nile and a friend pointed one out that would have been just the kind of Nile boat (a felucca) that Christie wrote about.
 

 
My travel friends and I enjoyed lounging on the upper deck in the warm March sunshine, watching the shoreline slip by. The river’s annual floods deposit fertile soil along its banks so the Nile sustains a variety of fish and fowl. In the reedy marshes egrets, ducks and geese nest. The Nile was known to nurture the sacred lotus, reeds and papyrus plants that were later used for writing on. The ancient Egyptians called the river  the “Father of Life” or “Mother of all men”.
 
Markos, Linda and Yves enjoy a relaxing afternoon

There is always a parade of farmers leading donkeys laden with produce or cut suger-cane and reed, boys on ponies walking along the river bank under the palms. People toil in fields, and there are herds of goats and cattle grazing near the shore.  The name of the river is Greek in origin, a version of the Semetic word “Nakhal”. The ancient Egyptians called it Hap-Ur or Great Hap. The river was the manifest of the god Hapi, a divine spirit that blessed the land with rich silt deposits. The Nile is Egypt’s life-blood.



These days, with tourism at a low ebb, there are few boats operating on the river. Out of more than 229 ships, there are currently only 24 operating on the river.  They provide an opportunity for guided excursion to explore the historic landmarks along the river: temples, tombs and ruins, with Egyptologist escorts. And there are plenty of leisure activities on board.
 
One day the Sonesta operations manager, Mr. Ahmed Tawfick, invited us to tour the kitchens and wheel room. We had been enjoying such amazing gourmet meals it was fun to go into the kitchen to meet the head chef and other staff who daily prepared our delicious meals.
 

 

In the wheel room we watched the pilot skillfully navigate the ship up the river. Mr Tawfick explained that there are only three families who are, by tradition, pilots of the Nile cruises and this man has been at the helm for 40 years.
 


Every night there was entertainment in the bar lounge. The first night was our Captain’s cocktail dinner. The next night was a ‘Gallabria Party’ where passengers dressed in Egyptian costumes and danced to Egyptian music. The third night was a belly dance show with the most amazing dervish who whirled dizzily in colourful skirts.
whirling dervish

On the morning of the fourth day we met in the lobby and prepared to disembark for our cross-country tour van trip through the desert to the Red Sea. I felt sad about leaving the ship after such a welcoming and relaxing cruise. But there were lots more adventures waiting at the Red Sea!
Sonesta’s fleet of five Nile River cruise ships offer 3-, 4-,and 7-night trips between Aswan and Luxor. http://www.sonesta.com/nilecruises/

 

NEXT: DAY 1 OF THE CRUISE WE STOP AT EDFU AND KOM OMBO