We arrived in Edfu in the middle of the night. For various reasons, I had trouble sleeping so I was awake very early the next morning. The sun was just beginning to make its appearance. I grabbed my cameras and headed up to the sun deck and took pictures of the sunrise on the Nile. After a hearty breakfast, it was back on the bus to visit the Temple. The Temple of Horus (the Falcon Headed God), one of the best-preserved Temples in all of Egypt, is the focus of life here in Edfu. The building was started by Ptolemy III in 237 BC and finished almost 200 years later by Ptolemy XII, the father of our famous Cleopatra (she was the seventh). I had to admit that approaching the massive temple edifice was breath taking. Walking through the temple you couldn’t help but imagine the feelings this structure inspired in the Priests and worshipers. The inner sanctum, the place where the golden statue of the God Horus was kept between ceremonies, was still intact. Here celebrations were held every year. One was the “Feast of the Beautiful Meeting,” where Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendera, his wife, were brought together amid great celebration. Another was the “Annual Festival of Victory or Triumph of Horus” to celebrate the defeat of Seth by Horus. The near pristine condition of this temple surprised me. Later I learned that many of the temples and buildings owed their preservation to the fact that they were covered by sand for centuries. After the tour, it was back to the ship and set sail again, this time for Kom Ombo.
As we cruised into Kom Ombo, “city of gold,” it was impossible to miss the beautiful temple that sat on a hillock overlooking the Nile. We docked just below the temple and walked to the entrance. Despite the ravages of time, nature, and man, this edifice maintained an elegance and majesty that surprised me. For centuries sand covered it, which protected it from them all. But time passed, Copts destroyed some of the reliefs and others used the site to quarry stone for building. Then nature took its toll when the Nile eroded and destroyed some of the terraces. The temple, a double sanctuary separated by a wall screen, was dedicated to two different Gods, Sobek, the Crocodile God, and Harwer, or Horus the Elder. Among the many incredible carvings on the walls and columns of the temple, our guide pointed out a relief depicting surgical instruments used by the ancient Egyptians. Their resemblance to modern day tools was astounding. Mummies of crocodiles were on display in one area of the temple as well as recently discovered sarcophagi. All too soon, it was time to board the ship and continue our trip upstream to Aswan, an odd statement to me since we traveled to the south.
Another cruise through the night to our next destination, then the now routine early morning breakfast and we all piled on another bus to visit one of the ancient quarries where they carved the obelisks. The star of the show, an unfinished obelisk purportedly ordered by the Pharaoh Hatshepsut (1508 – 1458 BC), if finished, would have been 137 feet tall and weighed over 1,200 tons. That’s a third larger than any know obelisk. Unfortunately, it cracked. Other partially carved monuments, markings from completed ones, and vacant holes left from carving sarcophagi are scattered throughout the site. It was quite an ordeal climbing over the remnants of the quarry.
From the quarry, they bused us back to the riverfront and loaded us on small boats. A short trip into the center of the Nile and we got our first glimpses of the Isle of Philae. This temple complex was built for the Goddess Isis. The myth tells that she stood guard over the burial site of Osiris and the earth of the islands was considered a part of his body. Only priests dwelt here, and the legend goes that neither birds would fly over the island or fish approach its shores. After the lower Aswan Dam was built, the islands flooded half of the year. When construction started on the upper Aswan, they knew that the islands would be lost to the waters. At great expense and effort on the part of UNESCO and the Egyptian government, dismantled and moved the temples and their complexes to Agilkia Island. The amazing part of the move, they had to cut the stones that made up the temples and columns to move them to the new site. It makes you wonder how the Egyptians got them to the original site. This site was the last place to worship the pagan Gods in Egypt. Early Christians and Iconoclasts did a lot of damage to the carvings and inscriptions at this site, which you can also see throughout most of the ancient sites in Egypt.
The monuments on the island leave you with a feeling of traveling back in time. Walking among the colonnades, across the wide stone plazas, and into the temples called up ghostly images of priests carrying the golden clothed statues of the Gods. You could hear their mighty chants echo across the waters of the magnificent Nile. You could still feel the presence of power elicited by the worship of Isis and the other Gods of this ancient land. A feeling that seeped through my being not only here but also at all the temples we visited. I could have spent the entire day wandering through this place, taking time to sit and absorb the energies, and then let my mind flow back through time to relive the scenes I thought might have played out here on these Holy Temples. But, the call came and we were loaded back on the boats to return to the other shore for a trip to the Aswan Dam.
Off the water and back on the bus, we took the short drive through the desert to the Aswan High Dam. The Dam, built between 1960 and 1970 is the largest embankment dam in the world. Built to regulate the flooding of the Nile River, it has had a major affect on the economics of Egypt. Lake Nassar extends out behind the dam providing water for the country. It is a beautiful sight in the midst of the Saharan Desert. On the drive back into Aswan the driver stopped so we could all get out and climb one of the high sand dunes that lined the road. It amused a few of us as we watched some people try to climb the dune. Before we reached the city, we stopped at a factory where they make, bottle, and sell perfumes. For me, the most interesting aspect of that stop was watching a man make the small vials for the perfume out of glass pipettes.
Back in Aswan, we stopped at the river’s edge again to take another short adventure on the water, a ride on one of Egypt’s ancient boats, a felucca. These boats have transported goods up and down the Nile River for millennium. Once on board, we set sail at a snail’s pace with the intention od circling one of the islands in the river. About halfway through the cruise, the wind died and we were essentially stranded on the river. Some of the crew did their best to entertain us with musical instruments and traditional songs, while others tried to work the wisp of a breeze to get us around the island. Eventually, their efforts failed and we had to hail a tow with one of the motorized boats that passed us. Despite all that, it was a relaxing fun time and the views along the river’s edge were beautiful. Back on shore we walked the short distance to our cruise ship, enjoyed a great dinner, had a few cocktails on the upper deck, and got a good night’s sleep in preparation for our flight to see Abu Simbel the next day.