The Egyptian Museum: The Final Resting Place

Happy Thanksgiving! ūüôā¬† Today, most families in the US¬†will probably have Turkey for dinner together with family and friends.¬† The start of the festive season, it also marks the end of yet another busy year full of developments and happenings.¬†¬†¬†What better¬†day to¬†mark the end¬†of my posts on Egypt.¬† Today,¬†I end my journey to Egypt with the final resting place for most of Egypt’s great treasures: The Egyptian Museum.

After thousands of years of history, the final resting place for most of the Egyptian treasures is not located in the Valley of the Kings, nor inside Great Pyramids.  Instead, their final resting place is inside the Egyptian Museum or somewhere in a box in its basement.  First opened in 1863 my guidebook tells me that the museum had to move twice before settling at its current building in which it has been housed since 1902.  Even then, it is still not large enough to accomodate all the treasures.

Upon entering the Egyptian Museum you immediately understand the need for a larger museum.  Having been to many museums around the world, you see beautiful and significant treasures in large spaces of their own.  They become the centrepiece occupying a single wall or perhaps the focus of a large room. 

Spotlights shine on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre which is encased in glass and visitors are stopped by a wooden railing that prevents one from getting too close.¬† The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire sits in a glass case on a beautiful velvet cushion at Vienna’s Schatzkammer (Treasury Museum).¬† The exquisite Hope Diamond¬†at the Smithsonian is in a glass case of it’s own surrounded by security cameras.¬† At the Egyptian Museum, however, there are so many priceless objects and too little space that everything looks like it has just been placed there for storage.

Upon entering, you are greeted by a hall that is immediately surrounded by all these wonderful treasures of Egypt.¬† There is so much to see you feel like there is a slight overload of information.¬† I also somehow feel like I’ve travelled back in time.¬† Objects are displayed for all to see, but there are few spotlights and hardly enough space for any one piece to shine out.¬†¬† The guide takes us to see valuable objects that are in glass encasings, but there is no special spotlight and the description is on a typed piece of paper.¬† Amazing, the description themselves must have been written before the time of computers.
The most exquisite part of the collection though is the collection of objects found inside King Tutankhamun’s Tomb upon excavation at the Valley of the Kings.¬† The fact that the tomb escaped looting was attributed to the fact that it lay beneath another tomb and looters did not expect to find another tomb.¬† Lucky for¬†us for¬†now we can see¬†the wonderful tresures of King Tut.¬† Although¬†King Tutankhamun reigned for¬†only ten years before his untimely death I have to say the treasures are just breathtaking.¬†
 
Inside a specially secure room, the most valuable item of King Tut’s Tomb is on display: the Golden Mask.¬† This mask is not like the ones we wear on halloween or to parties, it is mask made of solid gold.¬† This golden mask covered the mummy of King Tut and was discovered under layers of bandages.¬† 11kgs (24.5 lbs) it is probably one of the most expensive and valuable treasures in this world.¬†( Especially at today’s soaring gold prices where it costs over a thousand dollars for an ounce of gold!)¬† Wow…¬† I walk around the mask and take a deep breath. It’s beautiful and without blemish.¬† Semi-precious stones decorate the golden mask and the eyes look out at you as if it were alive.¬†¬†I¬†look at it and take it all in.¬† The craftmanship is amazing. How skilled these¬†ancient egyptians were. I also note that¬†this supposedly is how the 19year old King Tut looked like thousands of years ago.¬† Eerie.
Lining the walls of this room are equally beautiful pieces of golden jewelry and precious stones that were discovered in the tomb.  The bracelets have beautiful scarabs and pendants are designed with the magical Eye of Horus which supposedly has protective powers.  I love the colours and the shape of the jewelry.  I wish I could own a piece, but I can only grab onto the glass case and drool.  Girls can never have enough accessories.
 
Outside, the display is equally breathtaking.¬† There are golden chariots, golden box encasings that covered the tomb, and a number of other objects that were totally unexpected.¬† There was a wooden bed with woven rattan like material that look extremely modern.¬† It wasn’t only the fact that it had a woven weave to it, but the fact that it had a portable bed and had hinges! Now can you imagine that thousands of years ago?
 
There was the headrest that looked like modern day Japanese pillows that lifted your neck off the floor so that your hair would not lose its shape.  There were the jewelry boxes that had sections and even a nice cylinder for storing bracelets.  There were portable bathrooms.

There were even wine bottles.¬† Of course they weren’t made of glass like today’s ones, but they were made of pottery shaped in such a cone-line way so that the wine would not have sediments.¬† On the bottle, were engraved the names of the vineyards, the year in which the grapes were harvested and the owner.¬† Amazing.¬† Now there are no longer any vineyards in Egypt,¬†the climate and religion has changed.

