When you consider how long ago it was Egypt was home to one of the world’s first great civilisations, its incredible so many of the iconic and mighty structures are still standing today. Cheney from our South Africa office travelled to Egypt on our King Tutankhamen. She visited the magnificent buildings from this by-gone world, exploring the outstanding architecture full of intriguing history and incredible stories.
Here she shares the five monuments of Egypt which made her fall in love with the country. But, perhaps surprisingly, the list doesn’t include the Pyramids of Giza or the Sphinx.
1. The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Luxor
The story behind the Temple of Queen Hatsheput really captured my imagination. Queen Hatshepsut believed she would become the greatest pharaoh that ever lived. However, the daughter of Thutmose I lived in a time where women didn’t become pharaohs. Just the idea of it was out of the question. In the meantime, her stepmother gave birth to a baby boy named Thutmose II. She married her half-brother, automatically becoming the Queen of Egypt. Instead of passing the role of Pharaoh to her stepson when her husband died she controversially maintained her rule.
When she passed her stepson Thutmose III tried to destroy her memory. While he successfully demolished many of the monuments dedicated to her, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut remains as a site of her iconic power. Partly rock-cut and partly freestanding, it dramatically rises out of the desert plain. It’s easy to see why it’s one of Egypt’s most photographed monuments.
2. Abu Simbel, Aswan
The second highlight of my trip was certainly Abu Simbel, built under the rule of King Ramses II. A three hour drive through the Sahara Desert, this impressive temple was carved into a solid rock cliff overlooking Lake Nasser.
With a mighty empire at his feet, eight royal wives and countless children, King Rameses II was one of the mightiest pharaohs that ever ruled. Also known for his arrogance, he loved to flaunt his power. In the back chamber of Abu Simbel he had himself built in the image of a god. An unbelievable example of architectural precision and excessive narcissism, he had the temple built so the sun would shine through the temple and reflect on his face for a few minutes twice a year. These two dates were originally the 21st of February, his coronation, and 21st October, his birthday.
However, the temple was re-located in 1963 further up the Lake Nasser shoreline as the foundations were starting to erode. As a result the sun now strikes a day later, celebrated as the Abu Sun Festival. It’s hard to know whether King Ramses would be flattered millions of dollars were spent relocating his masterpiece or enraged his face is no longer illuminated on his special dates. Nevertheless its an outstanding temple.
3. Philae Temple, Aswan
When it comes to Egypt, there is nothing that fascinates me more than its mythology. The Philae Temple was built for the goddess Isis, constructed during the reign of the Greek King Ptolemy II. Isis was worshipped as the patroness of nature and magic. She was widely revered as she was friends to both slaves and sinners and the wealthy aristocrats. The temple was moved to the Egilica island after the flooding of Lake Nasser. Before 1972 when UNESCO intervened it was possible for six months of the year to row boats through the columns. It would have been completely submerged if thankfully action hadn’t been taken. Now with its new location, the temple overlooks the Nile and its stunning surroundings.
The Temple of Isis has attracted pilgrims for years. Also on the island is the Temple of Augustus, the Chapel of Osiris and the Temple of Horus and Hathor. It’s easy to spend hours here taking photos, inspired by the beauty of this extensive temple complex.
4. Temple of Kom Ombo, Aswan
Have you ever seen a mummified crocodile? If not, then the Temple of Kom Ombo is the place for you. The temple is unique as it was built for both the crocodile god, Sobek, and the falcon god, Horus. It was the last temple erected during the reign of King Ptolemy V. Being a temple built for one god of light and one of shadow, you’ll find the temple has two parallel temples. Along with some of the most beautiful and detailed hieroglyphs I saw during my travels.
The Chapel of Hathour is where you’ll find mummified crocodiles which represent the god Sobek. There are also early depictions of calendars and old surgical tools found on the walls of the temple – a fascinating look at how they practised their medicine and methods of mummification.
5. Zoser’s Step Pyramid, Saqqara
Its safe to assume when you think of Egypt, you instantly picture the Pyramids of Giza. But did you know there is a pyramid that was built before this World Wonder? The step pyramid of Zoser was built in the 27th century BC by the pharaoh’s trusted architect, advisor and priest known as Imhotep. The structure started as something known as ‘mastaba tomb‘, with sloping sides and a flattened roof. But instead it became the first-ever step pyramid with six layers atop of each other. It has an extensive labyrinth of tunnels underneath its surface measuring 5.5km (3.5 miles). This building paved the way for the iconic Great Pyramids of Giza. Therefore, I believe this phenomenal structure doesn’t get the credit or recognition it deserves today.
The sites I’ve chosen for this list are the perfect combination of interesting history, ancient folklore and amazing photo opportunities. They were chosen not just for their majestic architecture and beauty but because of the stories, fact and fiction, that really bring the sites to life. Egypt just doesn’t compare to anywhere else.
If you would like to see these magnificent buildings for yourself, have a browse of our Egypt group tours.