© Andreas F. Voegelin, Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig
The boy king Tutankhamun
The inner sanctum of the
temple at Edfu
Painting from the Greek-Roman temple at Dendera
A cruise down the Nile is one of those trips that most people
contemplate at least once in their lifetime. It is particularly
relevant now, with the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age
of the Pharaohs exhibition opening at London’s O2 arena
We embarked on the MS RA11 at Luxor, one of 350
vessels moored on the Nile. The boat, which holds 136, has
an Egyptian star rating which is equivalent to three stars in
the UK. All are structured in the same way, with up to five
visible floors including a sundeck.
Our boat included what they described as a swimming pool,
but which is more of a plunge pool. A bonus are the French
doors in the cabins, rather than windows, and if you have a
suite there is also a miniscule balcony which takes two chairs.
The cruise took us from Luxor to Aswan with visits to
various temples and tombs dating back to the New Kingdom,
the time when Egypt became an empire in 1600 BC up
until the Greek-Roman period of the 1st. century AD.
When needed, a coach was always waiting to take us
to a site. On several occasions, we also had a police escort.
Following the massacre of 1997, there is always a strong police
presence wherever you go. Our exploration of the Nile only
started on the day after we arrived when we sailed north to
Dendera. The Greek-Roman temple, discovered in the
19th century, is currently undergoing restoration to its ceiling
to clean off the grime and soot, revealing pictures beneath.
Having a good guide is particularly important to understand
even a little of what the many carvings represent. We were
particularly fortunate in having Salah Tawfik, who not
only speaks excellent English, but as well as being a trained
Egyptologist, is still continuing his research of the culture.
The temples are usually divided into several areas, with
the innermost sanctum being exclusively for the king or,
in his absence, the high priest. The walls, adorned with
carvings and hieroglyphics – often very colourful – are
a pictorial representation of the order of services once
From Dendara, we sailed back to Luxor for our visit to the
Valley of the Kings. The visits are generally well spread out
so that, except for the odd day, there is usually time to relax
and enjoy the experience of being on the water, as well as its
unique scenery. Even with the desert so close, the area by
the Nile is lush and green as it has been irrigated by the water
from the river.
Date and banana trees are interspaced with the occasional
village, and even the odd cow can be seen grazing not too
far from the water’s edge. My thoughts of retracing the
path of Moses in the bull rushes was thwarted, however,
as although we passed clumps of bull rushes, the area where
this is purported to have happened, is apparently further
down the Nile by the Delta.
Although the royal families used to live in the Delta region,
close to the Mediterranean, the Valley of the Kings was their
burial place. To date, 62 tombs have been found. These
include some belonging to noblemen. To preserve them,
generally only 12 are open at any one time, with the entry
ticket giving access to three, excluding that of Tutankhamun.
To get into the latter, there is an additional payment,
although it is one of the smallest and least decorated. Its
notoriety is due to the fact that it was only discovered in
1922. Unlike the others, it was found intact, filled with
3,400 items, most of which are now in the Cairo Museum.
A few, however, can be seen in the Luxor Museum.
At the beginning of each temple or tomb, there is always
a selection of small shops selling everything from clothing
to ornaments, headwear and jewellery. Unfortunately, the
vendors tend to pester you to the extent that it soon becomes
very irritating. The bonus is that bartering is very much a way
of life and so, if anything appeals, it is very often possible to
buy it at a fraction of the asking price.