Exploring Egypt – Luxor, Valleys of the Kings and Queens

Ancient recorded history reaches back over 5,000 years in Egypt and tracks 39 Pharaonic dynasties. This period extends from the 32nd century BC, when Upper and Lower Egypt were unified, to 30 BC (over 3,000 years)!

In 526 BC the Persians invaded Egypt and reigned until the country fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC. The Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom formed in the aftermath of Alexander’s death, ruled Egypt until 30 BC, when, under Cleopatra, it fell to the Roman Empire and became a Roman province.

Ramses II (1279 -1213 BC), Karnak Temple Complex – Luxor, Egypt

It is hard to appreciate the ancient history of Egypt and the impact its culture has had on western civilization. However my Nile riverboat cruise offered me an opportunity to observe how ancient and modern Egyptian societies have adapted to the landscape over the millennia. The concept of deep time was on full display throughout my Egyptian journey and many times I felt like a time traveler stealing a peek into a bygone mystical era.

In 2013 my Nile riverboat cruise began in Luxor and sailed south (or up) the Nile to Aswan. In 2019 I started in Aswan and sailed north (or down) the Nile to Luxor. For this narrative I will begin my Nile cruise at Luxor.

Luxor, or Thebes as it was known in ancient times, was the ceremonial capital of ancient Egypt and is 315 air miles south of Cairo. Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open-air museum,” as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. Across the River Nile are the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.

Luxor Temple constructed in 1400 BC (2013) – Luxor, Egypt

One of our first destinations was the Luxor Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unlike the other temples in Luxor, Luxor temple is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death. Instead, Luxor temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship; it may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned in reality or conceptually (as in the case of Alexander the Great, who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern Cairo).

Luxor Temple constructed in 1400 BC (2019) – Luxor, Egypt

Between 2013 and 2019 three statues of Ramses II had been restored to the facade of the Luxor Temple. It was a positive sign that the Egyptian government is paying attention to their priceless historic sites and continuing to restore them.

Avenue of Sphinxes leading from Luxor Temple to Karnak Temple is over 1.5 miles long – Luxor, Egypt

Another famous ancient site located within the modern city of Luxor was the Karnak Temple complex.

The Great Hypostyle Hall is one of the most visited monuments of ancient Egypt. The structure was constructed during the 19th Egyptian Dynasty (c. 1290–1224 BC). – Karnak Temple complex, Luxor, Egypt

The Karnak Temple complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of the Karnak temples started in around 2000 BC and continued through 30 BC.

Approximately thirty pharaohs, including Ramses II and Tutankhamen, contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming.

The tour of Luxor included some time whiplash. After we visited the ancient sites scattered throughout Luxor we were privileged to visit a modern elementary school in Luxor. Egypt provides free compulsory education for children ages 6 – 14.

Our reception by the Franciscan Primary School students and staff was overwhelming…the joy of learning was present and inspiring….

New excavations – Valley of the Kings, Egypt

We traveled around 18 miles from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings. Rock cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs in this valley from the 16th to the 11th century BC (nearly 500 years).

The God Horus – Valley of the Kings, Egypt

The intact tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922 by British archeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings. The 4,000 articles found in King Tut’s tomb occupy an entire wing of the Cairo museum.

The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, which was made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum.

Tutankhamen’s tomb – Valley of the Kings
Entrance to Pharaoh Merenptah tomb – Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Getting the right photo angle in a tomb – Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Creating modern souvenirs for the tourists – Luxor, Egypt
 Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut  (1479-1458 BC) – Valley of the Queens, Egypt
Colossi of Memnon – Luxor, Egypt

During my 2013 trip in Luxor some of our group, including my friend Kent’s 90-year old mother, embarked on an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.

I will never forget how excited she became when she shared her hot air balloon ride story….It was her adventure of a life time.

Stay curious.

Exploring Egypt – Cairo

I have been to Egypt twice – February 2013 and October 2019. I will attempt to combine pictures and experiences from both trips to give you a sense of this ancient land that continues to evolve today.

Mural of Joseph’s vision and he and Mary headed to Egypt. 25% of Egypt’s population are Coptic Christians. Cairo, Egypt 2013

Each of my trips to Egypt began in Israel. Unlike Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, I did not flee to Egypt to escape Herod, nor travel via steam ship like Mark Twain did in 1867… I flew on an airplane from Tel Aviv to Cairo.

