- Located in 4,000 year-old Luxor, the Valley of the Kings is studded with often highly decorated tombs, constructed to house the regal sarcophagi-enclosed mummies of the mighty pharaohs awaiting their passage into the after-life.
- The Luxor temples, which were built around 1,400 BC are equally, if not more, magnificent and overall form an exceptionally significant part of Egypt’s history as they were the site where many of the country’s kings were crowned.
- Brimming with history, Alexandria was founded by the legendary Alexander the Great and is a fascinating city sitting on Egypt’s north coast, lapped at by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.
OUR PICK #1: PYRAMIDS OF GIZA
As the only survivors of the ancient Greek-listed Seven Wonders of the World, the incredible Pyramids at Giza are the world’s oldest attraction. Known as Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus, the pyramids were already more than 2,000 years old when Herodotus the Greek historian visited them (5th century BC). A highly skilled corps of mathematicians, masons, surveyors and stonecutters did the job of building the Pyramids. 100,000 slaves were used to carry out the backbreaking task of moving and laying the stones of the largest pyramid, Cheops. Even to this day experts cannot agree how this incredible feat of architecture was achieved, given the prehistoric tools available to the Egyptians.
To date 138 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. Most were built as tombs for the country’s Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. All Egyptian pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile, which as the site of the setting sun was associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology. The Pyramids contain a maze of confusing passages, which were designed to protect the great Pharaohs in the afterlife, along with their hordes of treasure.
OUR PICK #2: ABU SIMBEL TEMPLES
Possibly the most awe-inspiring temple of all ancient Egypt with its gargantuan rock-cut façade, the great Sun Temple of King Ramses II at Abu Simbel was created in honour of the mighty King Ramses II. Guarding the entrance to the temple and hewn into the side of a mountain are four colossal statues of the pharaoh himself. In a fit of precision and architectural egotism, Ramses II had the entire temple carefully angled and oriented in order that the sun’s rays would align twice a year on his date of his ascension to the throne (21 February) and on his birthday (21 October) and illuminate the inner sanctum of the temple. This incredible natural phenomenon provides for a most spectacular sight, which has come to be referred to as the Sun Festival of King Ramses II. Arriving to the temple before sunrise sunrise, you’ll witness the shafts of light slowly creeping through the rock hewn inner Hypostyle Hall (replete with further statues of the king) and through to the Sanctuary. Significantly, the sun illuminates statues of Amun-Re, Re-Herakhte and Ramses the god, whilst the statute of Ptah – the god of darkness – remains in the shadows.
Over the centuries, the desert sands imperceptibly shifted until the temple was all but lost to humanity. It was rediscovered by chance in 1813 by a Swiss explorer, John Lewis Burkhardt who saw just the smallest tip of a pharaoh’s head peeking above the desert sands. It was not until the British happened upon Abu Simbel and started excavating, that the full glory of the temple of Abu Simbel was revealed to the modern world. Famously, the temple was re-located in a multi-million dollar operation in 1972, further up from the shoreline of Lake Nasser, which had threatened to erode the foundations of this monolithic temple complex. For this reason, the sun now strikes a day later than Ramses had originally planned, though the event itself is no less stunning.
OUR PICK #3: VALLEY OF THE KINGS
Located in 4,000 year-old Luxor, the Valley of the Kings is studded with often highly decorated tombs, constructed to house the regal sarcophagi-enclosed mummies of the mighty pharaohs awaiting their passage into the after-life. Some of the best known tombs are those of Ramses II, Seti I, Amenhotep II and of course, the tomb of King Tutankhamun. In all, more than 60 opulent and lavish tombs have been excavated. There are at least 75 tombs in Biban al-Harim, the Valley of the Queens, around 4 of which are open. Deir al- Bahri, otherwise known as the famous Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, rises out of the desert plain in a series of terraces. Partly rock-cut, partly freestanding, it is one of Egypt’s finest and most photographed monuments.
OUR PICK #4: KARNAK & LUXOR TEMPLES
Second in popularity only to the iconic pyramids, the temples of Karnak and Luxor are some of the most striking relics of ancient history in the world. Karnak is known as one of the largest temple complexes in the world, and was added to over hundreds of years by one pharaoh followed by the next. The Karnak complex is made up of four distinct sections, of which only the Amun-Re precinct is open to the public. The Amun-Re part of the complex consists of numerous, intricate temples, columns and an obelisk. The Luxor temples, which were built around 1,400 BC are equally, if not more, magnificent and overall form an exceptionally significant part of Egypt’s history as they were the site where many of the country’s kings were crowned. The site contains a plethora of sandstone structures, ranging from statues of gods and pharaohs to impressive murals and friezes. It goes without saying that no trip to Egypt is complete without exploring the ancient grounds on which these temples sit.
