17 August 2009

Lovin' Luxor

Egypt gets really hot in the summer, the daytime temperature has been in the high 30's to low 40's since we arrived. As a result there are some really good hotel deals at this time of year to try and tempt you into spending time here whilst the pavements are melting. Thanks to a deal that we found on Expedia we managed to bag a room at the 4 star Iberotel Luxor for less than £20 a night including breakfast. The hotel has a great location right on the river front and even has a floating swimming pool on the Nile.

The best thing about the hotel though is the towel art! We've returned to our room to find the towels sculpted into swans, hearts and a towel boat on a towel ocean. We had a bit of a surprise on our last day when we returned from breakfast to find someone in our bed ordering from room service. . .

In total we've had a week in Luxor but could have easily spent much longer here as there is so much to see. The governor of Luxor claims that it's the worlds greatest open air museum although I'm guessing that he's never been to Rome. The ancient sites are pretty spectacular and much older than anything found in the Italian capital. The main part of the town is on the East Bank of the Nile and is famous for Luxor and Karnak Temples, whilst the West bank contains many of the royal tombs and mausoleums of the pharaohs.

Luxor Temple lies smack bang in the middle of town only a few minutes walk from our hotel. Most of the temple was built in the mid 13th to mid 12th century BC during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II. Although the mosque is a relatively new addition from the 14th century AD.

If you've ever been to the Place de la Concorde in Paris then the pink granite obelisk that resides in the middle of the fountain there originally came from here.

There's also an avenue of sphinxes which used to run all the way to the Temples of Karnak 3km away.

The Temples of Karnak is a vast 2 sq km complex, the oldest parts of which date back to around 2000 BC. The complex was added to for the next 1500 years with each of the pharaohs leaving their mark. There are even bits that were constructed by Alexander the Great around 300 BC.

We also returned to Karnak one evening to see the sound and light show. The show itself was a bit noddy but the walk through the illuminated temple was quite stunning.

We also spent two very hot days exploring the sights of the West Bank. There are hundreds of tombs scattered on the West Bank of the Nile but getting to and around them is quite hard work. The sun was so intense out in the desert that we spent most of our time huddled beneath an umbrella scurrrying from one patch of shade to the next. The only way to avoid the heat is to do what the locals do and find a hole in a temple wall to sleep in until dusk.

The first sight that you encounter on the West Bank is the Colossi of Memnon. At 18m tall the colossi are all that remains of what was the largest Egyptian temple ever built. Unfortunately the temple was mostly built of mud and was washed away by the flooding of the Nile.

The two main attractions of the West Bank are the Valley of the Kings and the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut.

The Valley of the Kings is a complex of 63 royal tombs that includes the infamous tomb of Tutankhamun.

We got to see inside the tombs of Horemheb and Ramses I and IX. Apart form the crippling heat and humidity, the most surprising thing is the clarity of the decoration on the walls of the tombs. They're unbelievably clear considering that they are about 3000 years old. You're not allowed to take photos inside but for a little baksheesh the temple guardians will turn a blind eye and allow you to sneak a couple of shots if you turn your flash off. Here's a few pictures from inside the tomb of Horemheb.

The Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir al-Bahri is partially cut into the base of a 300m high cliff. Despite the fact that it is nearly 3500 years old it looks nearly brand new.
We also got to see a few of the other sights of the West Bank including the Valley of the Queens, Medinat Habu (Temple of Ramses III) and the Ramesseum (the memorial temple of Ramses II)

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