Famous landmark murals along highway – Cairo, Egypt

Both of my trips began and ended in Cairo. Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, and is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the world with a population of over 20 million. The ruins of Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, are engulfed by modern day Cairo. Cairo dates from the 10th century AD and was established by the Tunisian Fatimids.

Pollution over Cairo – Cairo, Egypt 2019

Flying into and out of Cairo can be quite daunting but it pales in comparison to negotiating Cairo traffic.

Cairo traffic jam
Where is the tow truck? – Cairo, Egypt 2013
Traces of the revolution overshadows the Egyptian Museum – Cairo, Egypt 2013

A visit to the Egyptian Museum is like entering into a vast storehouse where someone has left all the exhibits in disarray. There is an entire floor of items removed from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the most famous Egyptian pharaoh (18th dynasty) reigning from 1334 – 1325 BC.

Steer clear of the scaffolding – Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
King Tut’s chair – Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt (2019)

In 2013 we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum. However, in 2019 you could pay a camera fee or take cell phone photos for free.

One of King Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus – Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt (2019)

A unique item in the Egyptian museum is the Narmer Palette. This siltstone artifact is over 5,000 years old, is called “the first historical document in the world” and depicts, in hieroglyphics, the merging of Upper and Lower Egypt–the beginning of the rule of the Pharoahs that would last over 3,000 years!

Narmer Palette, Egyptian Museum – Cairo, Egypt

In 2020 Egypt plans to open the Grand Egyptian Museum located near Giza. Many of the artifacts that I saw in the Egyptian Museum will be relocated to this location.

Another site we visited in Cairo was the Citadel. It was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its Islamic rulers for nearly 700 years from the 13th to the 19th centuries.

Muhammad Ali Pasha Mosque, Citadel – Cairo, Egypt
Decorative fountain in courtyard of Muhammad Ali Pasha Mosque, Citadel – Cairo, Egypt

The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha is found inside the Citadel grounds. This mosque was built in the early 19th century and is one of the most famous landmarks within the city of Cairo.

Ceiling of Muhammad Ali Pasha (Alabaster) Mosque – Citadel, Cairo, Egypt

No visit to Cairo would be complete without a visit to a bazaar to collect souvenirs and tour the narrow streets of Old Cairo.

Shopping splendor – Cairo, Egypt
President el-Sisi peeks out from the souvenir shop – Cairo, Egypt

As I explore Egypt in the next few blogs I am reminded of a Mark Twain quote from his book The Innocents Abroad that is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness….”

Jerusalem, Israel – 10 & 11 Oct 2019

We concluded the final few days of our Israel trip visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre, exploring the ancient City of David, and hiking the ramparts and bell towers of Jerusalem.

Ceiling of St. Helena’s chapel (Armenian Orthodox) – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built around what is believed to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Matthew 27: 27-66, Matthew 28: 1-10

The first basilica was built by Roman emperor Constantine between 326 and 335 AD at the suggestion of his mother St. Helena. The current complex church structure has existed at this site for over 1,000 years having survived earthquakes, fires and regime changes.

Mary Magdalene altar (Roman Catholic) – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

Medieval European maps showed Jerusalem as the center of the world (omphalos) and more specifically the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Catholikon Dome over medieval center of the world (omphalos)- Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

Fierce disputes, lasting centuries, between Christian creeds over ownership of the church were largely resolved by an Ottoman decree issued in 1852. Still in force and known as the Status Quo, it divides custody among Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians and Syrians. Every day the church is ironically unlocked by a Muslim key holder acting as a “neutral” intermediary.

Debra at the Crucifixion Altar (Greek Orthodox) located over rock outcrop of Golgatha – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
St. Longin’s Chapel (Greek Orthodox) – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
Greek Orthodox priest attending to the Holy Fire – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

South of the Old City is the oldest part of Jerusalem, the City of David. There is evidence that the Jebusites, a Canaanite people, lived there over 3,000 years ago. David supposedly conquered the city and made it his capital in about 1,000 BC. Samuel 5: 6-17

Walls of ancient Jerusalem -City of David, Jerusalem Walls National Park, Jerusalem, Israel

One of our adventures in the City of David was to don our water shoes and slosh through thigh deep water flowing from Gihon springs through a 2,000 foot subterranean tunnel built by King Hezekiah in the 7th century BC. King Hezekiah built the tunnel to conceal the water supply for Jerusalem from the Assyrian invasion. 2 Kings 20:20

Sloshing through Hezekiah’s tunnel – City of David, Jerusalem, Israel

Not for the faint of heart or claustrophobes…..

