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10 Snippets of Ancient and Modern Egypt

Egypt is very dear to my heart. As a testament to that, I wanted to show you ten things from my last visit which are smaller or less likely to come up in guide books. Feel free to vote them up or down according to what you think of them, and ask me if you want to know more. 🙂

#1 The Friendship Monument by the Aswan High Dam

The Dam was funded by the USSR, and as such Egypt and Russia have maintained a close friendship since. Egypt is seen as a key tourist destination by Russians and members of other ex-USSR countries. Note how the monument is shaped like a lotus flower, albeit with some geometric, simplistic features. The lotus flower was sacred in ancient Egypt and has been retained as a symbol in the country, particularly in the tourism industry. 

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#2 Valley of Colours

The Valley of Colours was a source of red and yellow ochre for the ancient Egyptians. The pigment can be found throughout their decoration. The Valley is next to the workers’ village of Deir el-Medina, which literally in Arabic means ‘Monastery of the Town’. All of this forms part of the Theban West Bank, where the dead of the city of Thebes on the east bank of the Nile were buried. Nowadays Thebes is the city of Luxor, which is itself famous for the Luxor and Karnak temples.

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#3 Stela from outside the Nubian Museum in Aswan

This museum is an impressive size for its location and subject matter, and is full of interesting material from Nubia which chronicles its own civilisation and its relationship with Egypt. The labels in the museum are in English, and photography is allowed in all of its areas. 

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#4 Hieroglyphs at Medinet Habu

This is a hieroglyph (the xa-sign if you want to be technical, representing the sunrise) at Medinet Habu, with my hand in it for scale. Medinet Habu is the mortuary temple of Ramesses III on the Theban West Bank. Ramesses III is better known for being named after Ramesses II (‘the Great’), and for supposedly being murdered by his own harem in an attempt to replace the crown prince with a different son (unsuccessfully). However, the hieroglyphs at his temple are also famously deep. This is because Egyptian kings had this delightful habit of either erasing their predecessors completely, or usurping their monuments for themselves. This was done by carving down until the previous king’s name was gone and a new one could be put in its place. Ramesses III got around this by carving hieroglyphs so deep that in three thousand years no one has bothered to try to replace them.

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#5 Towel animals

The staff on boats and hotels in Egypt and other north African countries pride themselves on the sculptures that they leave for guests. This crocodile is an example of what happens when your bed is made and towels changed each day while you’re out visiting a site. We were also lucky enough to be treated to a display of one of the staff making a selection of towel animals on the sun deck during afternoon tea. It’s brilliant to watch, and mind-boggling what can be done with a few towels. 

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#6 Coloured hieroglyphs

These were in one of the tombs of officials and nobles at Qubbet el-Hawa. These tombs date mainly to the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Ancient Egyptian decoration was not monochromatic, as much of it looks today after thousands of years. These hieroglyphs are an example of what this decoration was supposed to look like. The vibrancy of the colours is astonishing. The red and yellow are ochre. The blue is Egyptian blue, which was the first man-made pigment. It is applied in greater thickness and with more resin to make it stick, because it does not do so as easily as natural pigments. It often fades and becomes green, or falls off altogether.

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#7 Shrine of Heqaib

This shrine is on the island of Elephantine, which once pretty much marked Egypt’s southern border. Nowadays it is between Aswan on the east bank, and the cemetery Qubbet el-Hawa on the west. South of this are the two dams and Lake Nasser. This shrine was originally dedicated to the official Heqaib, who developed such a strong posthumous cult and reputation that other officials for many generations erected their shrines beside his. The burials and shrines of nobles often have other burials around them, upon which the original monument bestows status. 

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#8 Gebel el-Silsilah

This quarry was used for much of ancient Egyptian history. It contained sandstone, which was a key building material for temples and other monuments. On a Nile cruise, it is passed on the way from Luxor to Kom Ombo, and then again on the return journey north. 

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#9 Crocodile mummies at Kom Ombo

These crocodile mummies, and more besides, can be found at the aptly-named crocodile museum at Kom Ombo. The first time that I went to Egypt, these were crammed into the small space inside a shrine of Isis. There’s now a purpose-built museum at the exit of the temple grounds, and there are loads of mummified crocodiles in it. Kom Ombo was dedicated to both Horus the falcon-headed god and Sobek the crocodile-headed one, and is split straight down the middle. Kom Ombo is a Graeco-Roman temple, which is the period in which mummifying animals happened on an industrial scale. 

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#10 Fruit animals

This follows very much the same idea as the towel animals. The creation of these fruit creatures was another display on the sun deck during afternoon tea. It was just as brilliant and fascinating as the towels, and we enjoyed trying to guess what the staff member was making each time. Admittedly on some occasions it looked a bit rude, but he played on that for effect and the final product was presentable.

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Written by Nefertari

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