Time Travel – A trip to the past.

Discovering Ancient Egypt

Cairo – The Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids are situated at Giza just outside Cairo and is one of the engineering marvels of all time and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Situated on the west bank of the Nile, which is associated with death, the pyramids are generally believed to be tombs for the Pharaohs or a resurrection machine for his rebirth. The first large Egyptian pyramid was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom to protect the body of the king Djoser who died around 2650 BC. The Pyramid was the development of the Mastaba which was a house built over the body. The most prolific builder was Sneferu who ruled from around 2612–2589 BC and built three pyramids. The greatest and most famous however, are the Pyramids of Giza, built near the capital city of Memphis for the fourth dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure who ruled from 2589-2504 BC.


Built on a Plateau they consist of a number of other buildings associated with the preparation and maintenance of the Pharaoh and his afterlife. Such buildings include mortuary temple, where rituals for the dead king and for the Egyptian gods may have been carried out; small subsidiary pyramids and numerous other tombs for the royal family and officials together with storage for objects including pits for funerary boats. The complex consisted of a causeway running to a lower temple at the Nile that acted as an entrance to the complex.


The first and great pyramid was constructed by Khufu (also known as Cheops) the son of Sneferu. Khufu ruled around 2589-2566 when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was nearing its peak of prosperity and could afford the vast amounts of money required to build the pyramid.  Constructed of limestone and granite the total weight is 6.5 million tons with some of the 2,300,000 blocks weighing 70 ton. The whole structure reached 140 metres in height and had a base length originally of 230 metres. It is believed that the stone blocks were hauled up gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone, and with wood runners which would be lubricated by water the Sledges pulled by a team of men using ropes of papyrus twine. To complete the face white limestone blocks were placed, smoothed and polished. It is believed that construction took 20 years. The original entrance to the great pyramid is on the North face, 15m high and surmounted by a double vault. The modern entrance is located several metres down, which was forced in the 9th century. Inside the pyramid are a number of chambers and passages. The burial chamber is almost six meters tall, and was built by solid blocks of granite to prevent penetration. The floor is made with blocks of pink granite, which cover 60 square meters. Inside the chamber is the sarcophagus, which was built inside the pyramid during construction as it would have been almost impossible to move it in considering the confined and narrow passage.


The other two pyramids were constructed by Menkaure (also known as Mycerinus), which is the smallest and Khafre’s (who is also known as Chephren) which although looks higher than Khufu’s it is actually half a metre smaller but was built on higher ground.  The most distinctive feature of Khafre’s Pyramid is the topmost layer of smooth stones that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid. Some believe that the Sphinx has the face of Khafre while others will argue that it was Khufu, and that it was part of Khufu’s pyramid complex, while others believe that it was there before Khufu built his pyramid.


Due to the vast expense, the end of the Old Kingdom and the movement of the capital to Thebes, modern day Luxor, the Pharaohs started to be buried in tombs cut out of the rock in the Valley of the King and the construction of pyramids ceased.

Saqqara – The step Pyramid :

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara is situated 20 km from Giza near Cairo. Built for the Pharaoh Djoser the first king of the Third Dynasty as his tomb and mortuary complex it is surrounded by a panelled, bastion wall of white limestone, which imitates bound bundles of reeds and has a number of symbolic doors, although it only has one functional entrance. Originally with 9 metres (30 feet) high walls, the complex covers an area of approximately 560 x 275 metres. Surrounding the wall is a trench which measures 750 m long and 40 m wide which was dug in the underlying rock, around the sides the trench was decorated with niches.


The construction of the pyramid was carried out in several stages. The first stage was to construct a shaft, 7m square which descended into the ground for 28 meters, this lead to the burial chamber built of four courses of granite blocks. The chamber had one opening which had been sealed with a 3.5 ton block, although when first excavated the tomb had already been emptied. Under the pyramid are a number of chambers and galleries with a total length of nearly 6 km. Surrounding the burial chamber are four galleries which contained offerings and the funerary equipment of the king.


