Favourite Places, 7: Temples and Tombs of Egypt

I have Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra to thank for my fascination with Egypt. One for adventure through science, and the other for the BC period antics of Egyptian royals.

As I grew older, I turned to NatGeo for facts. Then I realised that Indy was in Petra, not Egypt. !!! Anyhow, one thing led to another and we ended up travelling to Egypt when I got even older.

It took my breath away.  If ancient ruins can ever be considered spectacular, this place would be it. They are so old, yet so incredibly majestic. They are all the colour of sand, but their tales are multi-faceted and awe-inspiring. They are huge structures, but were constructed with such care and attention to the smallest details.

Pharaonic Egypt, though rife with rivalry and war, was an amazing civilisation of mighty rulers, capable administrators and skilled crafters. Their army could have been built better, but the incursion of the Nubians, Assyrians, and Persians proved too much to handle in their decline.

Post 96. Egypt 1

The second Pyramid in Giza, with a guy strolling past. This is also the one visitors can shuffle along a claustrophobic tunnel that leads to a royal (empty) tomb. Contents are in Cairo Museum. Limited number of tickets per day.

Post 96. Egypt 2

The magnificent Abu Simbel built by the mightiest of the Pharaohs, Ramses II. All four figures adorning the facade are of him. Narcissism. A short flight from Aswan will get you there.

Post 96. Egypt 3

The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple, past the second pylon. A temple of the Pharaohs, it has 134 massive columns, each 15 metres high, except the centre 12 which are 21 metres; It takes about 6 adults to form a ring round a column’s girth. These columns were all brightly painted in their prime with natural dyes, and had large statues of Pharaohs between the columns that were either meant to look forbidding or impress the robes off the priests or royal retinue.

Wonders of Egypt

I’ve always told SJ that if I weren’t born in Singapore or had the opportunity to pick any academic discipline without fear of recourse i.e. not have a job in Singapore, I’d pick Archaeology. He thinks I’m afraid of too many insects and am too mindful of UV exposure to be in the field all day, digging for things.

True, but when you’re in it, you tend to be able to build immunity to things like that. He snorts at my postulation. Well, if I can’t do,  I will watch. Which was what brought us to Egypt one fine day in December of 2005.

Egypt is amazing. Structures over 5000 years old are still there, though in various stages of ruin. The history behind these places are not very different from classic tales of power-hungry and vain kings who conquer land, usurp wealth and build things in their honour; Or the upright, benevolent ones who take kingdoms from the rotten tomatoes to achieve honour, glory and many great feats. But it’s quite interesting how culture plays such a large part amidst it all, particularly their belief in the mystical afterlife. It seems, if they are not at war or conniving to oust another pharaoh or drowning in moral decadence, they’d spend the other good part of their lives thinking about their deaths and preparing for it.

Just look at the Pyramids at Giza, and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Even in modern times in Cairo, there is a necropolis not too far from the city. Not cemetery, but a necropolis with tombs you can stay in for a night or two. Quite creepy, but also fascinating.

This is a painting on a papyrus that depicts the stages one goes through before entering the Egyptian afterlife. You can get this easily at most touristy spots in Egypt, but the higher quality ones come with the story and a guarantee of authenticity (of a good replica I suppose). This website give a nice summary of the story: http://www.king-tut.org.uk/egyptian-mummies/egyptian-afterlife.htm

Then there is River Nile – the source of life for the Egyptians. The nice things that you’ve read about a cruise along the Nile? They are all true. 🙂 I wished the ship we were on served nicer vegetables, but the experience was well-worth the dietary slack.

I’m glad we got to see all the sights and treasures before the destruction and looting at the recent civil unrest. Such a pity.

[First published: 22 May 2011]