Bell tower – Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, Israel

Vaughn and I decided to climb the 177 steps of the bell tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer to view Old Jerusalem. After climbing a narrow winding staircase we were rewarded with amazing views….and the bells luckily did not ring while we were in the stairs.

Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Church of the Redeemer bell tower, Jerusalem, Israel
Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives – Church of the Redeemer bell tower, Jerusalem, Israel

No Jerusalem tour would be complete without walking the ramparts of the old city. As we walked along the southern rampart we encountered many pilgrims reciting biblical texts in German.

Church of Dormition – Southern rampart, Jerusalem, Israel

A prominent site on the southern rampart is the Church of the Dormition. This Neo-Romanesque church dominates Mt. Zion and stands on the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have fallen into an “eternal sleep” or dormition. The current church on this site was built in the early 20th century for German Kaiser Wilhelm II and may explain why there were so many German pilgrims on the rampart.

Church of Dormition – Southern rampart, Jerusalem, Israel

Gaylene was an amazing guide for our travels and I wish her safe and blessed travels with her future tours.

The faithful pilgrims (Chloe, me, Gaylene, Vaughn, Debra) – Ecce Homo, Jerusalem, Israel
Proud shopkeeper in a used book store showing off her living quarters door – Jerusalem, Israel

It has been a joy to share some of my adventures experienced in this holy land. Some of my favorite memories include meeting local people enjoying life each day and learning from them not to fear the other…a lesson I need to relearn every day.

May you travel in an awakened way,

Gathered wisely into your inner ground.

That you may not waste the invitations

Which wait along the way to transform you.

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Jerusalem – 07 & 08 Oct 2019

Ceiling – St. Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem

We drove from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem where we would spend the next five days. Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holy day, altered our travel plans and as a result we ended up spending a pleasant two nights at the pilgrim house at St Peter at Gallicantu just south of Old Jerusalem rather than Bethlehem.

Getting public transportation on holy days or Shabbat (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) is very sketchy in Jerusalem.

A tower of spices with a temple on top – Old Jerusalem, Israel
Pink cauliflower in the market – Old Jerusalem, Israel
Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu – Jerusalem, Israel

Standing to the east of Mount Zion, on the slope overlooking the City of David and the Kidron Valley, this church commemorates the traditional site of St. Peter’s reported denial of Jesus which fulfilled the prophecy of denial (Mark 14:72).

View from St. Peter in Gallicantu church toward Dome of the Rock and Old Jerusalem’s city wall – Mt. Zion, Israel

Haram esh-Sharif, the “Noble Sanctuary” or Temple Mount, is a vast rectangular esplanade in the southeastern part of the Old City. Traditionally the site of Solomon’s Temple, it later housed the Second Temple, enlarged by Herod the Great and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

In the evening we visited the Western Wall one of the retaining walls of Temple Mount. To get near the wall you are required to go through a series of metal detectors and are subject to physical searches.

Celebrating at Western Wall of Temple Mount – Old Jerusalem, Israel
Western wall showing the division between men and women – Old Jerusalem, Israel
Dome of the Rock – Jerusalem, Israel

The Rock is variously believed to be where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, where Muhammad left the earth on his Night Journey and the site of the Holy of Holies of Herod’s Temple. The site is considered a sacred place for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Dome of the Chain in front of Dome of the Rock – Old Jerusalem, Israel
13th century tiling of the Dome of the Chain ceiling surpasses tiling of Dome of the Rock – Jerusalem, Israel

The Dome of the Chain stands at the approximate center of the Haram esh-Sharif (Temple Mount), which according to one theory, equated to the center of the world. Its name derives from the legend that a chain once hung from the roof, and whoever told a lie while holding it would be struck dead by lightning.

Golden Gate (Gate of Mercy) walled off in 7th century AD – Old Jerusalem, Israel

We visited the Golden Gate, one of the original Herodian gates . According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate which is said to be the reason why the Muslims walled it up in the 7th century CE.

