Days 8 & 9, Egypt October 1 & 2, 2019

Days 8 & 9, Egypt October 1 & 2, 2019

Tuesday was a rest day in Luxor. We didn’t complain. After pre-dawn start times and tours in grueling heat, a day off was great. We have completed all the outdoor sites. Late afternoon a number of us went to the Archeology Museum in Luxor. The guide would quiz us on this god or this king, and we proved what poor students we were. The museum has important objects from sites around Luxor, expertly displayed but I’d rather talk about day 9.

Wednesday we left Luxor early to transfer to Cairo for our last day. The first stop was the Cairo Archeological Museum. The number of items displayed were overwhelming. It is an older museum, without air conditioning, and it didn’t have the organization of the museum in Luxor. Dust covered everything. However, it still contained incredible artifacts. Egypt is in the process of building a new museum nearer the pyramids in Giza. I suppose that their energies are there. Already they are starting to transfer items from this museum to the new. I had heard contradictory reports whether the Tutankhamun (King Tut) items had already been transferred. Some have been, but we were not disappointed with what we saw.

There are four gold containers, highly decorated, that fit one inside the other with the sarcophagus in the center. They had the jars from his mummification, that would have held his four major inner organs removed during the mummification process. These were alabaster, which fit in an alabaster box, that fir in a gold box. There was a chair made of gold. We then entered a room where there is his famous mask, sarcophagus one and two, items of jewelry, etc. (sorry no photographs allowed.) This was the most exciting part of the museum for me, as well as many of the crowd. Luckily there are many photos of these items available elsewhere.

From the museum, Fr. Jay and I had made arrangements for a private tour of the old Coptic area. Coptic merely means Egyptian, but it most often describes Coptic Christians.

Egypt is 90% Muslim today, but in the 5th century Egypt was predominantly Christian. The Coptic Church traces is founding to the evangelist St. Mark during the first century AD. Although it had a slow start, it began to replace paganisn. Alexandria was one of five major Christian centers in the early Church. This is still so today. When Islam entered Egypt it was seen as a chance to remove Roman domination and Rome’s crippling taxes. Islam was then here to stay. Over time Islam began to replace christianity. The Christian minority today is predominantly Greek Orthodox, then Coptc Christian, then small groups of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Although there have been tough times for Christian’s, especially during Saddat’s leadership and ISIS, today the groups coexist well, so said our Coptic guide.

We visited the Hanging Church (Coptic), so called because it is built over the remains of a Roman fortress. So too St. George Greek Orthodox Church. But an intriguing thing is a church built over the site where the Holy Family took refuge during their escape from Herod to Egypt. There is a whole tradition of the Holy Family moving throughout Egypt through the three years and some until told to return. We also visited a synagogue, now a museum, that tradition says is the spot where Moses was taken out of the Nile as a baby. And where too Moses and Aaron discussed the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The area is also where the first mosque was built.

This tour was a highlight of our trip and gave us a great chance to talk about the conditions of Christian’s in Egypt. You might remember the 21 Coptic Christian’s martyred by ISIS in the Sudan.

Egyptians have been suffering from the economy and bad press about riots and unrest. Certainly we didn’t see any signs of it. We were encouraged to let people know that Egypt is safe and worth visiting. I can confirm both in my experience. The only thing I’d suggest is to wait until the new museum opens in 2021.

Returning home tomorrow.

 

Day 7, Egypt September 30, 2019

Day 7. Monday, September 30, 2019. Egypt

Today we moved from the ship to transfer to our Luxor hotel, but before we went to the hotel we crossed the Nile to get to the West Bank and the tombs.

As we approached the Valley of the Kings we passed the Colossi of Memnon, two giant statues which once sat on opposite sides of door to Amenhoptec III. These statues and the temple are mentioned in journals of travelers from ancient Greece and Rome. The site continues to be in process.

From the Colossi we proceeded to the tombs of Ramses III and IV and Merenptah. This area was used for tombs since 2100 BC, including Tutankhamun, but only a number are open to the public and these are rotated to preserve the sites. We continue to be awed at by the drastic transition from vegetated to arid, and by the merciless heat. These tombs are a major reason we are here. The condition of the decoration after so many centuries is incredible.

Egypt is famous for the pyramids but they were used for a fairly limited time. The burial of a pharaoh meant treasure and the pyramid became an open invitation to theft, by tomb robbers and future rulers who would re-purpose or recycle gold, stones, etc. for their own purposes. Tombs required less labor to build and were easier to hide. Many tombs were still looted, but many, like Tutankhamun remained at rest. The wall decoration of the tombs could not be looted and remain a lasting testimony to the beliefs of these rulers. Even after visiting I realize there is so much more I’d like to learn. These tombs are beautiful for their antiquity and mystery as well as what we see.

We continued on to the Valley of the Queens. This site is much less visited than the Valley of the Kings. This may be because the number of tombs to visit are fewer. Queen Nefertari’s tomb requires a hefty extra admission fee so we visited tombs of two young princes. One was a baby when he died and you could see his mummy. The decorations were well preserved.

Day 6, Egypt Sunday, September 29, 2019

Day 6. Egypt Sunday, September 29. 2019

We arrived in Luxor late the night before. All the ships pull up side by side, so when we went to Mass the two of had to cross through five ships to get to the dock.

Egypt is a Muslim country, with a minuscule Christian population, of which the majority are Coptic Christians. We were happy to find a Roman Catholic Church within walking distance of the dock. Through some trial and error, we found it. There was in English, the Franciscan Catholic Church. No other name.

As a Muslim country, Sunday is a workday, so Christians must attend Mass before work. I was pleased to see a full attendance. Mass was in Arabic, and we could only vaguely discern similarities to our Order of service. Much was chanted, much by the whole congregation. Eucharist was leavened bread dipped into the precious blood. We may have to do some research to understand the differences. But the altar servers were the same, attention wandering when not actively doing their parts. We were definitely identified as foreigners, but politely treated.

After Mass we decided to attempt to find our way to the Coptic Cathedral that looked to be nearby. We were intercepted by someone who we thought would lead us to the cathedral, but only after they showed us the “museum,” sold us candles to light, a small wooden cross and charged an entrance fee. We entered the cathedral that was packed, with worship in progress. We stayed just long enough to get the flavor of the service, but avoid the collection.

After that we sort of drifted through the streets of Luxor. We had been told that crime is pretty much nonexistent in Egypt. Theft is unheard of. We felt very safe, though we were the only foreigners we saw.

The streets of Egypt are filthy, greatly due to no rainfall. I remember reading ancient accounts of traveling Egyptians baffled by rain. They would tell other Egyptians, “their Nile is in the sky.” The only water comes from the Nile and drinkable water is in short supply. It is not provided with meals. The buildings are in various stages of disrepair. I suppose this is because of the poverty, exacerbated by the recent dirth of tourism. Some of the vendors encouraged us to encourage people to visit Egypt. They know they need the money.

We wandered for some time, at certain points sure we were lost, we made it back to our ship for lunch and some relaxation before our afternoon tours.

Luxor’s two major temples are Karnak and Luxor temples. At one time they were joined by a several mile avenue of sphinxes. This only now exists at Luxor Temple.

We first visited Karnak Temple completed only after centuries and through the reigns of various pharaohs. The temple in dedicated to Amun-ra, the highest Thebian deity, and his wife and child, Put and Khonsu. (Luxor was called Thebes) Karnak Temple was for the glorification of this trinity and the pharaohs. This was seen as the god’s dwelling place, and the main place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom. The complex covers over two square kilometers, and is one of the largest cultic complexes in the world.

Karnak transitioned many times through its development, with various rulers contributing statues, obelisks, etc. One intriguing addition was a botanical garden established by a pharaoh who sent a scientist to document the fauna and flora of the known world. His sketches were etched in the walls of the garden area and remain a permanent record of his work. From the photos, you can see the scale of these complexes. It is amazing so much has survived years and many waves of conquest.

As you can also see in the photos, we were losing light as we got to the Luxor Temple. Not much to say that I haven’t said already. This temple has a reference to Alexander the Great, though added much later. Alexander went to this temple and consulted with the great god who claimed Alexander as his son. Alexander claimed the status of Pharaoh, and was buried as one in Alexandria.

Day 5, Egypt September 28, 2019

Day 5. Egypt. September 28. 2019

During the early morning hours, we set sail and woke up in Kom Ombo.

Kom Ombo holds a temple from about 2nd century BC, in the reign of the Greeks, one generation before Cleopatra. It was a short walk from the boat. The temple is symmetric and equally divided between the two gods honored there, Horus the elder and Sobek, the crocodile god. Being on the Nile, crocodiles abounded in the region, but sacred crocodiles descended through generations were cared for there by the priests of the temple. The area was an important trade area for sugar, and livestock. Thus the grandeur of the temple. Since the building of the Aswan Dam, crocodiles from upstream do not make it over the dam and now populate Lake Nasser formed by the dam.