I go into the special section for the¬†Royal Mummies and peer at the remains of Egypt’s great pharaohs.¬† Their mummification process is still a mystery.¬† I see hair, nails and skin of those who lived thousands of years ago.¬† They bare their teeth out at me.¬†¬†I see one whose face looks like she was in pain.¬† I am told perhaps this is Hatsheptsut.¬† This takes me back to my younger days in Belgium where the museum there too had a mummy.¬† I remember looking at the toenails sticking out from under the bandages and being awed by it.¬† Now decades later, I am still in awe.

If I have the opportunity I would of course go back to Egypt.  I would go back to once again wander amidst the treasures at the Egyptian Museum and explore the streets of off smaller villages along the nile.  I would spend a night out in the Sinai desert with the camels and visit the Bedoin people.  Egypt was a place that once everyone wanted to go in its days of glory.  The Greeks came to Alexandria and the Romans too had their say.  Egypt was the centre and symbol of civilization thousands of years before our time.  Salam Malakum.

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Jordi at the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar

 

After digressing from my travels to my micro marathon, today I write about an activity almost every girl cannot resist: shopping.¬† This time though, it’s about shopping in Cairo.¬† If you are anything like me, whenever I travel abroad I always want to take a piece of it back with me for “memories” sake.¬†¬† So where do people go to shop in Cairo?¬† You go to the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar which also happens to be one of the oldest and biggest bazaars in the middle east.

This bazaar is not only a place for tourists to go shopping, but it is itself a great place to get lost in and discover a part of ancient life in Egypt.¬† Since 1382, this had been a place where merchants from afar came to sell their goods, have coffee, smoke a sheesha¬†and perhaps spend a night in one of the travel lodges.¬† It’s filled with small alleyways and¬†crammed with shops selling anything they can.

As you walk by, merchants call out to grab your attention in a number of international languages.  To my surprise a lot of them speak Thai.  You squeeze pass strangers in small alleyways and then suddenly find yourself standing before huge medieval gates carved in beautiful stone.  They are breath taking.  I walk around some more, peer into a dark shop and upon entering discover how beautiful its ancient ceilings are.  The owners quickly turn on the lights and show us the beauty of their shop.  They have exquisite but expensive Egyptian decorations. I like it.

Outside, the smaller shops sell egyptian lamps, brass, leather goods, and other hand made products.  I see beautiful boxes with inlaid mother of pearl, silverware with beautiful motifs, leather seats, copper trays, bracelets and even papyrus pictures.  There are egyptian cotton scarves and jewelry shops with beautiful exotic designs. 

Now almost all the shops require you to do a lot of haggling before finally getting the desired price, but there is this one shop that I was taken to called “Jordi.”¬† The owner I believe is Spanish (well he spoke spanish anyways) and its great in that everything here has a price tag.¬† No haggling required.¬† Everything is at very reasonable price and so you are able to do your souvenir shopping in peace of mind.

You have to go up a steep flight of steps before you find the place, but I think if you ask around you will find someone to direct you to it.¬† Up the stairs, you find yourself¬†on¬†a balcony with several rooms looking over a courtyard.¬† Jordi occupies around 3 rooms each selling different varieties of products.¬† One sells scarves, clothing while others sell wooden inlaid boxes, papyrus bookmarks, magnets and other souvenirs. They even have silver earrings and jewelry, but they are all piled into plastic boxes and you have to find your own pair.¬† It’s fun.¬†¬† I buy some gifts for friends and family before once again wandering out into the chaotic bazaar.

On some cobblestoned street I spot someone with a large tray of the traditional Aish bread on their head walking around looking for customers.¬† It’s amazing how he can carry such a large tray like that.¬† As evening arrives the lights from the colourful egyptian lamps shine out and the belly dancing costumes glitter.¬† I love the colours that fills up this bazaar.¬† It’s full of colour and excitement.¬† As¬†I find my way back to my ride home, I look back and wonder what it was like thousands of years ago when camels probably brought all these goods along.¬† What did people sell back then?¬†

The Temple of Philae

There are so many temples, so many majestic sites in Egypt that I dare not say which ones are better than the other.  Each person has their own preferences and what some like, others may not.  I,  for some reason, often find myself liking structures near to rivers or large bodies of flowing water.  Perhaps in another lifetime I lived on the river.  Who knows.   In Egypt, I rediscovered my love for water and one moment I remember clearly is the first impression I had of the Temple of Philae.

On an island of its own, this temple is accessible only by boat.¬† It’s late evening and the sun reflects off the dark blue water that mirrors the sky above.¬† It’s been a tiring day and everyone is exhausted. We had been awake since 2am in the morning with our early morning¬†flight to Abu Simbel¬†then Aswan.¬† This temple I remember being almost our last destination for the day.¬† I was tired and sleepy.¬† I walked down the pier and got onto the boat that would take us across.¬† I wasn’t really expecting too much and was pleased to just be able to sit quietly on the boat, listening to the water splashing on its side as the late afternoon sun flickered through.

I observed a beautiful scenery of birds, trees and water reflecting the afternoon sun. Palm trees offered a beautiful sihoulette to the clear cloudless sky.  All was calm and peaceful until all of a sudden, beautiful structures looking somewhat mythical appeared before me.  I sat there quietly taking it all in.  Stone columns reddened by the afternoon sun rose majestically to the sky.  I felt like I too was on a pilgrimage to this great temple.  I wondered if pilgrims thousands of years felt the same way I did just then. This place must indeed be magical.   As I got closer, the towering columns grew in their splendor and size.  They belonged to the Temple of Philae.   

This temple I am told was believed to be the burial site of Osiris, the God of the Underworld,” and was inhabited by only priests.¬† It was a sacred¬†place of worship for ancient Egyptians and have been mentioned in literature since ancient times.¬† I got off the boat and inside the temple is just as astounding.

Pillars filled with hieroglyphics lined the entrance and the main gate was still in wonderful condition.  Although most of the colours are gone now, they hieroglyphics remain just as surreal.  The complex is large and there are many buildings.  Some were built by the romans and one especially beautiful is the Kiosk of Trajan which has 14 columns and is in a classical style.  Beautiful.   I walk around looking at the lights and shadows. Light and darkness contrasting with each other.   I wish I had more time here, but we are given only 20 minutes to take photos.

I wander around and just fall in love this temple. Perhaps crossing the river in the setting sun with the clear blue sky above made it all the more magical.  Whatever it is, I can imagine this being the resting place of the Gods.

Calmed by the River Nile

Gliding down the River Nile, it is not surprising why since ancient times, it has been a source of inspiration for many.  As I sit on the sundeck looking out at the vastness of this river, I imagine that not much has changed here over the centuries.  The riverbanks are lined with palm trees and uninhabited fields.  I spy an occasional buffalo and watch birds fly in the clear blue sky.  A sense of calmness comes over me.

This River, I imagine has this effect on people.

The cruise ship quietly glides down the Nile at a steady pace, no rush, no hurry.  It is elegant and at one with the river.  I too am starting to a feel a bit of this calm rub onto me.

I lie down on the sundeck and watch the change in scenery as we pass by.¬† For most of the time, all I see in front of me is the vastness of this river which has been the conduit of civilization for thousands of years.¬† This great¬†river had been the source of life for without it’s waters, which also proved to be¬†an important¬†mode of¬†transportation, life would have been very different in the desert.

Palm trees stand out against the clear blue sky and together with the wild grass the river banks transform into a beautiful sihoullete.¬† I am enthralled.¬† I wish I had brought my watercolour set so that I could paint this view, but then I want to travel light and I’m not that much of an artist.¬† It’ll have to be another day.¬† For now, I opt instead to do a rough sketch in my little moleskine notebook.¬†

It’s quiet up here on the sundeck and the engines are so quiet I don’t hear much other than the splashing of the water as we glide by.¬† Occasionally we pass by another cruise ship and then to the delight of all those on the sundeck, we’d start waving at those on board the other cruiseline.¬† It’s friendly.¬† It’s fun.¬† I’m feeling chilly with the wind, and have wrapped¬†myself up in my scarves¬†but on the other sundeck people are¬†sunbathing.¬†¬† I gather they must come from somewhere very cold.

Cruising down the River Nile, we have no space for stress, for anger, or for all those emotions that make us humans insufferable beings.¬† Here, we are back to nature and at peace.¬† I feel like I am reliving a bit of history.¬†¬† I feel like time has slowed down and that I have found a part of me that had been lost in all this crazy, hectic world.¬† It’s effect is so unlike any other that just writing about it, I can once again feel myself sitting there on the sundeck with the breeze through my hair, sitting, watching the scenes roll by.¬† I am at peace, I am calm.¬† If only I could feel like this everyday…….¬†

The thought remains as the sunsets and I am reminded that another day has ended.¬† Another end brings with it another beginning and another chance for me to once more find myself at “peace” with the river.

The Journey Begins at Abu Simbel

Having climbed through the Great Pyramid, stood by the Sun boat, and sat on a camel; ¬†I have to say that the ‘real’ journey to Egypt has only just begun.¬† There is much more than just¬†pyramids and sand.¬†¬†The real journey to ancient Egypt begins when you take the magical and unforgettable¬†cruise down the River Nile.¬†¬†

One sees so many temples, all noteworthy and each second to none.¬† I, of course, will not be able to write about all of them for it will take up more than a month’s worth of blogs and have the unfortunate consequence of boring my readers.¬† I shall therefore¬†write about the ones that captured my imagination the most.

This cruise down the River Nile¬†is the¬†part of the journey that I’ll never forget.¬† Before we get to actually board the Cruise, we are are taken on a flight down to Abu Simbel and later flown to Aswan.¬† Some tours don’t include Abu Simbel, but I think if you have the opportunity, you should definitely see it.¬† It’s what movies and dreams are made of.

Abu Simbel is a temple¬†literally carved out of a solid cliff to honour Ramses II.¬†¬† At first, as you are walking behind the structure everything seems just ordinary, that is until you start catching glimpses of the colossal statues of Ramses II¬†looking out towards the river.¬† It’s undescribable.¬† Ramses II here is 33 meters (108ft) high and he undoubtedly has the effect of putting all those before him in awe.¬†


You feel like a grain of sand standing next to this awesome structure.  I suppose that is what you are supposed to feel like.  Here the King assumes a godlike status and is wearing the crowns of both upper and lower Egypt.  Here he has been immortalized next to his wife Nefertari, who has another smaller temple of her own next to his. Amazing what love can do.

I enter this temple and am greeted by an impressive hall lined with statues of Ramses as Osiris, the God of the Afterlife.  Towards the back of the temple in the Inner Sanctury you find Ramses sitting next to the Gold of Amun-Ra (the King of Gods),  Ptah (God of Regeneration and Underworld) and Ra-Harakhty or Horus (God of Protection, the Sky and War).  

Now, imagine this being built in 13th century BC.   Imagine how well they had to calculate the position of the temple so that on only two days a year on October 21 and February 21 (61 days before and 61 days after the Winter Solstice) light enters the temple and shines on the gods sitting in the inner sanctuary.

The sun shines into the Inner Sanctury and lights up three Gods.  One is left in darkness: the God of the Underworld, the God Ptah.   Its breathtaking.  All this calculation, all this done thousands of years ago.  Millions of lives before be have stood in awe in front of this great structure.

It’s no wonder that it is a UNESCO Heritage Site and even more fortunate that the world realized its significance and actually relocated this entire temple structure before it was submerged under Lake Nasser, formed by the building of the Aswan High Dam.¬† I thank you all those who helped in the relocation of this temple.¬† Without them, it would have been lost underwater and instead serve as an incredibly beautiful home for the fish.

Inside the Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramids of Giza prove to be closer to Cairo than I had ever imagined. The Pyramids loom over your head as you head down a busy road filled with houses and people going about their business. The roundabout is crazy and hectic with cars honking, cars crashing into one another before going on to their final destination. Then amidst all this madness, the Great Pyramids suddenly appear before you as if it were just another construction. An extremely large and over-powering one though.

I get off the car and look up at the Great Pyramid. It is indeed far bigger than I could have ever imagined. Stones used to build this is said to weigh on average 2.5 tonnes with some stones at the base said to weigh as much as 15 tonnes. The pyramid is perfectly symmetrical yet it was built over 5,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians had understood geometry since times past. Fascinating. I rub its rocks and am dumbfounded as to how the ancient egyptians could have imagined such a construction. They seem smarter than we who now populate this earth. I feel as if we lived in different worlds.

I walk around to the front towards the entrance to the Great Gallery. Although the original entrance is now blocked, there is a lower opening through which one can climb through. Of course who could resist having come all this way around the globe? I had to climb in. Inside I discovered a very steep upward sloping passage way 9 meters (30 feet) high. There’s light, but the area is so small and cramped its definitely not suited for those who fear heights or have trouble breathing.

 

The worst part is not climbing through the passage way, but how you must somehow push yourself to one side to let others coming down pass you by. I dare not think what would happen if someone lost their grip. It also becomes a dilemma as to how you should descend. Should I climb down backwards? or should I face forward and slide down on my backside. I never know. All I know is I somehow got through. Up the steep shaft, which my guidebook tells me used to be a slipway for the huge blocks that sealed the passageway, I find myself in the King’s Chamber.

This chamber, hidden far inside the pyramid, is sparse except for an empty sarcophagus. Hieroglyphics are carved into the walls but the colours have all faded and all I see around me are stone walls. It must be so quiet and dark in here when all is sealed. An oversized coffin it seems. Protected by these enormous slabs of stones and small passageways, I imagine why anyone would want to get themselves in. The desire for wealth must have been so great. Money had always been equated to power.

