A trip to Egypt is not your typical sun and sand vacation, though you’ll find plenty of both as you gaze at the Great Pyramids, float down the Nile or explore the Luxor Temple. You might have to pinch yourself as you stand in awe of this ancient record of civilization in a place known as “The Motherland of the World.”
On Luxor’s West Bank lies the Valley of the Kings, the ancient burial ground of Egypt’s New Kingdom rulers. Enter the ancient passageways and marvel at brightly colored paintings and hieroglyphs adorning the tomb walls. You’ll also have a chance to visit the famous tomb of King Tutankhamen, discovered almost intact in 1922. The nearby Valley of the Queens is where the pharaohs’ wives were buried. Don’t miss Nefertari’s exquisite tomb. This burial place is said to be one of the most beautiful in Egypt, completely painted with scenes depicting Nefertari being guided by gods.
A stop at the Egyptian Museum gives you a chance to view some of the great treasures discovered in the tombs—including some from King Tut’s tomb—as well as troves of other historically significant artifacts. This museum is widely regarded as one of the best in the world.
From Cairo, you might head to Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula for some sun, sea and beach sand. Historically, this area was considered a meeting point between Asia and Africa and the cradle of great civilizations. Today it is a popular destination for visitors who enjoy water sports, snorkeling or beach time. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can ascend 5,000 feet to the ancient Monastery of St. Catherine, dating back to the 6th century and housing a superb collection of gold icons. Sharm el Sheikh also offers visitors a cosmopolitan atmosphere for dining, shopping and entertainment.
Even if you’re not a history buff, you can’t help but be amazed by ancient Egypt and its marvels, many of which are still being discovered. You’ll also delight in discoveries of your own—delicious cuisine, relaxing beaches, charming and exotic towns, warm sun and warm hospitality.
One of the fountainheads of civilization, ancient Egypt possessed a wealth of knowledge, advanced architecture, a sophisticated writing system, art, agriculture and complex political and social systems. Thanks to enduring ruins as well as extensive inscriptions in hieroglyphics, much is known about this ancient culture that so influenced the world.
Archaeological evidence places the first settlements in Egypt around 7000 B.C. Rich soils along the Nile River, caused by silt deposits from yearly flooding, made the area a good source of both water and food. Indeed, with the exception of a few oases, the Nile River and its delta provide the only inhabitable areas of Egypt—a scant 10% of the country’s total landmass.
The first united kingdom of Egypt was formed around 3100 B. C., beginning a dynastic period that would last for thousands of years. Modern historians group ancient Egyptian history into distinct periods. The periods when Egypt flourished are known as the Old Kingdom (2650-1640 B.C.), when the Great Pyramids at Giza were built; the Middle Kingdom (2040-1759 B.C.), which saw the development of public works like irrigation; and the New Kingdom (1552-1069 B.C.), when education and the military flourished and rulers were buried in the Valley of the Kings. Periods of decline separating these three kingdoms are known respectively as the First and Second Intermediate Periods and the Late Period.
The Late Period marked the final decline of Egypt’s power. Several outside forces attempted to control Egypt, including the Persians, who were briefly successful until Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 B.C. After his death, Ptolemy assumed the throne, imposing a Greek influence on the region. Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemy rulers. After her death, Egypt became part of the Roman Empire. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Egypt was ruled from Constantinople by the Byzantine Empire before falling to the Arabs in the 7th century.
Today, the bustling city of Cairo thrives in the shadow of the ancient pyramids. The Nile River continues to sustain life along its banks—though it no longer floods, due to the Aswan High Dam that controls its waters. Some of Egypt’s industries remain unchanged from those of ancient times—red granite and gold continue to be economically viable exports. Date palm and citrus groves thrive in the hot climate, as do the eucalyptus and cypress trees that have been introduced to the region. Additionally, the country’s economy is bolstered by petroleum deposits found along the Red Sea.
Recently, Egypt was in the world spotlight when young protesters took to the streets of Cairo to voice disapproval of President Mubarak’s 30-year regime and the lack of opportunities in Egypt. In response, the government deployed police and shut down internet and cell phone communication. Initially peaceful, the demonstrations turned violent and 125 people were killed before Mubarak finally agreed to step down on February 11, 2011. He now stands trial for corruption and charges related to the deaths of protestors. In early 2012, an optimistic Egypt wrapped up its first free and fair elections in decades.
Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER