Sorrel explores the ancient land of the pharaohs in all its complexity and enchantment.
At Luxor, the grandeur of ancient Thebes sits alongside the modern town and its inhabitants. The sheer size and number of beautifully-preserved monuments have made Luxor Egypt's greatest attraction after the Pyramids. Eight of what are considered the 12 highlights of pharaonic Egypt are to be found in the small town.
From the Temples of Karnak and Luxor on the east bank to the temples of Deir al-Bahri and Medinat Habu, the Colossi of Memnon and Valley of the Kings on the west bank, there is an abundance of riches in this amazing place, often described as the world's largest open-air museum.
Everything was built on a massive scale and at the Temple of Karnak things went into overload for 1500 years. There was always work in progress as one pharaoh after another attempted to leave his mark on what was then the most important place of worship in all Egypt.
Luxor, or Thebes as it was known, was Egypt's capital and was where high priests and kings would congregate to worship their top deity, the god Amun.
The hypostyle hall is the largest of its kind in the world. The scale of it is breathtaking. There are 134 columns, each covered in inscriptions revealing a moment in history 3000-4000 years ago.
The columns represent the important papyrus flower. They were commissioned by King Seti I and completed by Egypt's most famous ruler, Ramses II.
Most of the temple was buried in sand for nearly 1000 years and its importance, like most of Egypt's ancient sites, was only revealed to the world during the 19th century.
Having so many desirable objects can have its drawbacks. It's usually very crowded and the hawkers and touts are extremely pushy, described as the most annoying in Egypt.
There are plenty of attractions and distractions for independent travellers in Luxor's backstreets: crumbling houses, muddy streets, bazaars, piles of spices and confusing alleyways. You could even see dancing horses, which perform at religious festivals.
Most of Luxor's hotels are on the east bank, but we found Al Moudira on the west bank. Owned by Zeina Aboukheir, the enchanting set of buildings is a welcoming blend of Moroccan, Syrian, Italian and Lebanese influence. She intended to make it a comfortable and welcoming place and has succeeded. There are 54 rooms, each individually themed and decorated. It's no surprise that the most popular is the Cleopatra suite.
Not far from Al Moudira is the Valley of the Kings. Pharaohs were obsessed with death and began preparing for it when very young. Pyramids were built for the purpose of burial, but by 1500 BC they were arranging for afterlife in the form of tombs. There are 62 in the Valley, 12 open to the public.
In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the extraordinary, treasure-filled tomb of Tutankhamun. Visitors have to be content with looking at the intricate walled messages and pictures representing the 12 hours of the night or 12 hours of the afterlife. They depict the pharaoh's journey towards his final judgement.
The walls of Ramses III's tomb are meticulously decorated by what was known as the Book of the Dead, a step-by-step reminder for their adored king on his journey. Life as it was becomes almost a reality in the vast tombs.
Further along the road is the Valley of the Queens. They aren't quite as grand as their male counterparts' tombs, but have impressive artwork and fewer visitors at the five which are open to public viewing.
Tomb of Nefertari is hailed as the finest tomb in the Theban necropolis, possibly in all Egypt. She was the favourite of Ramses II's five wives and he was known for his colossal monuments of self-celebration. The tomb he created for Nefertari was a shrine to her beauty. Every centimetre of the walls of the three chambers and connecting corridors is adorned with colourful scenes of the queen in the company of gods and text from the Book of the Dead nearby.
Nefertari was known as "the most beautiful of them" and is depicted wearing a divinely transparent white gown and golden headdress, with two long feathers extending from the back of a vulture. The ceiling is festooned with golden stars.
One hour south of Cairo, the capital of Egypt.
MISR Travel/Allsun Holidays has 10-night Discover the Jewels of the Nile packages starting at $3350 per person for three-star hotel accommodation and $4300 for five-star hotel accommodation. The price includes return economy airfares, accommodation, tours and transfers, with departures from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. They depart every month until April, 2004.
Please note prices are valid at time of filming.
MISR Travel/Allsun Holidays
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Ph: (02) 9241 3211, Fax: (02) 9241 3313www.allsunholidays.com.au
Toll Free: 1800 227 472