The Nile as Living History

The country’s lush Nile Valley is a living, ancient history museum unlike any other, with soaring pyramids, fascinating artifacts and much more

By: By Claire Walter

Destination Resources

By Christine Trang

Port Ghalib
As one of the newest resort communities in Egypt, Port Ghalib is fast attracting developers, locals and tourists to Egypt’s Red Sea coastline. The port is home to a total of four different hotels — InterContinental The Palace Port Ghalib Resort, Crowne Plaza Sahara Sands Port Ghalib Resort, Crowne Plaza Sahara Oasis Port Ghalib Resort and Marina Lodge at Port Ghalib — along with various retail outlets, an Egyptian bazaar and many restaurants. Port Ghalib also has a convention center that can host up to 1,500 delegates and a busy international marina that can hold up to 1,000 yachts of up to 164 feet in length. Another highlight of the complex is its manmade saltwater swimming lagoon, the second largest in the world. To get to Port Ghalib, clients can fly into Marsa Alam International Airport, which is just five minutes away. The port is approximately a 2½-hour drive from the Valley of the Kings.

Bent Pyramid Access Granted to Tourists
Last month, Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass announced that travelers will soon have a chance to explore the inner chambers of the 4,500-year-old Bent Pyramid (so named because of its oddly shaped profile) along with nearby tombs. The increased accessibility is part of a new sustainable development campaign that the country hopes will attract more visitors but also avoid some of the urban sprawl and destruction that have defaced the pyramids of Giza. Today, an estimated 5 percent of tourists to Egypt visit the pyramids at Dahshur. In anticipation of increased tourism numbers, Hawass and the United Nations are helping Dahshur villagers with acquiring small business loans. A master plan for the area and its surrounding villages will be completed by the end of the year.

Moevenpick Resort Aswan: Situated on an island in the middle of the Nile River, Elephantine Island, this resort offers approximately 244 air-conditioned rooms, complete with satellite television and dial-up Internet. Surrounded by tropical gardens, the resort is accessible by private boat service. The drop-off point for the five-minute boat ride is in the center of the Aswan Bazaars, where travelers can purchase perfume bottles, scarves, spices and herbs.

Pyramisa Isis Island Hotel: Pyramisa Isis Island Hotel is set within 28 acres of landscaped gardens. Just a few minutes from the Agha Khan Mausoleum and the downtown shopping area, this hotel offers nine meeting rooms and 435 guestrooms. The five-star hotel also offers on-site restaurants that serve a variety of local and international cuisine. It takes approximately 10 minutes to get from the shore to the hotel.

Concorde El Salam Hotel Cairo: The Concorde El Salam Hotel Cairo was built in the style of a manor house, complete with palm trees, classical columns and a white stucco exterior. The hotel conveniently offers many room options, including rooms with a pool view, sea view or garden view. For leisure, guests can enjoy a morning ride on a horse or a nap in a private pavilion. From the Cairo International Airport, guests can arrive at Concorde El Salam Hotel in approximately 10 minutes via the hotel’s complimentary shuttle service. Babysitting and other children’s services are also available to guests.

Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza: This four-year-old, five-star property is only a 15-minute walk from the Egyptian Museum and sits on the Corniche of the Nile River. The hotel also offers commanding views of the Nile and the Citadel from its 365 guestrooms, 77 of which are large suites. The hotel spa specializes in all-natural spa treatments and massages and diners have a choice of seven different restaurants and three lounges.

Jolie Ville Resort Luxor: This environmentally friendly hotel is located near the foot of several pyramids and other archaeological sites. Although the hotel is far removed from the city, it is a great option for those who want to escape the noise. This 326-room hotel is equipped with an infinity pool, two tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course and fishing and bike rental.

Egyptian Museum, Cairo
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Visitors will find a collection of papyrus and coins, made of gold, silver and bronze, used in the ancient world. Visitors will also get a glimpse of tasteful jewelry, funerary equipment and Egyptian sculpture. The first floor contains artifacts from the final two dynasties of Ancient Egypt, including pieces taken from Tutankhamen’s tomb. Some of these pieces include alabaster vases and flasks, as well as weapons and instruments used by the king.

Khan el-Khalili, Cairo
This world-famous bazaar or souk is located in the Old City of Cairo and dates back to 1382. In addition to a range of shops, the bazaar is home to several coffeehouses, restaurants and street food vendors. In recent years, the market has been a site of two terrorists attacks — one in April 2005 and the other in February of this year — but it remains a busy and vital marketplace for both locals and tourists alike.

The Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan
The unfinished obelisk is one of the largest known ancient obelisks to date. If it had been completed, the obelisk would have measured approximately 120 feet, nearly one-third larger than any Egyptian obelisk that has been carved and erected. Rather than refine a piece of granite, the obelisk’s creators began to carve it directly out of bedrock, but abandoned the obelisk when cracks appeared in the granite. Marks from workers’ tools are still clearly visible, offering insight into ancient Egyptian carving techniques. The unfinished obelisk is now part of an open-air museum.

