Aswan and Abu Simbel

Friday, December 22, 2017

Anniversary in Aswan!

There is a store on board the ship (where people bought their costumes) that sells gold jewelry. One of the things they will do is inscribe your name in hieroglyphics on a bracelet or pendant. Wendy was tempted, but even though it was vacation money, we just couldn’t justify it for something that would probably never be worn in the States. Anyway, as part of the process, we got our names written in hieroglyphs. Each symbol has a meaning, and the best 26 of them have (in modern times) been assigned a corresponding letter. Here they are.

What made this also special is that last year on our wedding anniversary we were on Masada and had our names written in Hebrew by a rabbi. Click here to view that post.

On Friday, we had a 7:15 tour time for a jam-packed morning. First, a short bus ride to a dock with hundreds of small colorful motor boats. These are used by tourists to get to the Temple of Philae on Agilika Island (about 1 mile off shore). This 4th century BC temple is dedicated to Isis,the goddess of love and magic (and wife of Osiris, god of justice).  By the way, the Isis goddess is in no way related to the 21st century group of the same name.

As with many other Egyptian temples, this one was eventually taken over by the Romans, who defaced the stone depictions of many of the gods. A very interesting (and possibly unique) feature of this temple is the graffiti found in several places. And this is not just your ordinary “Cleo loves Mark” graffiti written with a felt tipped pen….this graffiti is actually chiseled into the walls. (“Pssssst: Cleo: you distract the priests for several hours while I work on this”)!!! There are names, insults, and other kinds of messages done over hundreds of years—including French names from Napoleonic times.

Our guidebook says that the last of Egypt’s ancient hieroglyphics is in here; written on August 24, 394 AD (how can they be so precise?). This was also the site where 600 Egyptian priests were killed in one day by the Christians in the 5th century AD. As they moved across the country, they killed the priests for religious reasons, but the priests were also the learned men of society. So wiping out this group effectively killed the passing down of knowledge and created Egypt’s Dark Ages, which lasted for almost 1,000 years. Who knows what this civilization could have developed (and passed on to other people) during that time if this had not occurred?

Aside from its beauty and history, the other reason this temple is noteworthy is because of where it is located. When the first Aswan dam was built in the early 1900s, the result was that this temple was partially submerged for up to 8 months a year! As work began on the High Dam farther upstream in the 1960s, the engineers realized that that would cause the total and permanent covering of this temple. So, over a 10 year period, it was completely disassembled and the tens of thousands of pieces were moved about 1 mile west to this island (several hundred feet higher), where it was put back together….safe forever from the waters and floods of the Nile.   

We took the motor boat back to the starting point, then a 10 minute ride south, where we stood atop the Aswan High Dam.

The reservoir which it created, Lake Nasser, is the 3rd largest one of its kind in the world. The Nile looks puny on the other side. The Aswan High Dam is a military base-with high level security for admittance and no zoom lens photography or video allowed.  It was impressive but not exciting.

There is also a monument near the dam.

The Lonely Planet Guide describes it thus:
    Before you see the Dam itself, you see the top of lotus flower petals that sprout backwards,
    from the top down, lead down to the bottom of the Soviet-Arab Friendship Monument. The
    stone edifice is one of several Nasser-era architectural middle fingers to the U.S. (The Cairo
    tower, built with funds earmarked by Eisenhower for Nasser to use secretly and which Nasser
    found insulting, is another).

The afternoon’s activity consisted of a boat ride to some sort of nature area where a local guide would lead a bird-watching expedition, followed by a visit to the home of a Nubian family. Hmmmm…..   Wayne already did his small boat ride for this year in the morning, we really don’t get into birding, and we have done the “family home visit” in the Yucatan, Viet Nam, China, Ireland, and a few other places (not to sound too jaded). So it was an easy decision to wave goodbye to our fellow travelers as we headed back to the sun deck.    

For our afternoon activity, we relaxed on the sun deck and then Wendy partook in the next episode of “great massages around the world.”  This one was different in that she heard bones crack that had never cracked before; including all 10 toes.  The masseur was very talented, very strong, and his English was excellent.  But, at the end, he neglected to tell her that the massage was over, so she actually laid there for 5 minutes waiting “patiently” for Mohammed to say “OK, you’re done” but he never did. There’s a first for everything!

The pre-dinner show tonight was Nubian dancers. (The Nubians actually controlled the country for about 100 years in the 7th century BC.)  There were several drummers, plus 3 male dancers in a variety of costumes. Once again, they had members of our group (we are the only travelers on the boat!) come up and join them in their traditional dances. Of course, Wendy couldn’t resist.  The moves included traditional steps, various Nubian-style bar mitzvah routines, Egyptian Conga lines, and beyond. It’s reassuring there are some ways to burn off calories on our river boat! 

