Visiting Egypt

Less Visited Sights of the West Bank (Ancient Thebes) near Luxor, Egypt

The West Bank of the Nile (across from Luxor) has a number of interesting sights, some of which very few tourists visit. Lots of boats will take you across the Nile for a small fee. Once you cross the Nile, there are plenty of taxis and bicycles for rent to get you around the sights. For a map of places we visited in Egypt, click here.

Our boat, the "Omar Sharrif" getting ready for the short journey across the Nile.

Our boat, the “Omar Sharrif” getting ready for the short journey across the Nile.

Colossi of Memnon

I admit these aren’t “less visited,” but since these huge statues mark the gateway to the sights of the West Bank, I am including them here. This is a popular spot since the Colossi are right off the road. They were part of a huge temple complex dating to the time of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC). The temple has long since disappeared, mainly due to the site being in the flood plain of the Nile and pilfering of the building materials by subsequent pharaohs.

These 60 ft. statues have been standing watch over the West Bank of the Nile for almost 2,400 years.

These 60 ft. statues have been standing watch over the West Bank of the Nile for almost 2,400 years.

The Colossi were already a tourist site in Roman times 2,000 years ago!

Deir al-Medina

These ruins are also known as the Worker’s Village. The workers who created the nearby Valley of the Kings and other monuments in Thebes lived in this village, which was founded about 1500 BC. During our visit we had the place to ourselves. The site includes a temple, ruins of the village houses, and several decorated tombs (no pictures inside allowed).

My sister in a view of the Worker's Village ruins (Deir al-Medina).

My sister in a view of the Worker’s Village ruins (Deir al-Medina).

A small temple in the Worker's Village.

A small temple in the Worker’s Village.

Walls surrounding the temple in the Worker's Village.

Walls surrounding the temple in the Worker’s Village.

Another view of the Worker's Village (Deir al-Medina).

Another view of the Worker’s Village (Deir al-Medina).

Tombs of the Nobles

These tombs are less refined and more rough-hewn than the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but are considered some of the best in Thebes. There are 100 tombs, not all of which are open and you probably couldn’t find them if they were. It is impossible to get pictures inside the tombs, and I understand the need for ensuring the paintings will endure for future generations. We were the only group visiting this spot.

Looking up at the hillside containing many of the Tombs of the Nobles.

Looking up at the hillside containing many of the Tombs of the Nobles.

The entrance to the Tomb of Sennofer (considered one of the best in the Tombs of the Nobles), 18th Dynasty (about 1500 BC).

The entrance to the Tomb of Sennofer (considered one of the best in the Tombs of the Nobles), 18th Dynasty (about 1500 BC).

The village that intermingles with the tombs is called Old Gurna and the government is trying to relocate the population away from the tombs. We had some friendly local residents show us around some of the tombs for a small fee.

The village of Old Gurna near the Tombs of the Nobles.

The village of Old Gurna near the Tombs of the Nobles.

The Ramesseum

This very ruined structure was built for Ramses II (around 1250 BC) as his mortuary temple so he could live eternally in the minds of his subjects. Ramses II ruled Egypt for 67 years. With almost no tourists in sight, it was fun exploring the ruins of this huge temple.

In the Hypostyle Hall of the Ramesseum.

In the Hypostyle Hall of the Ramesseum.

The head and shoulders of a 60 ft. statue of Ramses II - how did they move and hoist such a huge block of granite?

The head and shoulders of a 60 ft. statue of Ramses II – how did they move and hoist such a huge block of granite?

Another view of the Ramesseum. In the background are statues of Ramses II as Osiris, god of the underworld.

Another view of the Ramesseum. In the background are statues of Ramses II as Osiris, god of the underworld.

We spent two days exploring the sights of the West Bank and it would be easy to have spent more exploring this vast culturally rich area.

Karnak, Egypt – “The Most Perfect of Places”

Entrance to Karnak along the Avenue of the Sphinxes (which runs all the way from Luxor).

Entrance to Karnak along the Avenue of the Sphinxes (which runs all the way from Luxor).

Karnak is Egypt’s greatest temple complex and is considered the most important Pharaonic site after the Pyramids of Giza. It was also the most important place of worship in Egypt from approximately 1500 – 1000 BC. It was called “Ipet-Isut” meaning “The Most Perfect of Places.” Karnak was built over a period of about 1,300 years, starting around 2125 BC.

Remants of the original paintings in the Great Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III.

Remants of the original paintings in the Great Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III.

During the reign of Ramses III, 80,000 people worked at or on the complex as laborers, servants, guards, priests and many other functions.

The huge Hypostyle Hall at Karnak.

The huge Hypostyle Hall at Karnak.

Note the size of the people in the distance - Karnak Temple is on a huge scale.

Note the size of the people in the distance – Karnak Temple is on a huge scale.

Karnak's Sacred Lake, where priests purified themselves.

Karnak’s Sacred Lake, where priests purified themselves.

Temple of Ramses III at Karnak.

Temple of Ramses III at Karnak.

The scale of the site (about a square kilometer) is massive and there’s a lot to explore here. Be sure to take the time to go to some of the outer ruins. Karnak is just 2 kilometers north of Luxor (see my post on Luxor here), also on the east bank of the Nile. Both Luxor and Karnak can be visited in one day.

Statues of Karnak at night.

Statues of Karnak at night.

There is an evening sound and light show that was quite good. The show included walking through the massive complex at night, which was a blast and gave the place an entirely different feeling.

Sources: Information at Karnak Temple, DK Eyewitness Travel Egypt, Lonely Planet Egypt.

Overlooking the Karnak Temple Complex and Sacred Lake at night.

Overlooking the Karnak Temple Complex and Sacred Lake at night.

Visiting Luxor, Egypt

About 400 miles (640 km) south of Cairo sits the city of Luxor, on the Nile River. This was one of my favorite spots in Egypt, since there is so much to do here. We arrived by overnight train from Cairo. We didn’t get much sleep on the train, but the sleeper car accommodations were fine and it was a fun way to travel at least once.

Arriving in Luxor after an overnight ride from Cairo.

Arriving in Luxor after an overnight ride from Cairo.

The interior of our sleeper car for the overnight ride to Luxor from Cairo (there is a bed that folds down above the couch).

The interior of our sleeper car for the overnight ride to Luxor from Cairo (there is a bed that folds down above the couch).

Luxor makes a good base for exploring the region. There is a lot to do in this area, we spent 4 days and could have easily spent more.  For a map of places we visited in Egypt, click here.

Luxor is on the east bank of the Nile, and in addition to the temple at Luxor, the huge Karnak temple complex is just two kilometers north along the Corniche (I will do a separate post on Karnak). There are lots of restaurants along the Corniche, and it’s fun to sit outside in the evening watching the sun set over the Nile. You can walk or get a carriage (bargain hard!) or bicycle to take you between the two temples.

My sister, brother in-law and father in-law taking a ride from Luxor to Karnak.

My sister, brother in-law and father in-law taking a ride from Luxor to Karnak.

Just across the west bank of the Nile is the Valley of the Kings, among many other tombs and temples. A bit farther afield, but doable by day trips, are the temples of Dendara (north) and Edfu (south). This post will concentrate on Luxor itself.

Luxor Temple

The temple sits close to the bank of the Nile and is in the heart of the town.

The First Pylon, or entrance to Luxor Temple.

The First Pylon, or entrance to Luxor Temple.

It dates to the time of Amenhotep III (who reigned 1390 – 1352 BC) and was already a tourist site by the time of the Greeks and Romans!

Statues of Ramses II, in the Courtyard of Ramses II.

Statues of Ramses II, in the Courtyard of Ramses II.

The Colonnade of Amenhotep III at Luxor Temple.

The Colonnade of Amenhotep III at Luxor Temple.

The temple site was rediscovered and excavated in 1881, having been covered by sand and silt over the centuries. A small village had sprouted up on top of the temple and even today there is a mosque from this time still enclosed within the temple ruins, an odd juxtaposition.

A chamber of the Luxor Temple with hieroglyphic writings.

A chamber of the Luxor Temple with hieroglyphic writings.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes, which connected Luxor with Karnak.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes, which connected Luxor with Karnak.