The sacred crocodile was treated with respect and at death was mummified. The discovery of generations of these mummies has led to a crocodile museum. .

The ship set off again stopping in Edfu. This temple is far enough from the Nile that transportation is required. An industry of carriages has sprung up, just to carry visitors to the tomb.

The temple is dedicated to the god Horus, represented as a falcon. It celebrates the victory of horus over his adversary Seth, thus creating images of a rather sour looking falcon. Many pillars still ring the various areas of the large temple, from the grand court for the worshipers and supplicants to smaller areas for the cultic activities to the Holy of Holies reserved for the high priest. This is similar in most temples.

This was another hot day, and, as usual, we were happy to retreat to the ship for rest and air conditioning.

One of the things that amazes us is the large fluctuations of temperatures from sunlight to sunset. There is a fourth floor pool/lounge area that is a great favorite. Even in late afternoon, while underway, the shaded areas and the breeze from the river provide a comfortable place to observe the Nile and its banks.

 

Update Day 1-4, Egypt September 26, 2019

Don’t know how I didn’t include this in my previous post. As we were entering the site to see the sphinx, famous Egyptologist Zahi Hawass came through the line. He is often on shows about archaeology on the Discovery channel, who also will sponsor his work. I’ve seen several episodes he has been featured in. Our guide, who studied Egyptology was overwhelmed. He is kind of a rock star here. This is for any Egyptology geeks out there.

Also a photo of the Nile taken on a walk this afternoon. We expected beautiful views, but the part we walked had not been kept up. I am surprised the photo shows it as well as it does.

Tomorrow we fly to Aswan to board a ship for a three day cruise up the Nile. Hoping for more beautiful views.

Day 1-4, Egypt September 2019

Day 4. September 24, 2019. Egypt.

Days 1 & 2 are really just travel and resting days. The tour begins in earnest on day 3.

The wheels were rolling at 7:00 am. Two challenges in Egypt are heat and traffic. The early bird avoids both.

The earliest pyramids are in Sakara, about an hour away. These are later and more impressive. Pyramid building and mummification developed over the dynasties and centuries. The smooth limestone base is long gone giving you an idea of the pyramid’s construction. The photos with people give an idea of the size of the stones which had to be transported and stacked with precision. It is still not known how this was all accomplished. These are solid constructions with only a hollow space for the burial space. The guide discouraged going inside since the space is claustrophobic and this is before tomb wall inscriptions. The better pyramids to explore will come later.

Even this early in the day, vendors were active trying to sell camel rides and every conceivable souvenir. I was a bit amazed by the interest. No camel ride this trip. Did that in Jerusalem.

The pyramid of Kahfre shows the limestone cap lost on the Great Pyramid.

Next we went to get a panoramic view of the complex, with the ever present souvenir and camel ride vendors. Besides the major pyramids, also queen pyramids and other burial sites.

The most impressive site to me was the sphinx. Although greatly eroded it still an impressive sculpture.

Finally a visit to a papyrus shop where we got lesson in how papyrus is made, then lunch. Will have time to explore by ourselves tonight.

Days are short here. Sunup about 7:00 am but down around 5:30 pm.

We fly to Answan tomorrow.

Paris, Feast of the Archangels Day 13 September 29, 2018

Yesterday was a free day, so after Mass people split up to do whatever interested them.

We returned to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal for Mass. It was this time I realized that I had misidentified St. Louise de Merillac for St. Catherine Laboure. This is one of my favorite chapels in Paris, greatly because of its affiliations with St. Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity, who have been a great support to my spirituality and my vocation.

Some of us walked to Notre Dame after Mass, a joy to wander the neighborhoods. For me a walkabout was great way to spend the day, strolling by the Seine, sitting in a cafe and getting lost for a bit.

Finally, we gathered for sunset cruise and dinner. See you at Mass.

Yesterday was a free day, so after Mass people split up to do whatever interested them.

We returned to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal for Mass. It was this time I realized that I had misidentified St. Louise de Merillac for St. Catherine Laboure. This is one of my favorite chapels in Paris, greatly because of its affiliations with St. Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity, who have been a great support to my spirituality and my vocation.

Some of us walked to Notre Dame after Mass, a joy to wander the neighborhoods. For me a walkabout was great way to spend the day, strolling by the Seine, sitting in a cafe and getting lost for a bit.

Finally, we gathered for sunset cruise and dinner. See you at Mass.