The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in opening hours, road conditions, flight schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=light lunch and D=dinner. Bottled water will also be provided daily during site excursions.
Giza, Cairo - 5 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 26 November, Arrive Cairo
- Morning at leisure
- The Citadel
- Sultan Hassan Mosque
- Rifay Mosque
Participants taking ASA group flights will arrive in Cairo with Emirates Airline on flight EK927 at 10.25am. You will be met at the airport and transfer by private coach to your hotel in Giza. Participants not taking group flights should make their own way to the Cairo hotel. Upon arrival breakfast will be served, followed by time at leisure to rest after your flight.
This afternoon we commence our tour of Cairo with a visit to the citadel, which stands on a promontory overlooking the city. Although the fortress dates from the medieval Ayyubid and Mamluk periods and its mosque from the early 19th century, the panoramic view of Cairo from the citadel makes it the ideal place to analyse the topography of the city, and urban development from the Roman period up to the present day.
We also visit the nearby Sultan Hassan and Rifay mosques. The Ayyubids were of Syrian descent and their most important scion was Salah el-Din (Saladin) of Crusader fame. The Ayyubids replaced the Fatamids as rulers of Egypt, but it was under Fatimid rule that Cairo was established as the capital in the 10th century from where they controlled their empire until the mid-12th century. Ayyubid rulers lived in the citadel which Salah el-Din had built on a spur of the Mokhattam Hills, giving Islamic Cairo a similar profile to Damascus and Aleppo. The Ayyubids imported numerous Turkish slave soldiers, known as Mamluks, who eventually userped power in in the mid-13th century. The Mamluks held power until Ottoman (Turkish) conquest in 1517. In the evening we dine together at our hotel. (Overnight Cairo) D
Day 2: Wednesday 27 November, Giza – Saqqara – Memphis – Giza
- Imhotep Museum
- Pyramid Complex of Djoser
- Pyramid of Unas (recently re-opened)
- New Kingdom tombs of Horemheb, Maya (Tutankhamun’s Treasurer) & Tia (all recently opened)
- ‘Tomb of the Two Brothers’: Niankhkhnum & Khnumhotep
- New Kingdom tombs: Maia (Tutankhamun’s wet nurse) & Nemtymes (both recently opened)
- Welcome Evening Dinner
We begin a morning of exploration at Saqqara with a visit to the Imhotep Museum, named after the architect of the site’s best-known monument, the first pyramid (albeit stepped), indeed first monumental stone building in Egypt – the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The museum is also dedicated to the memory of the French archaeologist Jean-Philippe Lauer who devoted his life to excavating, reconstructing and better understanding the site of Saqqara. Saqqara was the main cemetery for Egypt’s ancient capital at nearby Memphis, and is one of Egypt’s most significant dynastic sites. Saqqara was already the site of a necropolis in the Early Dynastic Period, but we visit here Egypt’s first great stone funerary complex, the Step Pyramid Complex of the Third Dynasty pharaoh, Djoser. It consists of a large rectangular enclosure with a stone step pyramid as its focus. The Old Kingdom nobility were buried nearby, in large mastaba-tombs – rectangular flat-topped tombs with slightly sloping sides which look like giant benches – hence their name ‘mastaba’, Arabic for ‘bench’. The Step Pyramid Complex marked a transition from early types of tomb to the pyramid form, and from use of mud brick to stone, to create more eternal emblems of Egypt’s rulers.
We commence our tour with a visit to Djoser’s funerary complex, then proceed to one of the later pyramids that contains the first inscriptions within a royal tomb. This is the pyramid of Unas, the last ruler of the 5th Dynasty, and the inscriptions on the interior walls, known as the Pyramid Texts, are the earliest theological writings to survive from Ancient Egypt. The Pyramid of Unas has recently re-opened after nearly 30 years closed to visitors. During the Old Kingdom pharaonic funerary architecture developed as Egyptian concepts of the afterlife became more complex and the pharaohs promoted the belief that they were divine rulers, whose continuing existence after death demanded the construction of funerary complexes as resplendent as those they resided in during life.
Our investigation of some of the most important non-royal tombs at Saqqara, includes the Old Kingdom tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, renowned for the unusually intimate manner in which the two men are represented; the New Kingdom tombs of Tutankhamun’s general (who went on to rule Egypt) Horemheb, Tutankhamun’s Treasurer, Maya, and Ramesses II’s sister and her husband, Tia and Tia. These have been excavated since the 1970’s by a joint Dutch-British team, and have only been open to visitors for a few years. We also visit a couple of the New Kingdom tombs recently excavated by the French, and only just opened to visitors – the tomb of Tutankhamun’s wetnurse Maia, and the royal court official Nemtymes.
We stop for lunch 5 minutes from the site at the Saqqara Palm Club, a restaurant nestled among the palm trees beneath the Saqqara desert plateau.
After lunch we visit the accessible part of ancient Memphis – an open air museum with its colossal statue of Ramesses II. Memphis, south of modern Cairo, was the capital of the first unified kingdom of Egypt, and was the main administrative centre of the pharaonic state until the founding of Alexandria.
This evening we have our special Welcome Dinner. (Overnight Giza) BLD
Day 3: Thursday 28 November, Giza – Saqqara – Dahshur – Giza
- Pyramid of Teti
- Tomb of Mereruka
- Tomb of Kagemni
- Tomb of Ankhmahor (recently opened)
- Tomb of Ptahhotep
- Tomb of Ti
- Serapeum (recently re-opened)
- Dahshur: Sneferu’s Red and Bent Pyramids
This morning we return to Saqqara, a site so large and important, it demands a second visit to really do it justice. We visit the 6th Dynasty pyramid of Teti to experience the development of the Pyramid Texts through the Old Kingdom, and some of the mastaba tombs of Teti’s high officials clustered in nearby rows, comprising a true city of the dead. Mereruka and Kagemni each married a daughter of the king and climbed high on the social ladder of the Old Kingdom: both men becoming Vizier or Prime Minister. We see scenes of daily life in the superstructures of these mastaba tombs (the burial chambers are cut into the bedrock beneath these chapels and tend to be inaccessible). These scenes of hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, agriculture and food production are rich in detail – the use of art and inscription to magically provision the deceased for eternity. The tomb of Ankhmahor has only recently opened to visitors; it is perhaps best known for a relief that appears to represent a circumcision procedure. Both Ptahhotep and Ti were Overseers of 5th Dynasty royal solar temples, pyramids, and pyramid towns; their tombs are located closer to the Serapeum. The Serapeum has fairly recently re-opened after some 30 years of closure. These catacombs were the majestic burial place of the bulls believed to be the earthly manifestation of the god Apis worshiped in Memphis.
We stop once again for lunch at the most conveniently located restaurant – the Saqqara Palm Club.
After lunch we drive to the next royal cemetery south of Saqqara, to visit the pyramids of Khufu’s father Sneferu, the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty. His architects and builders experimented with pyramid building until they achieved the transition from stepped to smooth-sided monuments. We see the culmination of this process at Dahshur in the form of the Red Pyramid, but we also see the learning process in the form of the Bent Pyramid. The smooth-sided pyramid brought with it a shift in the axis of the funerary complex from North-South to West-East, reflecting an increasing solar influence in the religion. (Overnight Giza) BL
Day 4: Friday 29 November, Giza
- Pyramids of Giza
- The Sphinx
- Solar Boat Museum
We spend most of the day visiting the 4th Dynasty pyramids of Giza and the funerary complexes of which they are part. These monumental structures, that have fascinated visitors to Egypt from Alexander to Napoleon, were constructed for Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerinus). The Great Pyramid (of Khufu) is the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that still survives. The pyramids do not stand alone, but are the focal points of extensive funerary complexes, each with subsidiary pyramids for royal women, mastaba tombs for members of the royal family and nobility, a causeway with a temple at either end (one against the east face of the pyramid, the other on the edge of the cultivation). The Sphinx, alongside Khafra’s Valley Temple, is the most compelling symbol of the transformation of a pharaoh from man to god. Our program also includes a visit to the Solar Boat Museum which houses the funerary boat of Khufu, reconstructed in the 1950’s out of its 1,224 pieces buried in a rectangular pit alongside the south face of the pyramid.
We take a break in our lengthy exploration of the Giza plateau to take lunch at Abu Shaqra restaurant close to the Sphinx. (Overnight Giza) BL
Day 5: Saturday 30 November, Giza – Cairo – Giza
- Egyptian Museum (including the Royal Mummies)
- Beit al Suhaymi
- Qalawun complex
- Al Azhar Mosque
- Manzil Gamal Al-Din Al-Dahabi
We begin our day in downtown Cairo with a half-day visit to the Egyptian Museum, located at the centre of modern Cairo in Tahrir Square (made famous by the 2011 revolution). This museum houses the most extensive and stunning collections of Pharaonic artefacts in the world. The lower floor of the museum contains monumental statuary from all over Egypt, with superb examples from every period, whilst the upper floors are dedicated to smaller items, including a magnificent collection of jewellery. Our visit includes a face-to-face experience with royal mummies.
Lunch is at a traditional Egyptian restaurant close to the Egyptian Museum.
Our afternoon is spent wandering in Old Cairo. We visit Beit al Suhaymi, an Ottoman era house built in 1648 with exceedingly fine mashrabiya windows; the Qalawun complex, a massive late 13th century complex that includes a madrasa, a hospital and the mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun; Al Azhar Mosque built in 970 it was the first mosque established in Cairo, and has the oldest continuously run university in the world; and Manzil Gamal Al-Din Al-Dahabi, a 17th century gold merchant’s house. (Overnight Giza) BL
Alexandria - 2 nights
Day 6: Sunday 1 December, Cairo – Alexandria
- Lunch: Fish Market
- The National Museum of Alexandria
- New Library & Museum (Bibliotheka Alexandrina)
This morning we drive north to the great Graeco-Roman city of Alexandria. We will arrive in Alexandria by lunchtime and begin our site visit program in the afternoon.
