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They’re all Great! Pyramids at Giza; Valleys at Luxor; Temples at Abu Simbel; Palaces at Karnak, and Mortuaries at Deir el Bahari…..


Great Pyramids of Giza

Entrust our Elite Tour Club leaders to show you where their inspired mentors, the ‘Modern Egyptologists’ of nearly 200 years ago, mapped, excavated and recorded newfound hoards at the Great Pyramids of Giza. Standing here, you will understand why those archaeologists were so smitten with this glorious outpost of Cairo. Khufu's Pyramid is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’ — the last remaining Wonder on that glorious list to actually exist. Khafre and Menkaure Pyramids complete the colossal trio, with the Great Sphinx looking on and guarding the Giza Plateau through the ages.

Cairo is Africa’s city of 15 million —the most populous city in the entire continent. It is hot and frenetic with bustle, bazaars and traffic chaos, yet the Islamic edifices stand ennobled. Our Gems of Egypt itinerary includes the experience of Coptic Cairo. You will visit The Hanging Church — built into the masonry of the Roman water-gate, before moving on to Saints Sergius-the Bacchus Church. Also known as Abu Serga, this 4th century-AD Coptic Church is believed to stand on the spot where Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus rested after their journey into Egypt. Cairo’s Egyptian Museum exhibits King Tutankhamun’s fabulously famous Gold Mask. Moulded to hide his facial bandaging, it is 11kg of solid-gold and epitomises dynasties that buried their treasure and artefacts with their corpses.

Karnak - The Most Selected of Places

Within the boundaries of modern Luxor, Elite Tour Club knows that you will cherish your exploration of the monumental city of Thebes. Established around 3200 BC, Thebes was the former capitol of Waset (4th Upper Egyptian district, itself the capital of Egypt), and a great consumer of frankincense, myrrh, bitumen, natron, fine woven linen and juniper oil. These were embalming ingredients for Thebes’ thriving mortuaries at Karnak Temple, and were traded for Nubian gold by Egypt’s Red Sea sailing fleet. 
 
This city’s archaeology is Egyptian civilization at its best. No wonder Karnak Temple and its associated ruins make Luxor ‘the world’s greatest open-air museum’. The Temples at Karnak are much more than ruined holy places. There are also chapels, pylons (tapered towers of monumental gateways), The Sacred Lake, along with the Ramses II’s resplendent building. The area around Karnak was indeed ‘Ipet-isut’ (‘The Most Selected of Places’), and its most revered place of worship was Theban Triad — dedicated to the god Amun.
 
The foundations of Karnak’s Great Temples were dug in the Middle Kingdom years (2055 BC to 1650 BC), and building continued right through to the Ptolemaic era (305 BC to 30 BC). Around 30 pharaohs contributed to its genesis, enabling it to expand to a size, complexity and diversity unique in Egypt. Karnak is the largest ancient religious site in the world, and after the Giza Pyramids, the second most-visited ancient site in Egypt.
 
Today, Karnak’s facades are constantly re-salvaged for movies and computer gaming, including for The Spy Who Loved Me, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Typically typecast, Karnak is also a backdrop for The Mummy Returns.

Queen Hatshepsut - Mortuary Temple

‘Mortuary temple’ was ancient Egypt’s grim terminology for ‘memorial temple’. Constructed adjacent to or near royal tombs, these revered edifices were designed to commemorate the reign of the pharaoh king or queen who paid for them, and to be an immortal memorial for their fans and followers.
 
Mortuary temples were built around pyramids in the Old and Middle Kingdoms (2686 BC to 1650 BC), but in the New Kingdom years between the 16th and 11th century BC, pharaohs dug their tombs in the Valley of the Kings and planted their mortuary temples further away. Brimming with overconfidence, Egyptian pharaohs referred to their mortuary temples as "mansions of millions of years". And rather than leaving, say, a large seafaring vessel to their sons, they would have the ship dragged into their “mansions” to rest comfortably in peace — and rot.
 
The 1st Pharaoh Amenhotep began the trend for mortuary temples during the 18th dynasty (1550 BC to 1292 BC). Several other 18th dynasty pharaohs copied, the best known being Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple. Considered one of the ‘incomparable monuments’, it lies beneath cliffs at Deir el Bahari, close to the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut dedicated her planned ‘mansion of millions of years’ to the sun god Amon-Ra, and commissioned Senenmut the Architect. 
 
Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple is thought to be the closest Egypt came to the true Classical style. It is nothing less than a turning point in Ancient Egyptian architecture. These Classic lines were constantly repeated in later New Kingdom temples. However, standing here today, remind yourself that this building’s original architecture was, in parts, erroneously ‘reconstructed’ in the early 1900s.
 
Over the centuries, statues and ornamentation have been plundered or destroyed — including two statues of Osiris, an entire avenue of sphinxes, and many sculptures of Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut in a multitude of poses. However, her last sculpture, of her lying embalmed and linen-bandaged ready for her tomb still remains.

Temples at Abu Simbel

In 1813, just as he was preparing to sail away from Nubia, in southern Egypt, the Swiss traveller Johann Burckhardt stood astounded as he faced the facades of two magnificent sandstone temples. He was poised to report back to Europe about the existence of the Great Temples of Abu Simbel and Hathor. The latter, smaller holy place is also known as the Temple of Queen Nefertari.

Although Burckhardt found these 13th century-BC temples almost entirely entombed in sand, he knew they had been hewn and built by Pharaoh Ramesses II’s minions (Ramesses ruled from 1279 to 1213 BC). These monuments intimidated his Nubian neighbours, commemorated a battle triumph, and gave thanks to his Gods. They were also dedicated to Ramesses II’s Queen Nefertari.

Between 1964 and 1968, these mighty edifices were painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed 60m higher – an amazing feat. This labour saved the priceless sandstone from submersion in the Lake Nasser reservoir during the building of the High Dam at Aswan. The UN contributed to Abu Simbel’s and Hathor’s replanting with the larger temple being made portable by cutting it into 2,000 giant pieces. It is said that to avoid enforced flooding, 23 temples were re-located in this Herculean manner throughout the region.

Valleys of the Kings and Queens

Across the River Nile from the modern city of Luxor, you will find the burial sites of Egyptian royals from the First Intermediate Period (2160 to 2025 BC). Necropolis stands here too, a juxtaposition of temples, formidable tombs and the famously evocative Valleys of the Kings and Queens.

The Valleys’ potent heritage is a morass of 63 royal tombs dating from 1550 to 1069 BC. The 18th-dynasty pharaohs (1550 to 1292 BC) were the best-known Egyptian royals, with Pharaohs Tutankhamun and Akhenaten, and Queens Hatshepsut and Nefertiti exuding power. It was believed that upon dying the rulers then transcended earthly life at the foot of the steep cliffs of Al-Qurn. Ancient Egyptians revered this place like no other, because each sunset, they believed that the sun might sink below Al-Qurn’s horizon, never to return.