Once again, this worked up our appetites! But we have begun to pace ourselves as the quantity of food we have eaten is starting to reach the size of some of the temples we have seen!  Dinner was nice—two of our new friends treated the table to two bottles of champagne for our anniversary. And, then it was dessert time which meant only one thing—anniversary cake and a kitschy serenade (to Egyptian music, with Egyptian instruments) in our honor. (Another couple had an anniversary earlier in the week, so we knew what was coming and saved room. And Wendy had specially requested that the cake be chocolate!)

They pulled us up to dance and there must have been 43 verses before we were permitted to sit down!  Another memorable anniversary in a far-away land for the record books!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Today was all about Abu Simbel. You may not be familiar with the name, but you may have seen the photos and heard the story of this incredible monument.

It is about 179 miles from our dock in Aswan (only 45 miles from the border with Sudan), so we had to fly there. For you Mid-westerners, this is roughly equivalent to flying from Midway to Springfield, spending an hour at the Lincoln Museum, and then flying back home. But with the bus rides to and from each airport, the security checks, and the flights themselves, it was a 7.5 hour odyssey.

We headed out at 7:15 am. Security is very tight at the airport, including shoe removal. The first checkpoint is right as you enter the building. The second one is literally 50 feet away! What could possibly have changed in that short space? Then, before boarding, they look at your passport again. Our 40 minute flight landed at about 10:10. Just as we neared the airport, we flew right by the monument! An amazing view, but we weren’t quick enough to snap a picture.

There are two temples here; they were built by Ramses II sometime after 1,275 BC. The smaller Temple of Hathor (built his wife Nefertari), had been visible for centuries, but the larger one, was not discovered (really “uncovered”) until 1813. (Note: we have seen Ramses spelled “Ramses”, “Rameses”, and “Ramesses”.) As with Philae, these temples would have been submerged once the High Dam was built unless something was done to save them. Like Philae, it too was cut into thousands of pieces and reassembled pretty much in the same place, only at a higher elevation. He and his queen now overlook Lake Nasser.

These are not free-standing temples like most of the others we’ve seen. The colossal statues are carved into the face of a mountain, and then the temple itself is carved farther in.

The statues of Ramses are about 70 feet tall. The second one on the left was partially destroyed during an earthquake in the 14th century AD. The head now lies on the ground.

These huge statues would be impressive enough by themselves, but the interiors of the temples are impressive in their own right. Aside from the engineering involved in building these inside a mountain (more in a minute), they are noteworthy because of the floor to ceiling colorings of the carvings. Since it was buried in sand for over 2,000 years (its very out-of-the-way location meant hardly anyone would come to visit), and even when new it was not exposed to the elements, meaning that there has been no damage or weathering. So we can actually see the people in the battle depictions and other tableaux wearing clothes! Because of this coloring, photography inside the temple is strictly forbidden.

Of course……we were easily able to find a photo of  the Abu Simbel interior on the internet.

You can sort of see that the temple is made of 3 main rooms, each with ornately carved columns and beautifully carved walls; there are a number of side rooms as well. At the far end is a smaller room with the figures of the gods Amun, Ptah, and Ra-Harakhty, as well as Ramses. The ancient architects and engineers designed the structure so that the sun would shine on Ramses face only 2 days a year: February 21 (his birthday) and October 21 (his ascension to the throne day). Astute calendarians among us will note that these two dates are not 6 months apart; that would be easy! They are 8 and then 4 months apart…so truly an amazing engineering feat to make this happen. So, when the modern people were contemplating the move of this structure, they had to do their planning to keep this astronomical event in place. However, once it was all reassembled, they discovered that the day when the light hit him had been shifted to Feb 22 and Oct 22!  Womp womp! (And a point for the Ancient Egyptians!)

The walk back to the bus lot led us through a bazaar with many merchants: Ye Ollllllllde Market. These vendors were quite assertive in their zeal to sell their wares, but we successfully ran the gauntlet without succumbing.

Then back to the bus, the airport, Aswan, and the ship; arriving at 2:30. As the last of us crossed the gangplank and headed into a much need lunch, the ship weighed anchor and began heading downstream/north (remember the Nile runs south to north) to Edfu (about 50 miles south of Luxor). There we will have one more temple to tour (on Sunday) before we fly back to Cairo to (finally) see the Pyramids and Sphinx.

Once we are there, the internet connection will be much better and any subsequent posts will contain the fabulous photos you have all been craving. (Speaking of craving, the food has been delicious and the chef/catering manager have been very accommodating in response to our requests for recipes.  NB:  if you attend our annual Hands of Peace staff/Board dinner each summer, you can expect an Egyptian menu in 2018! Also, speaking of craving, we are trying hard to figure out how to get to the “best donut place in Cairo” upon our return.)

So for now,

Love w&w……………….   

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