Skull rock configuration near garden tomb. Some 19th century archeologists argued that this skull shaped hill was Golgotha (Mark 15:22) – Jerusalem, Israel
Flowers near the garden tomb – Jerusalem, Israel

We visited the garden tomb which has been argued to be the location of Jesus’ tomb rather than the Church of Holy Sepulchre. Archeologists have since debunked this theory but the garden tomb has beautiful gardens that were worth the visit.

Door of St. Peter in Gallicantu church – Mt. Zion, Israel

Exploring Jerusalem is always filled with new discoveries….and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to visit these mystical places.

Mt Tabor & Megiddo, Israel – 05 Oct 2019

Brilliant bougainvillea – Tiberias, Israel

We headed south on this day taking in more biblical historic sites including Mt. Tabor and Megiddo, wove our way through Tel Aviv and finally ended up at the Crowne Plaza near the Dead Sea.

Mt Tabor, Israel
St Francis of Assisi – Mt Tabor, Israel

Traveling up a narrow winding road we finally made it to Mt. Tabor, the site of the biblical transfiguration. Matthew 17:1-9. The grounds, church and views were breathtaking.

Megiddo, Israel

We continued south to visit Tel Megiddo where archeologists have discovered signs of human habitation from 7,000 years BCE.

It’s location in the Wadi Ara allowed Megiddo to control an ancient international trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Ancient stables – Megiddo, Israel

The Bible describes King Solomon’s building his palaces at Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15) and it was a thriving Canaanite city-state in the second and third millennia BCE. The city appears on inscriptions in Karnak, Egypt where Pharaoh Shishak describes his tenth century BCE conquests throughout Canaan.

Megiddo, Israel

Megiddo is usually identified as Armageddon, the site of John’s apocalyptic vision of the battle between the forces of good and evil. Revelation 16:16

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” Matthew 5:4

Golan Heights, Banias Nature Preserve, Israel – 4 Oct 2019

Beginning of the River Jordan – Banias Nature Preserve, Israel

Gaylene had rented a car so we “navigated“ our way around northern Israel. Between Chloe’s phone and my map we were reasonably successful in reaching our destinations. We started our day at the archeological site of Kursi and drove through the Golan Heights on to the headwaters of the River Jordan before returning to Tiberias.

The terrain was hilly and the roads were narrow but we survived the day encountering lush waterfalls and panoramic vistas. We were less than 5 kilometers from the Syrian border at one point!

Remains of 5th century AD Byzantine church and monastery – Kursi, Israel

According to Christian tradition Kursi, located on the east side of Sea of Galilee, is the site of the miracle of the swine (Matthew 8:23-34) and contains the remains of the largest known Byzantine monastery in the Holy Land.

Banias Nature reserve
Market – Ya’ar Odem, Israel
Banias waterfall
The gang hanging out at the waterfall – Banias Nature Reserve, Israel
The flower Dirimia near the waterfall – Banias Nature Reserve, Israel

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Sea of Galilee, Israel – 03 Oct 2019

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee – Tiberias, Israel

A great day filled with amazing places and fun company. We had a full day exploring the Sea of Galilee and its northern shores. An inspiring boat ride with Arno and his German flock followed by exploration of the northern shores visiting Magdala, the Church of the Beatitudes, Capernum and Tabgha.

1st century synagogue – Magdala, Israel

Magdala was a thriving fishing village in the 1st century AD along the Sea of Galilee and was excavated in 2009. Archeological discoveries indicate the presence of an observant Jewish community in Magadala. This is the oldest synagogue in Galilee and one of only seven first century synagogues uncovered in Israel.

It is here where Jesus likely taught the multitudes and healed the afflicted, including a woman who made her hometown famous, Mary Magdalene.

Duc in Altum boat chapel – Magdala, Israel

A beautiful church, Duc in Altum, located in Magdala features a tribute to women disciples in the Bible that followed Jesus.

Encounter Chapel with mural depicting woman touching Jesus hem.
Mark 5:25 – Duc in Altum church, Magdala, Israel
Church of the Beatitudes – Sea of Galilee
Tagbha – Shore of Galilee
Monastery of the Holy Apostles – Capernum, israel
Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles – Capernum, Israel

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8