Alexandria is one of the most evocative urban sites in the world but its mythic splendour is not matched by its historical remains. It is above all a city of the 19th century, a symbol of Egypt’s integration into the European-dominated world economy after the opening of the Suez canal under the British protectorate. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great and became the capital of the country for 1000 years; it was also the cultural capital of the eastern Mediterranean. It was the centre of Egyptian (Coptic) Christianity and remains the seat of the Coptic patriarch. Little is exposed of the ancient city, which is buried beneath Islamic and European-style developments, and drowned beneath the sea. It is now Egypt’s second largest city and a favourite summer resort for rich Cairenes. Nevertheless, throughout its history Alexandria has had a certain glamour that is still visible in the series of monuments we shall see.
Alexandria was the greatest city in the Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean with all amenities: temples, theatres, the famous library and museum, the great Pharos lighthouse – another of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the stadium, extensive palaces and villas, underground water supply and fountains, and an extensive economic and residential quarter; the city was laid out on a grid with major access roads.
Our program will commence this afternoon with a visit to the National Museum of Alexandria which opened in 2003 with its rich collection of artefacts from the Delta region, and the New Library (the Bibliotheka Alexandrina), opened in 2000, with its small museum.
In the evening we dine together at our hotel.(Overnight Alexandria) BLD
Day 7: Monday 2 December, Alexandria
- Roman Amphitheatre (Kom el Dikka)
- Villa of the Birds
- Pompey’s Pillar
- Kom el-Shawqafa
- Lunch: Grill House
- Anfushi Tombs
- Qaytbay Fortress
- The Port of Alexandria
Today we visit the amphitheatre in the area known as Kom el Dikka. The ‘amphitheatre’ is actually an odeon, dating to the 4th century AD with a seating capacity of 600 people. This site is also where we find the ‘Villa of the Birds’, a rich Alexandrian townhouse occupied from the beginning of the 2nd to the end of the 4th century AD. We head on to the site known as Pompey’s Pillar. This red granite pillar marks the location of the Ptolemaic and Roman Temple of the Alexandrian deity Serapis. The pillar was actually erected by the emperor Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century and probably supported a statue of the emperor. Another site we shall visit in this area is Kom el-Shawqafa, a subterranean system of catacombs dating to the early 2nd century AD which exhibit Egyptian, Greek and Roman elements in their decorative schema. The Anfushi tombs date to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The tombs are cut into the limestone and the largest consists of a subterranean hall with subsidiary tomb chambers. The stairway is decorated with wall paintings of Isis, Osiris, Horus and Anubis. On the peninsula between the east and west harbours stands the Mamluk fortress of Qaytbay, on the site of the renowned Pharos of Alexandria. (Overnight Alexandria) BL
Luxor - 7 nights
Day 8: Tuesday 3 December, Alexandria – Cairo – Luxor
- Coptic Monastery (in Wadi Natrun)
- Late Afternoon Flight Cairo – Luxor
This morning we set our early on our long drive from Alexandria to Cairo stopping at a Coptic Monastery in Wadi Natrun. Wadi Natrun is to the west of the Delta and is named after the supply of natron the ancient Egyptians used to get from this area. Natron is a naturally occurring salt used by the ancient Egyptians in mummification and purification.
The Coptic Church is the orthodox Christian church in Egypt, based on the teachings of St Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Emperor Nero in the 1st century AD. The word Copt derives from the Greek word, Aigyptos, which in turn derived from one of the ancient Egyptian names for Memphis (Hikaptah). Our word Egypt derives from Aigyptos. Monasticism is said to have begun in Egypt. It began there at the end of the 3rd century and flourished in the 4th century. By the end of the 4th century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert hills.
We will eat a packed lunch on the coach as we head to Cairo Airport in the Cairene district known as Heliopolis, today a swanky suburb, but in antiquity home to the extremely important temple of the sun god Ra.
We board our afternoon flight to Luxor, and follow the glittering artery that is the Nile as we fly south to Luxor, a vibrant town nestled on the east bank of the river. A town so rich in archaeology it serves as an open air museum, often referred to using its ancient Greek name Thebes. (Overnight Luxor) BL
Day 9: Wednesday 4 December, Luxor
- Mummification Museum
- Luxor Museum
- Lunch: Sofra
- Luxor Temple
- Shopping opportunity including the souk and Aboudi bookshop
We begin the day with a visit to the small but fascinating Mummification Museum located close to our hotel on the corniche. Its collection illustrates the funerary process and religion synonymous with ancient Egypt. On to Luxor Museum, one of the finest museums in Egypt with its artistic display of objects from the Theban region. Here we see the iconic statue of Thutmose III discovered under a courtyard in Karnak Temple in 1904, and statues, including the perfect quartzite statue of Amenhotep III, found in 1989 under the solar court at Luxor Temple.
Lunch is at Sofra close to Luxor Temple. Sofra is Arabic for dining table, but also for generosity and hospitality. This restaurant is in a 1930’s Egyptian townhouse that retains its traditional character.
