The ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity, or, in the case of mere mortals, part of that deceased human being’s soul could inhabit a statue inscribed for that particular person.
Edward Bleiberg: Curator of Egyptian, Classical and Near Eastern Art
Blame it on my love of adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Curse of the Mummy, but I actually got a bit spooked wandering alone deep inside the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses IV in Egypt’s legendary Valley of the Kings. Should I defy the tourist signs and take a photo of the 3,000 plus-year old sarcophagus, risking my own curse? I snapped a few. The temptation was simply too much to overcome.
I recalled reading that Ramses IV had impatiently waited for his father to die in order to create his own historic legacy by building monumental structures that would bear witness to his greatness for millennia after his time. Unfortunately for him, Ramses III – whom scholars call the last great monarch of the New Kingdom – lived a long life, leaving his son only six years to rule before his own death. Perhaps the restless spirit of Ramses IV still inhabited the tomb, forever longing to fulfill his lost promise.
Standing in the crypt’s shadowed stillness, my attention was drawn upward to a row of hieroglyphs near the top of the stone wall. As my eyes carefully examined each detail, my mind drifted off in a sea of daydreams. Physical awareness slowly melted away until I was no longer conscious of my mind’s connection to an earthly body. Until, that is, I suddenly felt something grasp my left shoulder as I let out an audible scream.
I was greeted by a smiling Egyptian man dressed in a threadbare traditional tunic who now stood in the corridor beside me. Unlike ancient tomb-raiders who went to great lengths to access buried treasure, he had merely walked past the guard in his quest for tourist dollars.
My initial reaction was one of annoyance, considering I’d just been unwillingly plucked from an extraordinary out-of-body experience in an ancient Pharaoh’s tomb. However, my emotions were soon calmed by the knowledge that I was extremely fortunate to have the resources to travel to such an amazing place. I let go of my attachment to what I saw as being lost, and instead made the most of chatting with my new friend as we both exited the tomb.
Such are the common occurrences when traveling in a land so steeped in ancient monuments that ghosts both real and imagined seemingly lurk around every corner. Egypt truly is a living time machine, ready to transport even the most jaded traveler to unexpected adventure.
Great Pyramid of Giza
The three pyramids that make up the Giza pyramid complex, located on the edge of the city of Giza in greater Cairo, are the quintessential symbols of ancient Egyptian architectural mastery. However, as impressive as they are, these towering stacks of precisely cut blocks of stone are merely the doorway to a world of ancient architectural treasures. The tallest and oldest of the three, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, is the oldest and most intact of the original Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
Karnak Temples — Luxor (Ancient Thebes)
The Karnak Temple Complex, located along the Nile in present day Luxor, is approximately an 8-hour drive or 90-minute flight south from Cairo. Ancient Thebes was the capital of Egypt during the period of the New Kingdom (c.1570 – c.1069 BCE) and Karnak was the center for religious activity in the city, particularly owing to its dedication to the ‘King’ of Egyptian gods – Amun-Ra (also known as Amun-Re).
The Karnak Temples are set apart from others in Egypt due to the fact they were constructed over a period of approximately 2,000 years (c. 2,000 BCE – c. 30 BCE) by as many as 30 different Pharaohs. Such a long historical record has produced visible layers, punctuated by stories of palace intrigue as successive rulers tried to elevate their own historical legacy by undoing the carved-stone signatures of those who ruled before them.
Luxor (Ancient Thebes) Temples
Although secondary in religious importance to Karnak Temples, the Luxor Temple Complex (c. 1400 BCE) was nonetheless an important part of daily ritual life in ancient Thebes. Situated on the Nile just two kilometres south of Karnak, religious festivals involved processions that flowed along the Avenue of the Sphinxes which connected the two temple complexes.
Unlike the other temples in Thebes, Luxor temple was not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the pharaoh in death, but was instead dedicated to the perpetuation of the line of Pharaohs. It may have been where many of the pharaohs of Egypt were crowned.
The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut — Luxor (Ancient Thebes)
Hatshepsut was the 2nd historically confirmed female pharaoh and ruled Egypt from 1507–1458 BC. Historians often note that she is the earliest example of a clearly documented female ruler of a major kingdom.
The perfectly symmetrical Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut sits beneath the cliffs at Deir el-Bahari on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings. This temple is dedicated to Amun-Ra and Hatshepsut and is carved into the sandstone hillside.
Gazing at the vast complex from the front, I was astonished at the modern lines of the temple itself. Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple wouldn’t look out of place in one of today’s great world cities. This is further testimony to the great skill and extraordinary vision of ancient Egyptian architects.