OUR PICK #5: HURGHADA
Founded in the early 20th century, the Red Sea resort of Hurghada took on a growth explosion thanks to tourism in the 1980s. The Hurghada of today comprises three main centres and numerous self-contained tourist villages. To the north, lies Ed-Dahar, which hosts more than half of the total local population, and some of Hurghada’s more expensive hotels, restaurants and the tourist bazaar. A couple of kilometres south lies Sigala, perhaps less popular than Ed-Dahar. Still further south is New Hurghada where there are a concentration of up market hotels and restaurants. All of this development has made Hurghada one of Egypt’s most popular resort towns on the Red Sea coast. Hotels and expanded infrastructure provide holidaymakers with excellent aquatic facilities for sail boarding, yachting, deep-sea fishing, SCUBA diving and snorkeling.
Hurghada’s central location provides a gateway to prime offshore reefs, which are some of the finest in the world. Hurghada is also known for its lively nightlife. For retail therapy, the town has plenty of shops selling knock-off bags and tees, snorkelling gear and suchlike. Just outside Hurghada is an ancient Roman quarry called Mons Porphyritis and Port Safarga – a famously windy place and an excellent place for windsurfing.
OUR PICK #6: KING TUT EXHIBIT, EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
Discovered intact in 1922 by Howard Carter, the Tomb of Tutankhamun is possibly one of the most dazzling archaeological finds ever. Tutankhamun lived over 3,300 years ago during the New Kingdom period. For two centuries, Egypt had ruled as a world superpower, while its royal family lived an opulent lifestyle. The powerful priesthood of the god Amun had controlled vast temples and estates. Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) -Tutankhamun’s father renounced the multitude of gods worshipped by the Egyptians, abolished the priesthood and established a new order to worship the sun god Aten and changed his own name to Akhenaten, meaning ‘servant of the Aten.’
Upon the death of Akhenaten, Tutankhaten (Tutankhamun) became king at the age of 9 yrs. He ruled for a very short time and died in 1325 BC of somewhat mysterious causes. After 70 days, King Tut’s mortuary tomb was sealed and remained untouched until Carter’s astonishing find. King Tutankhamun’s solid gold funerary mask and his priceless cache of treasures entombed with him for his journey to the afterlife, are now on display at the world famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo and a visit is highly recommended.
OUR PICK #7: ASWAN & PHILAE TEMPLE
The picturesque town of Aswan is set on the River Nile and serves as the starting point for both the felucca journey downstream to Kom Ombo and optional Abu Simbel excursions. Elephantine and Kitchener Island are worth exploring and sampling the restaurants along the corniche is a good bet. Head out by boat to Agelika Island to explore the Temple of Philae belonging to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The largest monument of the island is the temple of Isis – occupying about one quarter of the island. The walls are covered with scenes of Ptolemic kings and Roman emperors performing daily and ritualistic ceremonies. Later, when this temple became a church, Christians added their crosses to the stones. The laid-back Nubian town itself is also a highlight for visitors as it is overflowing with colourful markets, spicy aromas, Pharaonic and roman ruins and antiquity from the ancient land of Nubia.
OUR PICK #8: ALEXANDRIA
Brimming with history, Alexandria was founded by the legendary Alexander the Great and is a fascinating city sitting on Egypt’s north coast, lapped at by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. While it has come a long way since being founded around 2,300 years ago, its former glory still shines through and is mixed with elements of modernity, creating a unique ambiance that has to be experienced to be fully understood. Although it collapsed long ago, the fact that Alexandria was once home to the Pharos, a lighthouse that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is a huge draw for travellers. You might not be able to witness this epic structure nowadays but the city is still imbued with its significance and a trip to the Alexandria National Museum will certainly help you on your way to getting to grips with Alexandria’s cultural heritage and intriguing past.
OUR PICK #9: ABYDOS
Situated in northern Upper Egypt, Abydos is one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt and by far the most important as far as archaeology is concerned. In ancient years it snowballed in popularity as the place for pharaohs to be buried, a fact which led to it becoming a cult centre for the god Osiris. The focal point of the site is the impressive Temple of Seti, which contains a list of the majority of Egypt’s pharaohs from Menes right up until Ramesses I. Every glance and turn you take within this mysterious complex reveals something incredible, whether it’s the immense courtyards or the intriguing wall art. One part of the Abydos site that has been baffling historians and travellers alike for years is a curious set of hieroglyphics that appears to depict helicopters, submarines and planes. Take a look for yourself and see what you think.
OUR PICK #10: EL ALAMEIN
Best known as the site of some of the most brutal battles of the Second World War, El Alamein has become a site of pilgrimage for people wishing to pay their respects to those lost during the fight. When Germany set its eyes on the Suez Canal, the Allies knew they had to defeat their troops or risk a serious blow to their ability to acquire supplies. After the death of 80,000 soldiers, the battle came to an end and the Allies reigned victorious, making the event one of the most decisive moments of the war as a whole. Over 70 years down the line, the rows of graves in the various war cemeteries are a permanent reminder of the tragic loss that each country involved sustained. Yet, El Alamein is not just a sombre relic of the past with its glorious beaches, lapped by sparkling water, that are the perfect place to appreciate life and its moments of pleasure.