Luxor Temple lies parallel to the river on the east bank of the Nile. It was regarded as the southern residence of the god Amun, who by the New Kingdom had been merged with the more ancient and important sun god of Heliopolis, Ra, to become Amun-Ra. Luxor was home to local rulers during Egypt’s politically fragmented Second Intermediate Period. They drove out the foreign rulers (the Hyksos) from the Delta, and went on to rule a united Egypt as the Eighteenth Dynasty, a particularly splendid period of Egyptian history, when pharaohs were buried for the first time in the Valley of the Kings, and Egypt controlled an empire that took in Nubia, and Syria-Palestine. The wealth flooding into Egypt through trade, conquest, and efficient exploitation of their resources, resulted in much temple-building, and particularly at Luxor which became the country’s religious centre, focused on the cult of Amun-Ra. Most of what we see today at Luxor Temple was built by Amenhotep III with some additions by Ramesses II. Here we see reliefs of the great Opet Festival of Amun dating to the reign of Amunhotep III’s grandson Tutankhamun, and the ‘Chamber of the Divine King’ converted into a chapel of the Imperial cult during the Roman Period. A Christian basilica was built in this temple, on top of which a mosque was later built. This mosque of the Muslim saint Abu el-Haggag continues in use to this day. So the expanse of time over which this site has been a place of worship is vast.
Alongside the temple is a must-visit bookshop for anyone interested in Egypt, ancient or modern. The bookshop and temple are next door to our hotel for those who would rather not shop, but for those seeking a shopping opportunity, we will wander through the souk with its array of spices, jewellery and all manner of gifts.
We dine together this evening. (Overnight Luxor) BLD
Day 10: Thursday 5 December, Luxor’s West Bank
- Tombs of the Nobles: Ramose, Userhet, Khaemhet, Rekhmire, Sennefer.
- Lunch: Africa
- Temple of Medinet Habu
By crossing to Luxor’s west bank by boat, we appreciate better how the ancient Egyptians would have made such journeys, and the significance of the sacred landscape of Thebes, and the processional routes between the temples on the east bank, and the tombs and temples on the west bank. Arriving on Luxor’s west bank we visit a selection of New Kingdom rock-cut Tombs of the Nobles. These private tombs vividly illustrate aspects of daily life in Egypt, and provide us with evidence for the ancient Egyptian beliefs concerning an afterlife. Rekhmire was a Vizier under ‘the Napoleon of Egypt’ Thutmose III. A lengthy inscription in his tomb outlines all the duties expected of the Vizier – an Ancient Egyptian job description for the Prime Minister. Ramose was Vizier under Amenhotep III and IV. Of particular interest is the scene of Amenhotep IV (who went on to become Akhenaten) represented in the conventional style of his father Amenhotep III, opposite another representation of him in the unusual style we associate with the Amarna Period. So within the one tomb we can trace the transition from one style of art to the other. When we enter the rock-cut decorated chambers of the tombs of Rekhmire, Ramose, Userhet and Khaemhet, we are actually visiting the funerary chapels of the tombs, just as we visited the funerary chapels in the superstructures of the Old Kingdom mastabas in the North. In the case of Sennefer, we actually visit his burial chamber, and unusually it is elaborately decorated, with a noteworthy ceiling painted with vines laden with bunches of grapes.
After lunch on the roof terrace at Africa, a local Egyptian restaurant with views overlooking the Nile, towards Luxor Temple on the other side of the river, we visit Medinet Habu, the best preserved of the great temples erected on the west bank by the New Kingdom rulers in which they were venerated as manifestations of the god Amun on earth, and in which offerings were made to ensure their eternal life. This was the temple built by the 20th Dynasty pharaoh Ramesses III, whose palace we will also visit within the massive mudbrick outer enclosure wall of the temple. Among the many scenes carved in relief on the walls of this temple is the only recorded pharaonic sea battle – against the Sea Peoples. (Overnight Luxor) BL
Day 11: Friday 6 December, Luxor
- Temple Precinct of Amun, Karnak (including the Open Air Museum)
- Lunch: Al Hussein
- Temple of Mut, Karnak (recently opened)
Today we visit the main temple precinct of Amun at Karnak, nearly 3km to the north of Luxor Temple. Recent excavations have revealed almost the entire length of the sphinx-lined processional way between the two temples. We have already seen the Opet Festival reliefs at Luxor Temple, in which the cult statues of the gods Amun and Mut were shown being processed in boat-shaped shrines, from their sanctuaries at Karnak to their ‘Southern Residence’ at Luxor Temple. The temple precinct at Karnak is the largest religious enclosure in the world. Most of the buildings we visit there today were erected during the New Kingdom, but later rulers also chose to add to this temple complex. The monumental approach to this temple is lined with fantastic ram-headed sphinxes. This avenue connected the precinct to the quay from which the god’s barge was launched to transfer him either to Luxor Temple or to the west bank of the Nile. Amun’s consort Mut and their child Khonsu, were also worshipped at Karnak and the enclosures and temples within the precinct served as a stage for the rituals and festivals centred on this ‘Theban Triad’ of gods. Our morning also includes a visit to the Open Air Museum alongside the temple, which houses the reconstructed ‘Red Chapel’ of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, demolished towards the end of her stepson/nephew Thutmose III’s reign, and used as infill in the construction of Amenhotep III’s pylon or monumental gateway.