Outside, as I walk around the pyramids, there are of course camels for you to ride. Though probably not the best ones around, I just had to be the tourist and ride a camel. After negotiating with the camel owner, I got on and had some photos taken. It was bumpy and much like riding an elephant. You get a few pushes to the front then back and then the camel is up on its legs. The ride goes by so fast I wish I could ride it longer. If you plan on having a camel ride, I recommend paying for the ride after you get off, for if you pay before, you might have to pay again to get off the camel. Also prepare exact change, for there is most likely no change if you have large bills.

Looking at the pictures the colours of the hand embroidered camel saddle catch my eyes. They stand out against the colours of the desert sand so beautifully.

I look around me and see the sand being blown by the desert wind. It’s beautiful….the horizon grows hazy amidst the sunlight and scarfs flutter in the wind. I’m covered with sand and then in a blink of an eye, I suddenly realize why those living in desert countries wear robes. With robes, the sand just slide off your clothing whilst my western clothings, full of nooks and cranies, are filled with sand.

Towering above Cairo at the Citadel

The Citadel
 
The View
 
The Clock from France
 

 

Under the Dome, the Ornate Interior
 

 

Before we enter the land of the ancient egyptians, we visit the Citadel which was home to Egypt’s rulers for almost 700 years beginning in 1176.¬†¬† I must say it’s definitely one of the largest Citadels¬†¬†I’ve ever been to.¬† It’s so big, it’s like a little city all within itself with mosques, gardens, houses, and other buildings.¬† Up high on the hill, it rises above Islamic Islam as a reminder of ancient power and glory.¬† So great was it’s empire back then.

The main destination is most definitely the Mohammad Ali Mosque.¬† When I first hear its¬†name, a grin flashes my face as it reminds me of the boxer, but then I remember that Mohammad Ali was the name of the founder of modern Egypt.¬† He had brough Egypt recognition after being part of the Ottoman empire.¬†¬† It’s an enormous mosque.¬† There is a large central dome and several other small ones. Two minarets rise out into the sky.¬†

 

By the entrance, I am shown a beautiful clock that towers above the courtyard.¬† I’m told it was a gift from King Louis Philippe of France who sent this clock in exchange for the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.¬† I must say the French¬†have a great deal and know how to negotiate.¬†¬†They have a beautiful obelisk¬† beautifying their city whilst the Egyptians have a clock which has been dead for centuries.¬† It was damaged since its delivery and until this day the Egyptians are still patiently¬†awaiting for the engineer sent from France.¬† I wonder if he’ll ever arrive.

The mosque’s interior is grand and cool to the skin being built of marble.¬† I look up into the ceiling, but my eyes do not see the beautiful painted gold decorations.¬† I use my camera and it magically captures what the eyes do not see.¬† The effect is astounding.¬† A warm green¬†covered in¬†golden stars cover the domes above.¬† Some muslims chant some prayers and the sounds echo throughout the mosque. It’s quite magical.

I decide to walk outside and am immediately at awe with the vast skyline in front of me.  I am towering above Cairo and below me I see the ancient mosques, the ancient aqueducts.  I see the brick houses and out into the horizon I see glimpses of the Pyramids of Giza.  Their size is unimaginably large.  I can see it from the Citadel. 

It’s a bit cloudy and windy but as I stand there looking out at the Great Pyramids, the clouds suddenly part and rays of sunshine¬†beam onto the pyramids out at the distance.¬† I’m enthralled.¬† Nature is amazing. It’s no wonder ancient egyptians worshipped the sun.

Before I leave, I visit this little Mosque of Suleiman Pasha.¬† It’s a bit far and on the otherside of the Citadel, but I must say I like this mosque more than the vastness of Mohammad Ali’s Mosque.¬† It’s small, cozy and “feminine” if I may call it so.¬† It’s apparently an Ottoman mosque built in 1528 and it is so intricately decorated I love it.¬† Inspired by Turkish designs, beautiful coloured tiles cover the mosque.¬† Beautifully inlaid marblework make the Mihrab (prayer niche) and Minbar (pulpit) glow out into the hall.¬† In the adjoining courtyard, I find peace amidst the stone archs.¬†

There is something about large stone structures that just appeal to me.¬† I take a deep breath, look around me and say my farewell.¬†¬† I’m glad we came out to this little mosque far away from the tourist crowds.¬† I feel like its my little discovery even though it has been discovered many times before me.

 
The sun beams on the Pyramids of Giza