I strongly suggest visiting the temple at Luxor first and then visiting Karnak. Luxor is great, but the scale and size of Karnak is so massive, it makes Luxor almost seem puny, so work your way north. Also, Luxor Temple is lit up at night and is quite striking. Be sure to visit then too.

Luxor Temple at night.

Luxor Temple at night.

Taking a carriage ride through the markets of Luxor.

Taking a carriage ride through the markets of Luxor.

A local market in the outskirts of Luxor.

A local market in the outskirts of Luxor.

Both temples can be easily seen in a day, leaving time to wander through the interesting markets in Luxor and maybe taking a dip in your hotel’s pool afterwards.

Exploring Dahshur and Saqqara – Egypt as it was a Hundred Years Ago

If you’d like to get away from the crowds in Cairo, and feel almost like you’re an early explorer in Egypt, take a short trip to Dahshur and Saqqara. These are “don’t miss” sights and an easy day trip (the furthest site, Dahshur, is about 23 miles south from Cairo, we hired a driver and van from Cairo to take us to these sights).

Dahshur

Dahshur originally contained 11 pyramids, and the oldest are the main attractions. The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramids were built around 2600 BC, making them slightly older than the pyramids of Giza. They are almost as large as the more famous pyramids at Giza, both are only about 14 feet shorter than the Pyramid of Khafre (the 2nd highest pyramid at Giza). They were the first “true” pyramids the Egyptians built.

The Red Pyramid - picture perfect with a camel!

The Red Pyramid – picture perfect with a camel!

The Bent Pyramid was built first, and the builders learned during construction that they had to lessen the steepness of the angle of the sides due to stability issues and the adjustment gives the pyramid its unique shape.

The Bent Pyramid - not accessible to tourists.  The angle was reduced from 54 to 43 degrees due to stress and instability.

The Bent Pyramid – not accessible to tourists. The angle was reduced from 54 to 43 degrees due to stress and instability.

The Red Pyramid is open to the public, the Bent Pyramid is not, since it is on a military reservation.  I loved visiting the Red Pyramid—it looks untouched with sand still covering the huge stone blocks part way up the sides and inside we had the interior chambers all to ourselves.

The corbelled ceilings in the Red Pyramid chambers. Hard to get a good perspective with a photo.

The corbelled ceilings in the Red Pyramid chambers. Hard to get a good perspective with a photo.

The entrance to the Red Pyramid is in the distance.

The entrance to the Red Pyramid is in the distance.

Saqqara

Just about 6 miles north of Dahshur is Saqqara, the burial site for the ancient city of Memphis, just a short distance away. This was a burial ground for 3,500 years, and was largely buried in sand until the mid-1800’s. Saqqara is home to the Step Pyramid, built in 2650 BC, and it is the oldest stone monument in Egypt and quite possibly the world.

My in-laws in front of the Step Pyramid. The pyramid's interior is not open or safe enough for visitors.

My in-laws in front of the Step Pyramid. The pyramid’s interior is not open or safe enough for visitors.

The Step Pyramid was part of a progression in construction technology that led to the smooth-sided, near perfectly-dimensioned pyramids of Dahshur and Giza just a hundred years later.

The entrance to the Tomb of Mereruka, one of the many tombs at Saqqara.

The entrance to the Tomb of Mereruka, one of the many tombs at Saqqara.

Inside the Tomb of Mereruka, there are 32 chambers in this tomb.

Inside the Tomb of Mereruka, there are 32 chambers in this tomb.

Inside the Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara (about 2300 BC) - note the Pyramid Texts on the walls.

Inside the Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara (about 2300 BC) – note the Pyramid Texts on the walls.

Saqqara is a huge site, you will have to pick and choose what you see, and some tombs may be closed on a rotating basis. There were a few tour buses here, but not many, and since the site is spread out, you may find yourself enjoying the tombs on your own. Be prepared to stoop, crawl, and get a bit dusty in entering some of the tombs – part of the fun!

The Pyramids of Abu Sir, looking north from Saqqara. The most northern one, Pyramid of Sahure, was open to tourists at the time, not sure if it still is.

The Pyramids of Abu Sir, looking north from Saqqara. The most northern one, Pyramid of Sahure, was open to tourists at the time, not sure if it still is.

References: Lonely Plant Egypt and DK Eyewitness Travel Egypt