After lunch in a restaurant close to Karnak Temple, we return to the sacred heart of New Kingdom Egypt in order to explore the recently-opened Temple of Mut, consort of Amun whose name written with a vulture hieroglyph is the same as the word ‘mother’ in ancient Egyptian. This ruined temple has an extraordinary number of statues of the lion goddess Sekhmet, and an unusual crescent-shaped sacred lake. (Overnight Luxor) BL
Day 12: Saturday 7 December, Luxor – Dendera – Luxor
- Temple of Hathor, Dendera
This morning we travel north from Luxor to visit the magnificent Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Its newly cleaned ceilings have revealed fabulous blue paint and intricately detailed astronomical ceilings. The main temple here is Ptolemaic and Roman Period in date, and is distinguished by its Hathor-head column capitals – a woman’s face with heavy wig and cow’s ears. We will ascend to the roof of the temple for fine views, and to visit the rooftop chapels, one of which contains a cast of the famous Dendera Zodiac, as the original once located here is in the Louvre Museum in Paris. On the walls of the temple are a number of cartouches, the name rings in which the royal name were written, but they have been left blank, a reflection perhaps of the uncertain political times of the 1st century B.C. Evidence of this tumultuous period of Egyptian history is spectacularly depicted on the rear wall of the temple where we see a depiction of Cleopatra VII and Caesarion, her son by Julius Caesar, later to be murdered by Octavian’s supporters after the conquest of Egypt by Rome. This is the only surviving representation of Cleopatra VII identified on the wall of an Egyptian temple. As with all Egyptian temples, the temple does not stand alone within the outer mud brick enclosure wall. We will also be able to view a smaller temple dedicated to Isis, a mammisi (divine/symbolic birth house), a sacred lake, a sanatorium (where people would go to receive divine inspiration and healing dreams), and a later Christian basilica.
Our day will include a picnic lunch at this atmospheric temple dedicated to the cow-goddess of fertility Hathor. In the evening we dine together (Overnight Luxor) BLD
Day 13: Sunday 8 December, Luxor’s West Bank
- Colossi of Memnon
- Valley of the Kings
- Lunch: Nur El Qurna
- Temple of Hatshepsut, Deir el-Bahri
After breakfast we depart our hotel and cross the Nile by boat to visit more sites on the west bank of the river where the Pharaonic necropolis was located during the New Kingdom. As we travel from the Nile to the Valley of the Kings we will pass the Colossi of Memnon, two huge seated figures which once flanked the entrance to the memorial temple of Amenhotep III. When it was built, this would have been the largest of the New Kingdom temples on the west bank, but within about 100 years it had been destroyed. We will gaze up at the colossal seated statues of Amenhotep III which were left standing in front of what is now an active archaeological site. The Greeks identified these colossal statues with Memnon, son of Aurora. From the Colossi we continue to the Valley of the Kings, the necropolis of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. We enter a selection of the decorated underground burial complexes, which present us with a completely different style of funerary structure to the Old Kingdom pyramids we experienced in the North of Egypt. Most of these New Kingdom royal tombs cut into the limestone bedrock are decorated with murals which chart the progress of a pharaoh into the afterlife, the gods he would meet and the ceremonies he would undergo.
After a local lunch in the garden of a restaurant nestled under trees at the western end of Amenhotep III’s ruined temple, we visit the memorial temple of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, a three-tiered architectural masterpiece built into the cliff overlooking the flat valley stretching back to the Nile, and located on a direct axis with Karnak Temple on the other side of the river. Deir el-Bahri has been majorly reconstructed by the Polish archaeologists working there since the 1960’s, but the reliefs are original, and they provide up with evidence for the great achievements of this female pharaoh, particularly trading expeditions and the transportation of obelisks from the granite quarries in Aswan. This temple is also significant for it scenes of the divine birth of Hatshepsut. (Overnight Luxor) BL
Day 14: Monday 9 December, Luxor’s West Bank
- Valley of the Queens
- Deir el-Medina
- Lunch: Africa
Our last day in Luxor sees us crossing over to the west bank by boat to visit still more of the sites responsible for this town’s designation as “the world’s greatest open-air museum”. We begin the day by visiting the counterpart to the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, where we visit the decorated rock cut tomb of a queen, and of two princes, all dating to the time of Ramesses III whose temple we visited at Medinet Habu. The colours in the painted scenes on the walls of these tombs are particularly vivid. At Deir el-Medina we find the remains of a town inhabited by the artists and craftsmen responsible for quarrying out and decorating the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Tomb of the Nobles. These men lived here with their families during the New Kingdom, and left behind all manner of archaeological evidence and written records, particularly on flakes of limestone (ostraca) informing us of their daily life, both at home, and working in the tombs. They also created small but vividly decorated tombs for themselves and their families, a couple of which we will be able to climb down inside, to enjoy the vibrant painted scenes on the walls of the rock-cut burial chambers. The people of Deir el-Medina had lived not only alongside their burial ground, but alongside shrines to local gods, such as the deified pharaoh Amenhotep I, and other deities of particular relevance to this community, such as Ptah, patron of craftsmen. Much later, in the reign of Ptolemy IV, a small stone temple surrounded by a large mud brick wall was built in the area of the New Kingdom shrines just to the north of the ancient town. This temple is dedicated to Hathor, the goddess we have already met at Dendera. We take time to explore this temple, including the ‘Weighing of the Heart’ scene carved in one of the chambers.
