We had crossed the Suez Canal after leaving Edfu and it had been a forgetful event. Our Edfu moments had been amazing (you can read about them here) and the much hyped crossing had been equally bland. Suez undoubtedly had been one of Egypt’s most historic achievements and the glory of its purpose had been unrivaled. An artificial sea level waterway, the Suez Canal had connected the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez and it had separated Africa from the Asian continent. Constructed to provide the shortest maritime route between Europe and the countries lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans, Suez Canal is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes. The waterway had utilized several lakes stretching from north to south and the project had taken more than 10 years to complete. Many fascinating facts had revolved around the important maritime shortcut and it’s history had dated back to Pharaonic times.
Suez had been mentioned by historians to be the most recent of all the man made waterways that had once snaked across Egypt and Pharaoh Senusret III had been credited to have built an early canal connecting the Red Sea and the Nile River. That had been around 1850 BC and ever since many other Egyptian rulers like Pharaoh Necho II and the Persian conqueror Darius had also begun such ambitious projects. Napoleon Bonaparte after conquering Egypt had also considered building one and Queen Cleopatra had supposedly sailed down one. In recent history too, the canal had been of utmost importance and the Cold War had witnessed its strategic genius. Interestingly, it’s presence had given the Egyptian government a lot of political clout too and the Six Day War between Egypt and Israel in 1967, had resulted in a fleet of ships being stranded in the middle of Suez Canal for 8 years.
The then retaliatory Egyptian government had sealed off both the ends of the waterway and the fleet of fateful 15 ships had literally gathered dust there. They had been renamed as the “Yellow Fleet”, since over the years desert sands had cracked their decks and by the time, the canal had been re opened, only 2 of the them had remained seaworthy enough to head back home on their own. The Suez Canal had recently received a major facelift and expansion and the work had been in progress, when I had crossed the historic channel. After all that hoopla, I had envisioned the crossing to be very exciting and instead, it had turned out to be a long wait in the midst of a complicated network of grids and locks. The wait had been pretty boring too and except for conservative gallabiya locals gawking at swimsuit clad tourists (with the passengers returning the astonished stare), there had been no memorable moment of the crossing.
We had sailed off through Suez around mid noon and glided down the Blue Nile until Luxor had arrived with all its grandeur. A premier and extremely popular tourist destination in Egypt, Luxor had meant, “Palaces”. The city had been the capital of Luxor Governorate and it had starred among the Upper (Southern) Egypt tourist trails. Home of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor had been dramatic, larger than life and touristy. It had made up for the boring Suez Canal crossing and I had felt excitement pulsate through its sandy heart. The Nile had sliced through the governorate, separating the dead from the living and 2 banks had been as uniquely different as possible. The West Bank had contained the vast Necropolis while the lively East Bank had been riddled with gorgeous temples of Karnak, museum etc. Fun activities had filled Luxor to the brim and its stupendous temples had rendered it the title of the “world’s greatest open-air museum”.
Luxor had left me awed from its very first presence and I had been overwhelmed by the giant active ancient modern city. The port of Luxor had been busily crowded with too many vessels of different sizes and styles and our ship had cautiously edged its way between them. It had been early evening by the time, we had reached Luxor and Mohammed, our guide had immediately rushed us off to the magnificent Karnak temple. The sun had been high, as we had raced our way to Karnak temple and Luxor had looked congested, busy and dusty in the afternoon heat. Major construction and/or archaeological work had thrown the city off gear and we had stared at the angry metropolis in silent discomfort. Afternoon heat had frayed nerves of nearly everybody in sight and we had itched uncomfortably in our rattling Luxor taxi. Strange fake fur, psychedelic lights and booming Arabic music had wailed inside our battered Russian Lada taxi and the local Egyptian driver had been seriously reckless.
Thankfully the complex of Karnak had arrived quickly and we had scrambled out of the furry vehicle in relief. Karnak temple had started immediately beyond the complex gate and silent rows of half excavated sphinxes had stood guard in front of it. The massive scale of the complex had been the first striking feature of Karnak and both of us had eagerly looked forward to exploring Egypt’s 2nd most important archaeological site. Having been safeguarded with hats, sunglasses and water bottles, we had braved the blinding Egyptian sun to soon lose our orientation amidst Karnak’s incredible depths. Spread over 3 square kilometers, Karnak complex had taken more than 1500 years for completion and it had been an extraordinary mix of sanctuaries, pylons, kiosks and obelisks. Many dynasties had added, defaced and left their marks upon the complex and both gods and pharaohs had been rendered equal importance in Karnak’s architectural history.
Dedicated to Theban gods and pharaohs, 3 enclosures had been housed inside Karnak and Amun had been its principal deity. Head of the Theban Triad (trio of gods), Amun along with his consort Mut and their son Khonsu had been major Egyptian deities of Berber origin. Although worshiped since the Old Kingdom period, Amun had risen to importance around 21st century BC and had eventually synthesized with the sun god Ra, thus becoming Amun Ra. Considered to be the king of gods, Amun Ra had been at helm of the Egyptian pantheon of gods, even throughout the New Kingdom period and slowly all other deities had turned into manifestations of him. His cult had spilled over to Nubia, Libya and Sudan and he had been identified as a part of the Greek god Zeus. Amun’s importance had not been lost to Egypt’s foreign invaders too and even Alexander, the Great had declared himself as the “son of Amun”. This unique cult had affected ancient Egyptian history in more than 1 way and it had given rise to the politically and economically powerful priests of Amun.
The religious leaders had kept the skeptre of power in their hands and most of the times, they had surpassed the pharaohs in popularity. Interestingly, this had resulted in a brief period of worship of Aten, under the rule of pharaoh Akhenaten and he had disliked the power of the temple of Amun. Akhenaten had forcibly toppled Amun from the celestial helm, defaced symbols of old deities and even moved his capital from the city of Thebes (seat of Amun cult). This had made him so immensely unpopular that after his death, the priests of Amun had swiftly undone all his moves. Akhenaten’s name had been struck off the royal registry, his governmental and religious changes reversed and even his son, Tutankhaten (living image of Aten) had been renamed as Tutankhamun (living image of Amun).
The city of Thebes had been restored as capital and in my eyes, all the intriguing history had been befitting for such a glorious temple. I had read about Karnak, Amun and Luxor during the Suez Canal wait and to me the complex had been a very peculiar mix of power, politics and faith. Full of life, death, carnage and beauty, the city had been a luxury in itself and needless to say, our first Luxor day had been overwhelming.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE