Things to Do in Egypt - page 2
Set about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo, Saqqara (Sakkara) was the burial place for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, now in ruins. The site features a small sphinx and several pyramids—the most famous of which is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which represented a major advance in building techniques.
During Egypt’s Old Kingdom period, Memphis, located near Cairo, was home to the pharaohs who built the pyramids. But domestic architecture didn’t last like the pyramids did, so most all that remains of Memphis today is the Mit Rahina open-air sculpture museum.
The 66-foot-tall (20-meter-tall) Sphinx of Giza is an icon of ancient Egypt, and the subject of continued debate regarding its meaning, age, and original builder. With the head of a human and the body of a lion, the Sphinx—one of the world’s largest and oldest statues—is said to symbolize strength, power, and wisdom.
The last surviving wonder of the ancient world, the Great Pyramid of Giza is also known as the Khufu Pyramid or Pyramid of Cheops, in honor of the pharaoh who built it around 2570 BC. The oldest, largest, and tallest of the three Giza pyramids, it is full of narrow tunnels and eerie chambers that are open to visitors.
Alexandria’s most beautiful green space, the Montazah Palace Gardens extend along the seafront and around 19th-century Montazah Palace, which is closed to the public. Highlights include beaches, avenues of palms, and an ornate pink bridge, as well as manicured flower beds and well-maintained lawns.
Located in south Cairo on the Nile’s east bank, Old Cairo, also known as Misr Al-Qadima, dates to the sixth century BC and occupies the sites of several early Egyptian capitals, including Fustat. Merging into Islamic Cairo to the east, its heart is Coptic Cairo—home to a crumbled Roman fortress and numerous early medieval Coptic churches.
Opened in 2003 in a historic villa, the Alexandria National Museum offers a carefully curated journey through the history of Egypt’s second city since its foundation in the fourth century BC. The underwater archaeological finds are fascinating, as are the Greco-Roman discoveries, while ancient Egyptian treasures come from around the country.
Dating from 180BC, Kom Ombo Temple is unusual because it is duplicated, mirroring itself on either side of a central axis. This is because it was dedicated to two gods: Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world along with Hathor and Khonsu, and also Horus, and each needed their own set of rooms. Sobek was the crocodile god so, of course, crocodiles were mummified for him. Some of the hundreds that have been discovered nearby are now on display in the temple.
Time, the Nile River, earthquakes and later builders taking the stone for other buildings, have all taken a toll on this building. The surrounding town of Kom Ombo is now home to many of the Nubians displaced by the flooding to make Lake Nasser.
One of the most mesmerizing sights of the Sinai Desert, the Colored Canyon is a geological freak of nature: a narrow, winding valley where multicolored layers of rock have eroded to form painterly swirls. It’s a popular destination for short hikes, photography, and even scrambling up and down between the narrow walls.
Standing proud above the hubbub of the modern city, the Cairo Citadel (Citadel of Saladin)) is one of Old Cairo’s most striking sights. First built by Saladin in the 12th century, during the Crusader conflicts, the fortress complex houses palaces, museums, and mosques, including Muhammad Ali’s 19th-century Alabaster Mosque.
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The Temple of Horus (at Edfu), built as homage to the falcon-headed god Horus, was erected between 237 and 57 BC, during the reign of six different Ptolemies. It’s the second-largest temple in Egypt, only after Karnak, and its main building includes a number of marginally preserved reliefs.
The temple pylons stretch an impressive 118 feet into the sky and visitors can still see where guards once stood, keeping watch over the pharaoh’s enemies. Visitors to this ancient site can trace history through age-old etchings that record years of land donations and even depict the annual Triumph of Horus—a yearly ritual that uses 10 harpoons to kill a ceremonial hippopotamus.
The Unfinished Obelisk is a huge discarded granite obelisk. Three sides of the shaft, which is nearly 138 feet (42m) long, were completed except for the inscriptions. At 1,168 tonnes, the completed obelisk would have been the single heaviest piece of stone the Egyptians ever fashioned. However, a crack appeared in the rock at a late stage in the process. So it lies where the disappointed stonemasons abandoned it, still partly attached to the parent rock, with no indication of what it was intended for. It does give us an excellent insight into how these massive stone sculptures were made however.
Upon entering the quarry, steps lead down from the surrounding ramp into the pit of the obelisk where there are ancient pictographs of dolphins and ostriches or flamingos, thought to have been painted by workers at the quarry.
Think of Dahshur as pyramid-proving grounds: Although not nearly as famous at the pyramids of Giza, the structures here pre-date the Great Pyramids and highlight the engineering progress and understanding that took place on the way from a stepped structure to a true pyramid. The royal necropolis at Dahshur comprises a two-mile (3.5-kilometer) field of pyramids that date back between the fourth and 12th dynasties, and although 11 structures once dotted the landscape, only two remain: the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. Nearly identical in size, these two pyramids are the third-largest in the country after the two biggest at Giza. The Red Pyramid is the older of the two and the only one that visitors can actually enter.
Archaeologists believe that Snofru, the first Pharoah of the fourth dynasty,commissioned Dahshur's most notable pyramids, and, as the Bent Pyramid with its crooked peak illustrates, not all takes were entirely successful. It towers above the sand not far from the Nile's fertile green band and is believed to have been the first try at a smooth-sided true pyramid.
It’s said thousands of people spent decades building the ultimately-flawed Bent Pyramid before trying again just over a mile to the north with the Red Pyramid, incorporating some lessons learned and a different type of stone, which shines red after the rains. Some Egyptologists think the Red Pyramid is where Sneferu was buried.
The citadel of Saladin - and indeed, the Cairo skyline - is dominated by the Alabaster Mosque (Mosque of Muhammad Ali). Modelled along classic Turkish lines, it took 18 years to build (1830 - 1848) although later the domes had to be rebuilt. It was commissioned by Muhammad Ali, ruler of Egypt from 1805 - 1849, wholies in the marble tomb on the right as you enter.
Perhaps the most evocative description of it is in Olivia Manning'sThe Levant Trilogy: "Above them Mohammed Ali's alabaster mosque, uniquely white in this sand-coloured city, sat with minarets pricked, like a fat, white, watchful cat." It has never found much favor with writers, who have criticized it for being unimaginative, lacking in grace and resembling a great toad. Note the chintzy clock in the central courtyard, a gift from King Louis-Philippe of France in thanks for the Pharaonic obelisk that adorns the Place de la Concorde in Paris. It was damaged on delivery and has yet to be repaired.
Sandwiched between the ruins of Abu and the Mövenpick resort hotel are two colorful Nubian Villages, Siou and Koti. Strolling through their shady alleys and gardens is a wonderful way to experience life on modern Elephantines.A north-south path across the middle of Elephantine Island links the two villages and about halfway along is the Nubian Café, with a shady garden beside a traditional Nubian house.
Close to the wall separating the Mövenpick from Siou village is Nubian House, where the owner serves tea, sells Nubian handicrafts, and can arrange live music and dancing or henna 'tattoos' with local women. Western women should be respectful of local tradition and wear modest clothes.
Sometimes known as the second pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre (Pyramid of Chephren) towers 446 feet (136 meters) above the desert, its tip still encased in the white limestone that once decorated all three Giza Pyramids. It looks taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza, built by Khafre’s father Khufu, because it stands on higher ground.
Cairo is known as the "city of a thousand minarets," and that's reflected in its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A journey into Islamic Cairo is a journey into the city’s past, from Fustat, Egypt’s first Muslim capital, to the 1,000-year-old walled city, the Cairo Citadel, founded by 12th-century leader Saladin, and beyond.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Hanging Church (Al-Muallaqa), which is still in use, is called the Hanging or Suspended Church as it is built on top of the Water Gate of Roman Babylon. Steep stairs lead from the forecourt to a 19th -century façade topped by twin bell towers. Beyond is a small inner courtyard, usually filled with sellers of taped liturgies and videos of the Coptic pope, Shenouda III.
The interior of this 9th-century (some say 7th-century) church, renovated many times throughout the centuries, has three barrel-vaulted, wooden-roofed aisles. Ivory-inlaid screens hide the three haikal s (altar areas), but in front of them, raised on 13 slender pillars that represent Christ and his disciples, is a fine pulpit used only on Palm Sunday. One of the pillars, darker than the rest, is said to symbolize Judas. In the baptistry, off to the right, a panel has been cut out of the floor revealing the Water Gate below. From here there is a good view of one of the gate's twin towers.
Vivid wall paintings keep watch over the Tomb of Tutankhamun, where King Tutankhamun’s linen-wrapped mummy is preserved in a glass case. While most of Tut’s treasures are on display at the National Museum in Cairo, visit the tomb to see where the young king’s body lay for thousands of years.
Hidden in a Y-shaped ravine on the West Bank of the Nile, the Valley of the Queens is an ancient burial site where the wives of the reigning Pharaohs from the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties were buried. The valley not only contains the tombs of the royal wives and children from this time, but is also home to a number of other tombs of members of the royal families, including princesses and princes.
The most famous tomb at the site is that of Queen Nefertari, which is only occasionally open to visitors. Widely considered to be the finest in the whole of Egypt, the tomb of Nefertari has been completely restored but is nevertheless closed more often than not. Nefertari was one of the five wives of Ramses II, and the tomb he built for his favourite queen is a grand shrine to her beauty and a testament of his love for her. Among its ornate decoration it features colorful scenes upon its chamber walls and golden stars adorning the ceiling.
The main lure at Dendera is the Temple of Hathor, one of the least ancient of ancient Egypt’s glories, main construction being more or less contemporary with the life of Christ, although it was built on much older foundations.
There are fascinating glimpses of the meeting of great civilizations, with a famous wall relief of Cleopatra VII (the Cleopatra of legend) and her son, fathered by Julius Caesar. Other depictions of Roman emperors make this a Who's Who of the ancient world.
Well-preserved remnants in the Dendera complex also include modestly-sized Roman constructions and an early Coptic Christian basilica.
El Alamein, situated on the Mediterranean coast around four hours north of Cairo, is the site of where two battles were fought during World War II. The War Cemetery in the town houses the graves of allied soldiers who died during this time, particularly in the Battle of El Alamein of 1942. The cemetery contains over 7000 commonwealth burials from the war, of which 815 are unidentified. There are also more than a hundred war graves belonging to men of other nationalities.
The El Alamein War Cemetery also has an informative museum nearby, which covers the entire story of World War II in this part of the world, as seen from a number of perspectives. The museum serves as a memorial for the battles fought and displays a number of items from the war, including weapons, vehicles, uniforms, and war records.
Standing 614 feet (187 meters) tall on Gezira Island, the Cairo Tower (Burj al-Qahira) is one of Cairo’s most recognizable landmarks. Completed in 1961, with a striking lattice exterior designed to resemble a lotus flower, the tower is topped with a café, an observation deck, and a revolving restaurant.
Considered the original pyramid and the world’s earliest stone monument, the Pyramid of Djoser (Step Pyramid) is a highlight of any trip to Saqqara. Built in 2650 BC, it still stands proud over Saqqara, surrounded by the remains of ritual buildings.
- Things to do in Cairo
- Things to do in Luxor
- Things to do in Hurghada
- Things to do in Aswan
- Things to do in Sharm el Sheikh
- Things to do in Giza
- Things to do in Marsa Alam
- Things to do in Alexandria
- Things to do in Safaga
- Things to do in Port Said
- Things to do in Jordan
- Things to do in Palestinian Territories
- Things to do in Red Sea
- Things to do in Saint Catherine
- Things to do in West Bank