We take lunch once again on the roof terrace overlooking the Nile at the local restaurant, Africa. After which we head to the romantic ruins of Ramesses II’s memorial temple, known today as the Ramesseum. Here we see the fallen colossus of this mighty pharaoh, and scenes carved in relief of the Battle of Qadesh that the Egyptians fought against the Hittites in year 5 of Ramesses II’s reign. Ramesses claimed this battle as a great victory, the truth seems to have been somewhat different! (Overnight Luxor) BL
Dahabeya Cruise - 4 nights
Day 15: Tuesday 10 December, Luxor – Esna – El Hegz
- Esna Temple
- Board our dahabeya and set sail.
This morning we drive south to Esna. We visit the temple there in the heart of a busy modern town. In order to reach the ancient floor–level of the temple, we have to descend a long staircase from the modern street-level, showing that the modern town sits on many strata of archaeological mound (or tell). The temple is dedicated to the ram-headed creator god of the south, Khnum, whom we shall meet again in Aswan; although during the Graeco-Roman Period this place was called in Greek Latopolis after the Lates fish which was held sacred there and was buried in a cemetery west of the town. The Ptolemaic inner part of this temple is mostly lost, and what we are able to visit dates mostly to the Roman Period. The hypostyle hall (its roof supported by rows of columns with composite floral capitals characteristic of the period) is in fact the latest major temple built in Egypt, and is decorated with reliefs from the 1st to 3rd centuries.
We board our dahabeya for lunch and an afternoon of gentle sailing. And so we begin our river voyage south, mooring over night close to the village of El Hegz, where we dine onboard. (Overnight aboard a dahabeya) BLD
Day 16: Wednesday 11 December, El Hegz – El Kab – Edfu – Gebel el-Silsila
- Tombs & Temples of El Kab
- Temple of Horus, Edfu
More sailing today on our peaceful dahabeya cruise, with two sites to visit before we moor for the night at Gebel el-Silsila. El Kab is a large and multi-period site, occupied from the Predynastic Period, with the vulture goddess Nekhbet, a protective goddess of kingship, as its patron deity. We visit a row of rock-cut tombs, a couple of small temples, and some rock art and graffiti, all of which are just within the desert on the eastern side of the river. These tombs are New Kingdom in date, and are decorated in painted raised relief. Perhaps the most famous of these is the tomb of Ahmose Son of Abana, who was a Chief of Sailors in the late 17th – early 18th Dynasties. There is an extremely important inscription on one wall of his tomb which gives us considerable detail of the Theban military expeditions north to overcome the Hyksos in their Delta capital at Avaris during the Second Intermediate Period, and to expel them from Egypt, thereby reuniting Egypt under one pharaoh (Ahmose), at the start of the New Kingdom. The two small temples we visit date one to the reign of Amenhotep III, the other to the Ptolemaic Period. We will also pick out the rock art and inscriptions on a rocky outcrop known as ‘Vulture Rock’. These mostly date from Prehistoric Times to the Late Old Kingdom.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu was constructed in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy III. It is a huge and remarkably complete temple elaborately decorated throughout, preserving valuable information on the foundation of Egyptian temples, the rituals that took place daily in the temples, and the regular festivals, such as the Festival of the Beautiful Meeting, when the cult statue of Hathor of Dendera was transported by boat to visit Horus of Edfu. The ambulatory around the temple is decorated with scenes expressing the mythology of kingship – the triumph of Horus over his uncle Seth (represented mostly as a tiny hippopotamus!).
We dine this evening onboard our dahabeya.(Overnight on dahabeya) BLD
Day 17: Thursday 12 December, Gebel el-Silsila – Kom Ombo – el Gerdiab
- Ancient quarry and shrines, Gebel el-Silsila
- Temple of Sobek and Horus the Elder, Kom Ombo
Continuing our cruise, we moor to visit further sites on our leisurely journey south. Silsila gorge is one of the narrowest points in the Nile Valley. A little to the north of here the limestone of the Nile Valley from the north to south so far, is replaced by the sandstone which then extends south far into Sudan. This site was used as a sandstone quarry from at least the 18th Dynasty, through to Graeco-Roman times. The blocks for important sandstone temples we have already visited, such as Karnak, Luxor Temple, Medinet Habu, and the Ramesseum were quarried here on both sides of the river. We visit the quarries on the west bank of the river, coming across various rock-cut shrines, the largest and best preserved of which is the rock-cut chapel (or speos) of Horemheb, dedicated to a number of deities including Amun-Ra; the crocodile god Sobek; the triad of Elephantine, Khnum, Satet, and Anuket; the god of the Nile flood Hapi; and the hippopotamus goddess Taweret.
Later we moor at Kom Ombo to visit the picturesque Graeco-Roman Period riverside temple of the crocodile god Sobek and Haroeris, or Horus the Elder. The temple plan is unusual – its dedication to two gods necessitated the division of the interior into eastern and western halves, which mirror each other. We find evidence for oracular consultation here, and a wall relief that has been interpreted by some as an illustration of medical implements. A small site museum has recently opened here displaying embalmed crocodiles and other ancient evidence for the cult of the crocodile god here.
