Discovering Timeless Egypt
Today was truly a planes, trains, and automobiles day – well without trains – but we sure had a travel day. We were 3 groups of about 10 each, and each group had an Egyptologist guide who would accompany us for the full 5 days of our stay. Our guide, Ashgan, was very knowledgeable and with excellent English skills.
First, we drove 2 hours from Ain Sokhna, Egypt on the Red Sea to the Cairo airport. During our bus ride we observed almost continuous construction and learned a new capital city is being built outside of Cairo.
Cairo has grown so large and densely populated, some 30 million people, that it seems building a new capital is easier than building on to the current one. Another interesting fact we learned is that 95% of the population of Egypt lives along the Nile. That leaves a HUGE amount of open sand for the remaining 5%. We also learned that over the last 10 years, 17 new cities have been built complete with shopping, healthcare, houses, and industry. These homes have been offered for free and people induced to relocate.
From Cairo, we hopped on a plane for a two-hour flight to Aswan. From there, we traveled an hour by bus to the Nile River where we boarded Molouky, a typical Egyptian dahabiya which will be our home for the next 4 nights.
A dahabiya (da ha BEE ah) is a wooden and masted boat typically seen on the Nile. When traveling with the wind the sails are filled for a lovely sail and without wind the dahabiya is towed. Our dahabiya is 2 years old and the accommodations were lovely with comfortable suites (6 per boat) and comfortable lounging areas on the boat both inside and out.
After boarding Molouky, we had 5 minutes to drop our luggage and grab our jackets for a sound and light show at the Philae Temple on Agilkia Island outside of Aswan.
Philae Temple was originally located on Philae Island and was believed to be one of the burial places of the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris.
It was considered sacred to his wife, Isis, by the Egyptians and their Nubian neighbors. Archaeologists have found evidence that temples honoring Isis existed on the island from at least the 6th century BC.
In 1902 the construction of the Aswan Low Dam caused Philae Island and its temple complex to flood for most of the year. Tourists could explore the partially submerged ruins by rowboat and the temple foundations were strengthened to help them withstand the annual flood damage. However, the bricks became encrusted with river silt and the colors of the temple’s fabulous reliefs were washed away. When plans for the Aswan High Dam were made in 1954, it became clear that Philae Island would soon be fully submerged — and its ancient treasures lost forever.
As a result, UNESCO launched a massive campaign to save the monuments in 1960. The project excavated and recorded hundreds of sites and recovered thousands of artifacts that would soon disappear beneath the water. It also made plans to relocate several of the region’s more important temples – including Abu Simbel (located on the shores of Lake Nasser which we will visit tomorrow) and the Philae temple complex. At Philae, a temporary dam was built to keep the river water at bay while the monuments were cleaned, measured and dismantled. The temple and its accompanying shrines and sanctuaries were moved block-by-block to nearby Agilkia Island and painstakingly reconstructed on higher ground. In the name of authenticity, Agilkia was even landscaped to match the temple’s original setting on Philae Island.
We attended the Philae Sound and Light Show; this after-dark spectacle used colored lights, laser projections and audio commentary to resurrect the pharaohs of old and bring the legend of Isis, Osiris and Horus dramatically to life.
Photography courtesy of Mary P.