No trip to Egypt would be complete without sailing along the world’s longest river, the River Nile. The river was of much significance to the ancient Egyptians. The river banks were the most fertile lands which were used for farming. It was also used to transport goods and people. Since the river was so important, many temples were built along the Nile. Today, they are popular attractions to visit in Egypt via Nile cruise ships.
The Ship – The MS Amarco II
We spent 4 nights aboard this 5 star cruise ship leisurely sailing down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. You need not worry about motion sickness on this cruise, it’s a very smooth sail. The ship itself was very nice; The facilities included restaurants, a bar, a gym, a small pool, and spa. We had a spacious executive suite that allowed great views sailing along the Nile even when soaking in the tub.
All meals and afternoon tea except beverages were included in the cost of the cruise. Depending on the weather lunch was sometimes served on the top deck. There was a good variety of meats, rice, pasta, salads, breads and my favourite …dessert! At home vermicelli dessert (which I love) is usually served during the celebration of Eid ul Fitr, in Egypt, it’s served for breakfast (on the ship at least). It’s really easy to pack on some extra pounds because of all the deliciousness on this cruise.
Nightly entertainment included belly dancing, Nubian themed skits and sufi dancing. The daytime sail time did get a little boring for me because there wasn’t a lot to do on the ship and on our trip there weren’t many other guests aboard. I entertained myself at times by visiting the spa and the bar. The cocktails on the cruise were quite expensive as Egypt has a primarily Muslim population and alcohol isn’t widely available.
You can check out full details and costs of the MS Amarco II but generally the various cruise lines are all very similar.
The water level of the Nile is so low in Esna, it is impassable to the river cruise vessels. These ships are elevated by entering locks where water is pumped in allowing passage. We took around an hour to sail through, during this time vendors at street level skillfully threw packages of shawls and other souvenirs up onto the slow moving ship. Patrons would negotiate and pay or return the package by throwing them down to the street.
The city of Edfu was an important one in ancient Egypt because of its fertile land and is said to be the battle ground between Set and Horus. We took a short carriage ride from the ship’s docking point and arrived at the temple of Edfu. The temple is dedicated to Horus and the construction dates back to 237 BC, taking a whopping 180 years to complete (new additions and inscriptions).
The temple contains inscriptions of many famous battles including that of Set and Horus, a Nilometer (used to measure the Nile’s water level and clarity), chapels and a depiction of the Goddess Nut travelling on her solar boat.
Our guide even gave a brief lesson on how to read some inscriptions on the wall, none of which I can remember (this is an example of why I should write things down, Things I’ve learnt in 2017).
Entrance Cost: 100 EGP
The next stop along the Nile was the magnificent temple of Kom Ombo which was mainly dedicated to the Falcon God, Horus and Crocodile God, Sobek. This location is significant because this area along the River Nile was once inhabited by a large crocodile population. The temple has a stunning hypostyle hall filled with lotus topped columns and also contains several chapels dedicated to other gods like Hathor and Nut. Over 300 mummified crocodiles were discovered in this temple, they can now be found in the crocodile museum beside the temple.
Entrance Cost: 80 EGP
The ship docks in Aswan, from there it was about a 3hr drive to the temple of Abu Simbel on the west bank of the Nile, near the Sudan border. You’re going to get a bit more of a history lesson here because I think that it’s really interesting (this part is for you Desh!!).
One of Egypt’s most famous temples, it’s the second to the pyramids for the most visited spot. It was built by the pharaoh Ramesses II, the longest ruler of ancient Egypt. The recorded construction date of the temple is unclear, but it was built either between 1264 – 1244 BC or 1244-1224 BC.
Abu Simbel remained undiscovered and buried under the desert’s sands until about 1817. In the 1960s the temple faced being lost to the Nile due to the construction of the Aswan high Dam. Salvage efforts would see a team commissioned by UNSECO cut the temple into blocks and reconstruct it 65 m higher and 200m back from its original location. Preservation of the temple was so important that even the broken statue at the entrance of the great temple was not repaired but rather positioned in the same spot it was found in at the original location.
Our guide suggested that the temple’s location was chosen because of its remoteness and serene surroundings. Ramesses would go there to perform his worship and mediation with the intention of achieving god status. He is depicted as a god by the temple’s statues. If you are winning all battles, it makes sense that the next logical step is becoming a god… right?
Abu Simbel is made up of 2 temples carved from rock: The Great Temple and The Small temple. The entrance of the great temple has 4 very large statues of a seated Ramesses surrounded by little (but still HUGE) statues of family members and gods. The Temple was dedicated to Ptah, Ra,, and to Ramesses II with the inner sanctum having statues of each against the back wall. It was constructed such that twice a year, on the 22nd of February and October, sunlight enters the temple illuminating 3 of the 4 statues i.e. all but the God Ptah (god of the underworld). Sadly we missed this by one day, but there’s always next time. The significance of the dates are alleged to be Ramesses’ birthday and coronation day.
The smaller temple was dedicated to the queen Nefertiti, Ramesses II’s most favored wife. Its exterior has 2 statues of Nefertiti each protected by 2 Ramesses. This temple’s interior is simpler when compared to that of the great temple but the walls are filled with depictions of the queen in worship to the Goddess Hathor.
Photography isn’t allowed inside the temples
Entrance Cost: 160 EGP
This museum is focused on the history of the region that spanned Aswan to Sudan, known as Nubia. Construction of the Aswan High Dam left the history rich area submerged by the Nile’s water. The Egyptian government collaborated with UNSECO to salvage the regions historical treasures such as the temple of Abu Simbel. The museum is a well displayed collection of artifacts from the prehistoric era to present day.
Entrance Cost: 100 EGP
A short boat ride away, it’s another salvaged temple that was submerged as a result of the construction of the High Dam. The temple was dismantled stone by stone and transferred to the new and current site. Every single stone was individually numbered to ensure that the 9-year reconstruction was accurate.
This temple was dedicated to Isis, the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus. The walls are filled with depictions behind the lives of these gods such as Hathor nursing Horus while is mother Isis is off in search of the body parts of the murdered (by his brother Set) Osiris.
Entrance Cost: 100 EGP
Kitchener’s Botanical Garden
This island was named after Lord Kitchener who used it has his base during military campaigns in the Sudan. Today it’s a botanical garden filled with many different types of rare and exotic plants.
Entrance Cost: 20 EGP
This island’s ancient name was ‘Abu’ which translates to elephant and was once an important part of the ivory trade. There are ongoing excavations here as most of the island is in ruins. The most significant remains are that of a temple dedicated to the ram head god Khum.
On days with good wind, you usually visit the islands via a Felucca. Unlike my very windy desert safari, the day of our tour there was almost no wind. So the islands were visited by motor boat. We did however get a taste of a felucca ride, we spent around 30 minutes mostly drifting very slowly from Elephantine Island across the Nile to the mainland.
Like most of the other cities in Egypt, Aswan has a marketplace known as Sharia as-Souq that is jam packed with lots of souvenirs, gold jewelry, spices, clothes etc. It’s definitely worth checking out if only for the shops filled with aromatic scents.
El Tabia Mosque in Aswan is one of the oldest in the city its minarets can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. If you are are into Mamluk style architecture be sure to visit.
Religious architecture has always been interesting to me. Archangel Michael’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral has painted domed ceilings that deserve a visit if you are out walking around and can spare the time.
For more photos check out the Travel and Treatz Facebook page. Now it’s your turn to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
More on Abu Simbel