We moor for the night close to the village of El Gerdiab, and dine onboard our dahabeya. (Overnight on dahabeya) BLD
Day 18: Friday 13 December, El Gerdiab – Aswan
Today we enjoy a tranquil day on the last leg of our cruise to Aswan. The granite cataract at Aswan turned the pre-dam river into non-navigable rapids, and created a natural southern frontier of Egypt. It was also the gateway to trade routes south into sub-Saharan Africa. As such it was a land of garrisons and passing merchants where the cultures of Egypt and Nubia blended and overlapped.
We dine onboard this evening. (Overnight on dahabeya in Aswan) BLD
Aswan - 2 nights
Day 19: Saturday 14 December, Aswan
- Unfinished Obelisk and Quarries
- Temple of Isis, Philae
- High Dam
- Kalabsha Temple
- Qertassi Kiosk
- Beit al-Wali Temple
Today is a full day out exploring the Aswan area, with a picnic lunch, and boat trips to sites located on islands. Aswan is where the ancient Egyptians quarried the pink and grey granite they so loved for obelisks, statuary, sarcophagi etc. This morning we get a sense of the cataract, and visit a quarry where we look for evidence of ancient quarrying techniques and marvel at the size of the New Kingdom ‘Unfinished Obelisk’, some 42m long and over 1000 tons, that remains in situ, semi-quarried from the bedrock. The small souk at this site is another good shopping opportunity.
We drive on to the southern side of the early 20th century British Dam, in order to board a boat to take the short journey across the reservoir formed between the British Dam and the High Dam built in the 1960’s, to the temple dismantled on the flooded Philae island and relocated to the higher Agilka Island. To 19th century travellers Philae was ‘the pearl of the Nile’, despite its relocation it is still today the archetypal romantic ruined temple, thanks much to its idylic island location. It is a Ptolemaic and early Roman Period temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, with a small temple to Hathor alongside, a mammisi (divine birth house) unusually situated within the temple, and most celebrated by early travellers – the Kiosk of Trajan. Because of its remote location Philae seems to have served as a centre for pagan worship well into the Christian era. It is also the site of the latest known hieroglyphic inscription dated to 394 AD and the latest demotic inscription, a graffito dating to 452 AD. The site was finally abandoned during the reign of Justinian the Great (c. 535 AD).
In order to better understand the significance of the region, and the UNESCO campaign to save the monuments of Nubia in the 1960’s, we visit the High Dam and discuss the affects it has had on modern Egypt and the ancient monuments.
Then on to the northern shore of Lake Nasser where we board another boat to take us the short journey to New Kalabsha Island, one of the islands in Lake Nasser, the vast man-made lake created south of the High Dam. A number of different monuments have been re-located to this island, saved from the rising water of Lake Nasser, so today it serves as an Open Air Museum. Its monuments include Kalabsha Temple, a Roman kiosk from Qertassi, and the Beit el-Wali Temple. The Kalabsha Temple is the largest free-standing Nubian temple. This sandstone temple was built for the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. It was dedicated to the divine triad, Osiris, Isis and Horus-Mandulis (the Egyptian deity Horus syncretised with the Nubian sun deity Mandulis (in fact this is the Greek name derived from the Nubian name Merul). The temple was later reused as a Coptic Christian church.
The Qertassi Kiosk, with its Hathor-headed columns, originally stood at the entrance to an ancient sandstone quarry, on high ground overlooking the Nile, and was a landmark for miles around, probably dating to the Ptolemaic Period.
Beit el-Wali is a small rock-cut (speos) temple. It is the earliest of the Nubian temples built by the 19th dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II, and was dedicated to the great Theban deity Amun-Ra, as well as local gods of the Aswan area (Khnum, Satet and Anuket), and Nubian deities.
We dine together this evening in a restaurant at the top of the Movenpick Tower on Elephantine Island with spectacular views over Aswan all lit up at night. (Overnight Aswan) BLD
Day 20: Sunday 15 December, Aswan
- Tombs of the Nobles, Qubbet el-Hawa (including those of Harkhuf, Sarenput I & II)
- Elephantine Island: temples of Khnum and Satet
- Lunch: Makka
- Nubian Museum
This tour really does emphasise the significance of the Nile to the ancient Egyptians as the lifeline of Egypt, and their main means of transportation. We continue to visit sites by boat today – on the west bank, and on an island. In the morning we cross the Nile to the West, the ‘Land of the Dead’, to visit several rock cut tombs set high in the desert hillside. We visit tombs of governors of this area dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms. The tomb of Harkhuf, Overseer of Foreign Troops during the 6th dynasty reign of Pepi II, is of particular interest as it is inscribed with a copy of a letter sent by Pepi II as a boy-king to Harkhuf asking him to bring a pygmy back from his trading expedition to Sudan, to dance for him in the palace.
We shall then visit Elephantine Island, site of the ancient town of Abu (meaning ‘elephant’ and ‘ivory’ in Ancient Egyptian), Aswan’s predecessor, where we see the remains of this trading entrepot and garrison town, and its temples, including the remains of the Temple of Khnum, the ram-headed creator god associated with the Nile and cataract, and the temples of his consort Satet, reconstructed by the German Archaeological Institute working here. Here we visit the best preserved example of a Nileometer, used to measure the annual flood levels. We will note the mud brick tombs of the mummified rams associated with the cult of Khnum, as we shall see some of these rams on display in the Nubian Museum this afternoon. We will also look into a Middle Kingdom cult shrine of Heqa-ib, a deified Old Kingdom governor of Elephantine, whose tomb we will have noted earlier this morning at Qubbet el-Hawa.
Today’s program concludes with a visit to the Nubian Museum, an archaeological and ethnographic museum tracing the history and culture of ancient and modern Nubia. (Overnight Aswan) BL
Abu Simbel - 2 nights
Day 21: Monday 16 December, Aswan – Abu Simbel
- Wadi el-Sebua Temple of Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhty
- Dakka Temple of Thoth
- Maharraka Temple of Serapis and Isis
- Amada Temple of Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhty
- Derr Temple of Ra-Harakhty
- Tomb of Pennut
Today we have a full day visiting Nubian temples and a tomb on the western shore of Lake Nasser by road. We will take lunch boxes with us. All the sites we visit today (clustered in two locations) would have been drowned under Lake Nasser had they not been saved by UNESCO when they were dismantled, moved and rebuilt in the 1960’s. The Wadi el-Sebua Temple dedicated to Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhty was built by Ramesses II as part of a program of temple construction throughout Nubia, which was occupied at this time by Egypt, particularly for control of its trade routes, gold mines and manpower. This temple has been moved 2 km from its original site. Nearby we shall also visit the Graeco-Roman Period Temple dedicated to Thoth, moved from Dakka, and the Temple of Serapis and Isis, moved from Maharraka. This temple was constructed during the Roman Period when Egyptian cults were evolving into the mystery religions of late Antiquity which prefigured the rise of Christianity.
We continue on to our second stop on the western shore of Lake Nasser, to visit the Amada Temple of Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhty, located only a few kilometres from its original site. This temple was built by the warrior pharaoh Thutmose III, and the decoration was continued by his son Amenhotep II. We will also explore the nearby Derr Temple. This is another rock-cut, or speos temple dating to the reign of Ramesses II, and dedicated to Ra-Horakhty. And finally the tomb of Pennut, Viceroy of Nubia during the reign of Ramesses VI. This is the only tomb relocated on the shore of Lake Nasser.
We dine together this evening at our hotel in Abu Simbel on the shore of Lake Nasser. (Overnight Abu Simbel) BLD
Day 22: Tuesday 17 December, Abu Simbel
- Temple of Ramesses II, Abu Simbel
- Temple of Nefertari, Abu Simbel
- Sound and Light Show, Abu Simbel (Optional)
Abu Simbel has become one of Egypt’s iconic sites, which probably has as much to do with the drama of its de- and re-construction in advance of the rising waters of Lake Nasser, as with its remote and stunning location. Here we visit two temples constructed by Ramesses II, which were moved to this site in 1966-1968. The relocation, which preserved the alignment of the temples and re-inserted them into the cliff face at their new location, was a major engineering feat, as remarkable as the original construction of the temples themselves. The temple is in fact very carefully aligned so that twice each year (February 21st and October 21st) the rising sun illuminates the sanctuary at the rear of the temple and shines upon the seated gods. The larger of the two temples is dedicated to Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses II, whose four great colossi spring out from the cliff face, dominating the temple facade. The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses’s wife, Nefertari.
This evening we remain at our hotel overlooking the lake at Abu Simbel. We dine together, and there will be the opportunity to attend the sound and light show seated before the looming and mysterious facades of Ramesses’s temples. (Overnight Abu Simbel) BLD
Cairo - 1 night
Day 23: Wednesday 18 December, Abu Simbel – Cairo
- Morning at leisure
- Mid-day flight Abu Simbel to Cairo
- Farewell Evening Dinner
This morning is free to enjoy the peace of southern Egypt before we return to the buzz of hectic Cairo. You may wish to re-visit the Abu Simbel temples at sunrise, or later in the morning at your leisure. Alternatively you might like to relax or take a leisurely stroll in the lakeside grounds of our hotel.
Our lunchtime flight from Abu Simbel to Cairo will touch down in Aswan. This evening we enjoy a Farewell Dinner in our hotel in downtown Cairo. (Overnight Cairo) BLD
Day 24: Thursday 19 December, Depart Cairo
- The Mu’allaqa Church (the ‘Hanging Church’)
- Coptic Museum
- Light lunch at the hotel
- Group transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour concludes with a visit to the heart of Coptic Cairo. The ‘Hanging (Mu’allaqa in Arabic) Church’ gets its name from its location on top of the southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress with its nave suspended above the passage below. It is the most famous Coptic Christian church in Cairo and is dedicated to St Mary. The Coptic Museum is a treasure trove of objects relating to Coptic history and culture going back to the 2nd century, including icons, manuscripts, sculptures, textiles and frescoes.
We return to our hotel for lunch and to freshen up before commencing our journey home. Participants returning to Australia on the group flights will be transferred to Cairo Airport after lunch. You are scheduled to depart on Emirates flight EK924 at 1905hrs. BL