Valley of the Kings, Luxor
Located on the west bank of the Nile, the Valley of the Kings is home to approximately 63 tombs and chambers. This valley, separated into East and West, was constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom, dating from the 16th through 11th centuries B.C. Although a number of tombs were robbed in antiquity, many tombs still display scenes from Egyptian mythology and relate the power the rulers had at the time. The valley is well-known for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Egyptian Tourist Authority

Grand Egyptian Museum

Pillars Of Civilization

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Egypt’s Nile Valley is a kaleidoscope of scenes and experiences. Here, there is a contrast between places that are green as far as the eye can see and the sand dunes that practically reach the riverbanks. Even passing visitors can get a glimpse of life in the cities, villages, towns and rural areas that flank the Nile while en route to the country’s storied antiquities. And, of course, incomparable art, architecture and thousands of years’ worth of history are embodied in its ancient sites — the temples and tombs that are the stars of the larger-than-life outdoor museum that is Egypt.

Hieroglyphics give modern scholars and travelers plenty to ponder over. // (c) istockphoto
Hieroglyphics give modern scholars and travelers plenty to ponder over.

Cairo and Giza
Most of the country’s 12 to 13 million annual visitors fly to Cairo. Its international airport is expanding one terminal and adding a third to double its capacity to 22 million passengers a year. Cairo, a busy metropolis of 18 million people and growing, is the launching pad for exploration.

The Egyptian Museum is the perfect place for visitors to start. This century-old museum is like the country’s attic, chockablock with plaques, capitals from columns, heads from statues, full statues, sarcophaguses, polychrome tablets and glass cases filled with pottery, papyrus scrolls, cartouches, weaponry and jewelry, including the priceless treasures from King Tut’s tomb. A new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza near the pyramids will soon provide travelers with more
exhibit space. Dr. Zahi Hawass, arguably the world’s preeminent Egyptologist and secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has asked major museums with Egyptian collections to return at least one piece for the new building’s opening, which is planned for 2010.

Most visitors come to experience the legacy of ancient Egypt on organized tours, and almost everyone visits the Giza Plateau, near Cairo, with its jaw-dropping pyramids. These behemoths are the largest and best known of the 100 or so in the country.

The Great Pyramid at Giza is the only survivor of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and is incomprehensibly enormous. The Great Pyramid, built for Khufu (aka Cheops) was built between 2575 and 2560 B.C. with approximately 2.3 million massive stones. It rises to about 480 feet and covers 13 acres. Dr. Hawass has debunked the belief that the pyramids were built by slaves and believes that skilled craftsmen, along with farmers in the off-season, were the laborers. Like the pyramids, the Great Sphinx at Giza is the most famous of many smaller sphinxes sprinkled across the Nile Valley landscape. This monumental half-lion, half-human statue is currently being restored. And even older than the Giza Plateau pyramids is the distinctive Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, just south of Cairo.

Luxor and Aswan
Some 300 riverboats ply 111 miles of the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan, perhaps the greatest linear concentration of antiquities on the planet. The upstream trip, which is southbound, travels from Luxor to Aswan, while the downstream or northbound route is the reverse. Boats travel in daylight, enabling passengers to see all manner of life and history along one of the world’s major rivers, including Abu Simbel, which is often added to itineraries.

In the 13th century B.C., the Great Temple of Abu Simbel was hewn out of solid rock with four colossal statues on the facade. It almost disappeared in the 20th century when a huge dam was constructed across the Nile near Aswan. UNESCO relocated the temple and the smaller Temple of Hathor/Nefertari to an artificial cliff that was 213 feet higher, where the temples would be safe from Lake Nasser’s rising waters. Morning light now bathes the temples’ east-facing statues in a golden glow.

The cities of Aswan and Luxor bracket the Upper Nile Valley’s most concentrated area for sites. Each temple is distinctive in its design, its degree of reconstruction and whom it honored. The beautiful Temple of Philae was also relocated by UNESCO. The Temple of Khnum at Esna, which was built beginning in the fourth century B.C., is flanked by the Temple of Satis built by Queen Hatshepsut and the Greco-Roman Necropolis of the Rams occupy Elephantine Island, the oldest inhabited part of Aswan. The Temples at Kom Ombu and Edfu date to the second and third centuries B.C. And the soaring Temple of Horus at Edfu was buried under silt and sand for almost 2,000 years, making it the Nile Valley’s best-preserved temple.

Even amid such archeological riches, Luxor stands out with two enormous temples — Luxor and Karnak — that dwarf other sites in the area. Massive as it is, the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak was built by the last king of ancient Egypt and was never finished. Across the river, 63 underground tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings. The kings died on the west side of the river where the sun sets and are buried on the east side where the sun rises, a fulfillment of the ancient Egyptian belief in an afterlife. Still, not all of the tombs have been excavated and fewer are open for visitors to view, but those that are open feature breathtaking polychrome paintings that are still fresh, brilliant and fascinating. The Temple of Hatshepsut, with its double-decker columns, is one of Egypt’s most distinctive sites.

Tour guides here are knowledgeable about gods, kings and dynasties and easily drop names of the entire royal and godly Egyptian pantheon — Isis, Osiris, Hathor, Khnum, Amun, Thutmose, Ramses and Tutankhamen, the boy-king who died young and is mainly known for the treasures found in his tomb instead of his accomplishments. Some visitors try to take in all the facts, dates and dynasties, while others listen in a sort of reverie, simply giving themselves over to the immense experience.

Looking Ahead
Right now, Egypt is in a conservation frenzy, which is good news for your clients who are eager to visit now and in the years to come. The new Grand Egyptian Museum is just one of 19 museums being built, rebuilt or renovated. An international cadre of archaeologists continues its excavations in the Valley of the Kings and elsewhere in the Nile Valley. And Egypt remains ready to share its treasures with the visiting world.