World Wanderings ~ The wonders of Luxor (Back to Egypt, Part 1)
News is good: it’s safe again to travel in Egypt. Due to the events of the last 3 years since the revolution in 2011, the amount of tourists dramatically dropped, depriving many Egyptian people of their main source of income. But the country is secure now and should remain that way after the presidential election that took place in May 2014. So why not take the opportunity to visit the incredible Pharaohs ‘ heritage or to enjoy a leisurely week on the Red Sea shore.
Spending one week in Luxor will give you the possibility to visit an impressive number of historical monuments gathered in a rather small area.
Located on the east bank of the Nile River in the heart of the city the Luxor Temple was founded in 1400 BC and was enlarged through the centuries by several pharaohs. Even Alexander the Great built a chapel at the far end of the temple. Try to be there at sunset when the light makes it glow: the high obelisk, the pylons and the columns made in the shape of lotus flowers look magnificent.
Originally linked to the Luxor Temple by a 3km long alley lined on both sides by sphinxes, the Karnak Temple is a huge complex of old Luxor. It will take you at least 3 hours to discover its pylons, its obelisks, its sacred lake and its hypostyle hall, bringing back memories of Agatha Christie’s novel “Death on the Nile”.
Thebes on the western bank of the Nile was dedicated to death and all the funeral rites of the Pharaohs, of their queens and of the aristocracy. Getting there early in the morning you will be welcomed by the two Memnon Colossus lit up by the rising sun. These two 15 meters high statues are the only remains of the funeral temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and are still very impressive.
In the Valley of the Kings and in the Valley of the Queens, to protect the subterranean tombs and their murals from damages caused by light and humidity due to too many visitors, tombs are regularly closed to get some “rest”. So you won’t know ahead of your journey which ones will be open to visitors. But don’t worry the Egyptian Antique Service manage to make an interesting selection for every time of the year and you won’t be disappointed.
One of the most beautiful tombs is Nefertari’s tomb which walls are all painted from floor to ceiling with colourful murals. Due to water infiltrations and the growth of saltpetre over the paintings it was closed during the 1950’s. It reopened in 1995 after years of restorations and a maximum of 150 persons a day was allowed to visit the tomb during 15 minutes. But in spite of those drastic steps the fragile tomb was not able to take it and it had to be closed again in 2003. We don’t know yet if it will ever reopen one day and it is said that an accurate copy could be made next to the original…Someday! So you can understand why the Egyptians are so careful and restrictive about these tombs and the number of visitors allowed to see them.
Tutankhamun’s tomb surely is the most famous tomb in the Valley of the Kings discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. An extraordinary full-sized replica has been built next to Howard Carter’s house close to the Valley of the Kings complex. To recreate the wonderful wall murals the engineers used laser scanners and high definition 3D printers and a new sarcophagus stands in the middle of the burial chamber giving back to the 19 years old Pharaoh an untouched grave. It is open to the public since the beginning of May 2014. The same ticket is valid to visit the tomb and Howard Carter’s house.
Apart from the tombs area they are several temples deserving a visit on the western bank of the Nile. Hatchepsut was the first female Pharaoh and ascended the throne in 1478 BC. She was a great Pharaoh and left countless monuments and statues. It is said that every museum in the world with an Egyptian room has at least one artefact made in her reign! The Hatchepsut colonnaded temple, one of the most important temples of the left bank of the Nile, was built in her glory. It looks like no other Egyptian temple with its lines drawn at right angles and its monumental stairs.
Ramses’ II funeral temple called Ramasseum is also located in Thebes. Called the “millions years castle” by Champollion, it is a vivid expression of the greatness of this amazing Pharaoh. A little further, stands in a very good state of preservation the funeral temple of Ramses III, often called the temple of Medinet Abu, which is worth a visit.
It would of course take days to visit all the points of interest in Thebes but one day is enough to be happy but exhausted! So you will be glad to get back to your hotel to get pampered at the spa or to relax at the swimming pool.
The Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa is a good option to avoid the frenzy of Luxor city. The resort being directly located on the riverbank, guests feel like being in a haven of peace. It is less than a 10 minutes drive from the city centre and the charming Louxor Temple. The amazing Karnak Temple that is the main site and the larger one on this side of the Nile is next door to the hotel, only a 2 minutes drive. A taxi can take you there for 2 or 3 £, or for a bit more if you feel generous.
On the huge swimming pool terrace facing the river and shadowed by palm trees, numerous beach-chairs wait for the guests when they want to enjoy the warm sunny climate of Egypt and the pleasure of swimming and sunbathing.
At the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa, having lunch or only a drink and a snack at “Olives” the outside pool restaurant is a perfect option to watch feluccas and fishing boats going by. The inside main restaurant has a beautiful and elegant decor and served a fresh buffet that will fulfil your expectations. But don’t forget to have dinner at the à-la-carte restaurant, the “Silk Road” where the chef makes a wonderful exotic eastern cuisine.
The Hilton spa is a great achievement with a second dedicated pool also overlooking the river and the staff will do everything to make you feel good. Furthermore, for spa-addicts, there are also a few spa-suites, each one including its own private spa. In order to be as helpful as possible to its guests the hotel shuttle can get you very comfortably from and to the Luxor Airport in 20 minutes. The Hilton in Luxor is a successful blend of luxury and relaxation in a friendly atmosphere.
After those darks years it really feels great to go back to Egypt to enjoy its incomparable historical heritage, its sunshine and the kindness of its inhabitants.
more info about Egypt at: en.egypt.travel
and about Hilton Luxor at: www3.hilton.com
Text and photos © Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny