Monday, April 04, 2016

Luxor - East Bank

Luxor (also known as Thebes) is an ancient city in Egypt where many monuments and temples can be found. It's divided into East and West by the Nile River. What's really interesting is that Egyptian mythology influence the development and planning of these amazing structures such that the East Bank is to celebrate the living, and the West Bank is to celebrate the afterlife. Here's a preview of what we saw today:
Photo: Entering Karnak Temple
Temple of Ramses II
Carriage Ride through Luxor
And during our tour, something happened that almost stopped our cruise before it even really started.
But let me back up a bit. We woke up early in the morning for our flight from Cairo to Luxor. We met our tour guide in the airport, and he helped us make sure that our bags were on the ride tour bus headed to our boat. There are several cruise operators that use the same land transportation company, and we wanted to make sure that our stuff was going with us. On the road to the boat, we passed a donkey driver on smartphone going into oncoming traffic. That's a pretty good representation of what our expectations for the area were. One thing we didn't expect to see were trucks loaded full with sugar cane or alfalfa.
Check out that ass!
Haaaaaayyyyyyy!!!!!!
It's hard not to notice all of the unfinished houses in the area. I really like their use of colored bricks as pattern material. As it turns out, they leave them unfinished so that they can add on in the future. like their kid will grow up, get married, and move into the upstairs floor that doesn't exist just yet.

We boarded our boat, The Sonesta St George, via other boat. It was kinda weird to walk through their lobby, but I think we got the better boat. While we were waiting for the tour bus, I learned that the ancient Egyptians named Thebes after the female hippopotamus goddess Taurt. I'm hoping we see some, but I'm not counting on it.
Wait, shouldn't the fresh fruit be going on to the boat?

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Karnak Temple complex
As I mentioned at the top of this post, for the ancient Egyptians, the East represents Life and the West represents the afterlife. We're on the East Bank today, but we'll visit Luxor's West Bank tomorrow. The first stop of the tour is the Karnak Temple Complex. The complex is a vast open-air museum, and may be the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia. It is believed to be the second most visited historical site in Egypt; only the Giza Pyramids near Cairo receive more visits.
Even the model of the Karnak Temple Complex is huge
Karnak Temple Complex entrance
Our guide told us that thematically, Karnak is designed around several symbols. One is that the the main path is like the Nile, with taller columns "blooming" closer to the Nile. Also, he described that the Ankh (Key of the Nile) conceptualizes the Nile: If your represent the Nile as a line that runs up to meet the delta (represented as a loop) and then draw a line horizontally at where the Nile meets the Delta (which is basically at Cairo), you've got yourself an Ankh. Maybe that's over-thinking it, but I can see the logic.


One of the common statue positions is the Osarian position. It's basically how they represent the dead by crossing their arms. I didn't know there was a name for that pose, did you?
It was about this time that I  noticed that we had armed escort. How did I know? Well, the barrel and stock of his sub-machine gun were peeking out from vest and he also had a magazine pouch on his belt. While that seemed a little out of the ordinary, I figured it was just something the tour company did to address their clients concerns on safety.

Our older daughter made a friend in our tour group that you'll see in some of our photos. Our younger daughter, on the other hand, played in sand at nearly every site we stopped at. Maybe she's a future archaeologist?

Remember how I said the path was like following the Nile? Here, the columns represent the papyrus plant. The ones "in bloom" are near and blooming, not so much for the ones farther away.

"Far from Nile", Papyrus is not in bloom
"On the Nile", Papyrus in bloom
I don't think that my photos really capture how amazingly colorful and detailed these carvings are. And Karnak was where 32 Pharoahs added their own mark, each trying to be more grand than the last guy. So, yeah, that will lead to some pretty impressive stuff.

At Karnak, there is a sacred lake. The associated myth is that a sacred goose would lay an egg at the lake and that was the dawn of creation. So, of course, there would be some Miss Eco Universe beauty pagent contestants taking selfies there. Their tour group all wore pink shirts.
Obelisks were used to signify temples, but most of the Karnak obelisks were taken by Romans. They only took 6 months to carve and transport. Later in the cruise, we got to visit the site of an enormous, unfinished obelisk in Aswan

Now, have you asked yourself how did they build these structures without modern equipment? Well, they made mud slopes to get block high. You can still see where some of them were being used when construction stopped.
If you're interested, Egypt VR has an awesome 3D experience of the Karnak Temples:

and
After Karnak, we got on the bus and went to see a temple that, unlike Karnak, was dedicated to just one pharaoh: Ramses II.

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Luxor Temple - Ramses II
As you can see from the photo, the sun was just starting to get low. But that also means that this was the "golden hour" to visit the temple of Ramses II in Luxor.
The Obelisk here in Luxor is actually associated with the one at Place de la Concorde in Paris, which has a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. The one in France was one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. In the 1990s, President Fran├žois Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.
 Also, the Luxor Temple has a Mosque built on top of it, when the Temple was still buried under sand. The mosque is still operating, they just moved entrance because that first step is a doozy.
But wait, there's mone! Temple was also used by Christians, who put a mural on plaster over hieroglyphics. You can just barely make them out on the left side of this photo:
Throughout the temple, there are four races depicted: Egyptians, Hittites (Syrian, depicted with beards), Nubian (traditional African features), and Greek.


Remember how the "death pose" with crossed arms is called the Osarian position? The "living pose" is the one with a leg forward. Fun fact: Many of the statues here were literally defaced by the pharaohs that succeeded Ramses II.
 There are three styles of of columns in Egyptian architecture, one for each of their three seasons: flood, grow, harvest.
I believe these are the "growth" style

These are the remnants of Sphinx boulevard
As it happens, Egypt VR also has an awesome 3D experience of the Luxor Temple very similar to the photos I took. If you want the 360 immersion, click these links:

and
After the Temple of Ramses II, we took an optional excursion ride by horse-drawn carriage through Luxor.
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Luxor city tour by carriage
Since we didn't want our kids to get totally "templed out" on the first day of our cruise, we signed up for a carriage ride through town. Since our group was four adults and two kids, we split up in two carts.

Modern building referencing ancient columns
Our view from the carriage at twilight
A family on a motorcycle
The tour was fantastic. While it still felt a little bit like we were in a little pod moving through a foreign world, we still got an "in your face, in your nose" experience. The scents of the horse mixed with mint, grilled meat, and spices. One of the more striking visuals was of the heaps of indigo blue on the spice tables. It was too dark and fast to get a clear picture of it tonight, but I got did get a good photo of a spice table in Aswan. On our carriage ride, we also saw turkeys, chickens, and of course, traffic.
I guess our horse's turn signal wasn't working.
At one point, we turned into side alley that was dark and maybe a little sketchy by Western standards, but then BAM! it became a brightly lit market. And we rode through it!
As we rode the horse carriage thru the narrow lane between stalls, we received lots of hellos. It probably helped that we had a little blonde girl, they're kinda rare in these parts.

We stopped to get a cane sugar drink that tasted somewhat like mango, just a little less pulpy. After the carriage ride ended, our tour guide told us that Kacey's dad had left his passport and IDs at the entrance to Karnak! Oh no!
Now, you might be wondering how they found us to deliver the news. With his IDs was a room key for boat. So, they called the boat, who called the guide, who tracked us down. We drove back to the Karnak entrance and got it all back. Yay! After that bit of unnecessary excitement, we went back to the boat for dinner and then went to sleep.

We wanted to be rested for tomorrow, when we'll cross over from the land of the living to the land of the afterlife to see Luxor's West Bank.

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