The pyramid started as a normal mastaba, which was the house of the soul, the place of burial. Once the original mastaba had been constructed, the architect Imhotep, enlarged it and placed a further three tiers of mastaba on top of each other. It was then increased by a further two mastabas creating the six steps and finished with a facing of white limestone which gave it a total height of 60 metres.


Pyramids were not built as standalone structures but were part of a complex that consisted of a number of buildings.  In the southwest corner of the complex is a sanctuary or storeroom, which is accessible from outside of the enclosure wall.  The entrance to the complex is through a narrow colonnade which comprises of 40 ribbed columns, designed to look like the stems of palm trees, these are connected to the side wall by masonry and would have been enclosed by a roof. At the end of the colonnade is a rectangular hall, supported by eight shorter fluted columns.


On the corner at the south west is the South Tomb which provides a replication of the substructure of the pyramid itself. It includes a descending corridor leading to a granite vault and a chamber.  It is entered through a tunnel-like corridor with a staircase that descends about 30m before opening into the burial chamber. The staircase then continues west and leads to a gallery that replicates the chambers below the step pyramid. As the burial vault is too small for the actual body, one suggestion is that this was to house the Ka (Soul) of the Pharaoh, although another is that it was for the canopic jars containing the organs of the Pharaoh.


Many of the buildings are replications of the buildings which were used by the king in the royal palace at Memphis and include wall carvings and paintings. It has been suggested that the whole step pyramid complex symbolizes the royal palace enclosure thus allowing the king to eternally perform the rituals associated with kingship.


To the north of the pyramid is the mortuary temple: This was the place for the performance of the rituals associated with the dead Pharaoh and the place for the Ka Statue which was where the Ka of the Pharaoh resided.


In fact the pyramid was not just a grave; its purpose was to ensure the Pharaoh travelled to the afterlife and took his place with the Gods. Architecturally the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the initial transition from mastaba to pyramid and the start of the pyramid era.


Like many archaeological sites work is presently being undertaken both to preserve that which has been uncovered and to excavate that which is still below the sands waiting to be discovered.

Luxor : Temple of Karnak

The Temple of Karnak is not a single temple but a temple complex which developed over a period of 1500 years. It is one of the largest religious complexes in the world and consists of gates, pillars, halls, obelisks, statues and a sacred lake. Each of the Pharaohs would make further additions and then remove those erected by their predecessors; thereby replacing them with their own.  In order to make the people believe that they were the builders, they would remove predecessors’ cartouches and replace them with their own. The Temple played a significant part in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, being situated in what was Thebes, the religious capital of Egypt.


The principal temple was dedicated and sacred to Amun, who was originally a local God who became the principal God nationally from 1600BC, and was identified with Re, the Sun God. He was worshipped with his consort Mut, who has an adjoining temple.  At its height, over 80,000 people worked in the Temple of Karnak and it had significant income from its estates, markets and the plunder that the Pharaohs brought back from their military campaigns.


The temple is approached along the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leading to the first pylon, which was built by the Ethiopian kings around 656 BC.  In antiquity this would have been connected to the Nile by a canal.  Against the pylon in the courtyard is a mound of mud bricks which indicate that construction was still being undertaken when the temple was finally abandoned. This also gives us an indication of how construction took place, with the bricks being used as a ramp.


Inside the entrance is the first courtyard, this contains the Shrine of Seti II, the Kiosk of Taharka and it leads to the Temple of Ramses III. At the other end of the courtyard is the pylon of Ramses II which leads into the enormous hypostyle hall which was built between 1294 and 1213 BC by Seti I and his son Ramses II. It is over 100m long by over 50 wide and contains 134 columns 23 m (75ft) high. At the top are open papyrus shaped capitals with a circumference of approximately 15 metres (49 feet) which are big enough for 50 people to stand on.


Through the hall, toward the holy of holies, you come to the two obelisks that are still standing. The one to the right was erected by Thutmosis I, the other by Queen Hatshepsut and is 30 metres high and weighs approximately 200 tons.  Both are made of pink granite.  Nearby is the Statue of Ramses II.


The Sacred Lake at Karnak is 120 metres (393 feet) by 77 metres (252 feet) wide and was used by the priests to perform their ritual ablutions three times a day. It symbolizes the primeval sea of the Egyptian history of creation, from which all life sprang. It was surrounded by storerooms and living quarters for the priests.  The lake was fed by water from the Nile by underground pipe work.  Next to the Sacred Lake is a giant scarab, dedicated by Amenophsis III to the God Khepri.  The Egyptians believed that the Sun was pushed by a scarab on its daily crossing of the sky and it came to symbolize eternity. It is said that if you walk around the scarab seven times, you will never again have love problems. You will therefore frequently see visitors to the Temple walking around the scarab seven times in order to fulfil the prophesy.

Luxor Temple

The city which is now called Luxor, was known as Thebes in Ancient Egypt – although it was also known as Waset to the Ancient Egyptians. It was the capital of Egypt from 2040 BCE when Mentuhotep II (2061-2010 BCE) of the 11th Dynasty (the Middle Kingdom) reunited Egypt following the civil war; prior to this it was a small trading post. It was renamed Luxor following the Arab invasion in the 7th century AD.


Lyng parallel to the Nile,  the construction of the temple of Luxor started during the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BCE) but was completed by Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BCE) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BCE) and then added to by Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE). The temple was dedicated to the Gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu.


During the Christian era, the hypostyle hall was converted into a church and the remains of a Coptic church can also be seen at the site. Following the demise of the Christians dominance, the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was constructed.


In the original temple, initiated by Amenhotep III, the entrance was at the northern end of his courtyard. The pylon which visitors are greeted with today, known as the first pylon stands 24 metres high and was added by Ramesses II. It contained six large statues of him – four standing and two seated. It also showed details of the battle of Kadesh depicting Ramesses as the victor (see Abu Simbel below). In front of the pylon flew four banners which were flown from large cedar flag masts which were let into the face of the pylon. Later the Pharaohs of the 25th dynasty added scenes to the pylon depicting their own victories.  It also contained two obelisks, although only one now remains, as the other was given to King Louis V of France in 1874.  He was given both, but moving them proved difficult, so only the one was removed.   The obelisk that was moved now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.


Passing through the pylon, one enters the peristyle courtyard, also added by Ramesses II. The courtyard is set at an angle to the rest of the temple in order to preserve three shrines in the northwest corner of the temple which were constructed by Queen Hatshepsut. The courtyard consists of a colonnade with seven pairs of columns 16 metres high with open-flower papyrus capitals. It also includes a number of large statues. These were originally of Amenhotep III, who had constructed the courtyard, but were appropriated by Ramesses .


To the left, towering over the courtyard, is the mosque with its minaret rising to a height of just over 14 metres. The mosque dates from the 9th century AD and rests on a number of columns of the temple, which at the time of construction were below ground level. The Mosque was carefully preserved following the excavations carried out at the site and is an integral part of the site today.


From the peristyle courtyard one progresses through a processional colonnade built by Amenhotep III, the decorations of which were added to by Tutankhamen, Horemheb and Seti I (1290 to 1279 BCE).  At the entrance to the colonnade, they bear the name of Ramesses II but were in fact of Tutankhamun, being appropriated by Ramesses.  The colonnade contains fourteen large columns with papyrus capitals whilst the walls are decorated with scenes depicting the celebrations of the reinstatement of Amun and the other traditional Gods, following the Atenist heresy ((the religious changes during the 18th dynasty (14th century BCE) when Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1351/3–1334/6 BCE) (Akhenaten) changed the state religion to the Aten (one God). Following his death, the country reverted to the traditional Gods and any person or records relating to this were erased.  As Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten his name has been erased.


From the columned hall one enters the court of Amenhotep III.  The columns in this courtyard are of a superior quality to those of Ramesses’s as during the time of Amenhotep (14th century BCE) was a time when the arts and crafts in Egypt was at its height.


Moving on from the courtyard one enters the Hypostyle Hall, with thirty-two columns. At the rear of the hall are a number of small rooms.  To the right is the Chapel of Khonsu while on the left is the Chapel of Mut.  Further along on the left is an antechamber leading to the Coronation Room and Birth Chamber with its many depictions in low-relief relating to the coronation and the conception and birth of Amenhotep III. There is also the chapel of Alexander the Great, and at the far end of the complex is the Chapel of Amun, the sanctuary.


When first constructed by Amenhotep III the temple was joined to the Temple of Karnak (See above), a distance of 2 miles, by an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. These were replaced by Nectanebo I (379/8–361/0 BCE) of the 30th Dynasty to ram-headed sphinx; he also built a large brick wall around the entire site.


In 1979, the ruins of ancient Thebes were classified by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.


Temple of Hatshepsut :

In Ancient Egypt there were two types of temple: Cult Temples, these were not places of worship in the modern sense since the people did not take part in religious rituals, that was the job of the priests as only they, or the Pharaoh, were allowed into the temple to carry out the rites. These were centred on a statue of the god housed in a shrine in the inner most part of the sanctuary.  An example of a Cult temple is Karnak listed above. Mortuary Temples was the place where rituals would be performed in order to ensure the dead Pharaoh reached the afterlife. The The Temple of Deir El-Bahri, which means in Arabic, the “Temple of the Northern monastery”, got its name, in the 7th century AD after a Coptic monastery in the area, although it is better known as the Temple of Hatshepsut, which is a mortuary temple.


The Temple of Hatshepsut was built on the West bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. It was created by the architect Senmut who was also chancellor and, some suggest, the lover of Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty). Hatshepsut became queen and took over the rule of Egypt in 1473 BC after her husband and half-brother, Thutmosis II, died.  As Tuthmosis’s heir, the son from a secondary wife, was still a child. Hatshepsut ruled on his behalf for 7 years before proclaiming herself Pharaoh and ruling jointly with him for a further 14 years. Queen Hatshepsut is best known as the only woman who actually reigned as a pharaoh and even portraying herself as a man.


The temple is partly built into the rock and partly free standing built of limestone and not sandstone which was normal for funerary temples of the New Kingdom period.  It has undergone extensive renovation, something that still goes on today in an attempt to restore its former glory. Today it is quite impressive but when first built it would have been brightly painted with the causeway lined with an avenue of sphinxes, rich colours and trees and flower beds.


Consisting of three terraces reaching a height of 29.5 metres (97 feet), each terrace is connected by long ramps which were surrounded by lush gardens with plants and trees.  Each terrace has a double colonnade of square piers with the temple itself being located on the top terrace.


The walls and columns of the temple are covered with relief sculptures.  Along the colonnade on the 1st terrace to the south are scenes, which tell the story of the transportation of Hatshepsut’s two obelisks to the Temple of Karnak. On the north side of the colonnade the scene show the Queen offering four calves to the God Amon Ra.


The 2nd terrace is now accessed by a ramp; although originally it would have had stairs. The southern side shows the expedition to the Land of Punt (now Somalia) to trade for gold, incense and tropical trees. Also to be seen is the shrine of the Goddess Hathor which is reached through a court with columns; this shows a woman’s face with cow’s ears; on the walls, Hathor is depicted as a cow.  On the northern side is a scene depicting the birth of Hatshepsut who claimed she was the divine daughter of Amon Ra to legitimize her taking the title of Pharaoh. Beyond the colonnade is the chapel of Anubis, who was the God of mummification and the dead on their path through the underworld.


The 3rd terrace consists of two rows of columns, which were damaged by her step-son Tuthmosis III who also destroyed the columns at the rear, as he did with many of the images of Hatshepsut after her death (1458 BC). This sanctuary consists of two small chapels. A third chapel was added to the sanctuary in the Ptolemaic period.


Above the temple in the cliff was found a tomb which contained a cache of royal mummies moved there from the Valley of the Kings during the 21st dynasty in an attempt to avoid them being desecrated.


























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