A Nile cruise often consists of a five-day boat ride from Luxor to Aswan. There are plenty of monuments, artifacts, and temples still standing to be seen by visiting tourists from all over the world. Expect a wave of ancient Egyptian mythology, unique architecture, and incredible artifacts when experiencing this historical trip. Below are six of the most important monuments to see and visit on a Nile cruise.
1. Karnak: Egypt’s Largest Temple and a Nile Cruise Priority
The Karnak Temple is the largest ancient temple in the world. It was built around 2000 BCE and had constant additions and renovations made to it that continued until the Ptolemaic Period. This magnificent complex was once a center for worship, festivals, and pilgrimages for the ancient Egyptians.
Studying the history of the Karnak is also crucial to the study of Thebes (ancient Luxor) since each Pharaoh within that extensive period left their own mark in Karnak’s halls, walls, and gardens. The Pharaohs would build shrines, temples, and obelisks. They would tear down old gods and make ways for new gods. One Pharaoh in particular, Akhenaten, once tried to unite the main gods of ancient Egypt and brought a new monotheistic religion to the region, Atenism.
The Great Hypostyle Hall dominates the complex with over 130 columns, some columns reach 21 meters (69 foot) high. Hatshepsut designed and started the hall’s construction. The inscriptions, hieroglyphs, and colorful paint used are still there to be seen. Shrines to a multitude of gods can be found within the rest of the complex.
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Sound and light shows occur everyday within the temple courtyard. The show gives a detailed history of the temple’s construction, an overview of the gods that were worshipped there, and the changes made through time by the Pharaohs.
A magnificent phenomenon also occurs on the Winter Solstice. On the 21st of December the sun shines through the temple. The angle of the Sun on that day illuminates the shrine of the sun god Amun, and the offerings laid out at that time to indicate the start of the winter season. The temple’s architecture was planned as a whole shrine to creation and the sun god itself.
2. The Valley of the Kings: The Preservation of History
The Valley of the Kings contains the tombs and burial sites of over 60 Pharaohs. The archaeological findings of this vast valley have taught Egyptologists much about the burial traditions of the Pharaohs. It is likely there are still uncovered tombs waiting to be discovered within the valley due to the vastness of the space, the wide time span of the Pharaohs already discovered, and the intelligent preservation techniques used by the ancient Egyptians.
The tombs found in the valley still preserve also Hieroglyphic wall writings. Mythological stories, religious chants, and personal prayers could be found engraved onto the sides of the Pharaohs’ sarcophagi. The ancient Egyptians’ paint is still vibrant and vivid, having lasted over three thousand years. Each tomb contains the history of a Pharoah within it and myths about the gods’ power to aid their appointed rulers.
There are eleven tombs open for tourists to enter. These tombs include the colorful, vibrant, and beautiful tombs of Rameses V, Ramses IV, and the tomb of historic King, Tutankhamun. Detailed explanations of each tomb can be found outside their entrances. These signs highlight the Pharaohs’ stories, certain special paintings, and the many carvings inside. There are also signs informing visitors of a quick history of the construction and architecture, and interesting facts about the tomb itself.
3. The Temple of Hatshepsut: Egypt’s Female Pharoah
Hatshepsut is widely considered the first female Pharaoh to reign over Egypt. Her reign brought great prosperity, and her legacy was written in stone — literally — on the walls of the temple she built. The temple is to the west of the Nile and is built into the cliffs that encompass the valley. The temple itself is constructed to point toward Luxor, directly at Hatshepsut’s additions to the Karnak Temple.
The temple structure is almost 100 meters (328 feet) wide and 1 kilometer long (3280 feet). Three terraces lead toward the innermost shrine and the festival courtyard. Hatshepsut built shrines to the gods Amun, Anubis, and Hathor. The temple’s walkway is also adorned with statues of gods, pharaohs, and Hatshepsut herself. The winter solstice phenomenon which occurs in the Karnak Temple, hits Amun’s shrine, and can be seen at Hatshepsut’s as well. The sun falls directly upon the innermost shrine of Amun (Hatshepsut’s Sun god).
4. Abu Simbel Temple: Rameses II in All His Strength
Toward Aswan lies the Abu Simbel Complex. Rameses II oversaw the construction of the site, carved within the mountainside. The monument immortalizes Rameses, his accomplishments, and the gods he chose to worship.
Four massive statues representing Rameses sitting on his throne, and flank the entrance. These sublime 20-meter-high (65 feet) structures tower above those entering the temple’s inner halls. These halls contain pillars depicting the stories of the famous 13th-century BCE pharaoh. His marriage to Nefertari, his many battles (especially the Battle of Kadesh), and his worship of the main deities are shown around the walls of the temple.
Another solar phenomenon occurs twice a year, on the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October. The sun enters through the temple and shines upon Rameses’ statue in the innermost chamber. These dates commemorate Rameses’ birthday and his coronation day.
The construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s posed a threat to this fascinating structure. The rising water level that was to come with the dam would have flooded the temple and ruined the 2500-year-old building. In 1964, an effort to save the temple began under UNESCO’s supervision. The idea was to cut the complex into large 20-ton blocks, then relocate and reassemble the blocks piece by piece 200 meters (656 feet) away and 50 meters (164 feet) higher than the initial site. The campaign would continue to save more ancient Egyptian monuments from the Dam’s effects.
5. Kom Ombo Temple: The Crocodile’s Ancient Gathering Place
Kom Ombo Temple is located in the town of Kom Ombo, north of Aswan. This temple was built during Ptolemaic rule, around the end of the 2nd century BCE. This temple is the newest on this list. It is also the most unique.
The Temple is perfectly symmetrical along the middle. The magnificent double entrance allows the visitor to enter a spacious courtyard then leada into two Hypostyle halls. These decorated halls create a pathway into the two sanctuaries of the temple. One to the North was dedicated to the god Horus the Elder, and a Southern shrine was dedicated to the worship of the main god of the temple: Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of the Nile and creation. Smaller shrines to Hathor (Sobek’s wife), Khonsu (Sobek and Hathor’s child), and many other gods can be found within the temple walls.
The Ptolemaic rulers of the time built this temple as a show of strength after capturing Egypt’s Nile. Many wall decorations, statues, and texts show Ptolemy’s reign as well as him receiving blessings from the deities. Later rulers would add to the temple to carve their history on the walls. Coptic icons and crosses can also be found etched onto the hieroglyphs since the temple was turned into a Coptic church when Christianity spread through to Egypt.
The Egyptian Crocodile held a prominent cultural and religious significance for this temple. It is believed that the Ptolemaic rulers held a chamber within the temple walls for the crocodiles to live in. These crocodiles would then be mummified when they died and would still be held in the temple. A crocodile museum can be entered right next to the temple which holds twenty-two crocodile mummies on display. Crocodile eggs, sarcophagi, and other mummification material is displayed in this museum.
6. Philae Temple: A Beautiful End to a Nile Cruise
A calm boat ride towards this complex brings us to a scene that was set millennia ago. You slowly see the serene beauty of Philae Temple approaching you. The Philae Temple was once on Philae Island but was moved as well due to the Aswan High Dam’s threat. You can still see Philae Island itself partially submerged underwater.
Built around the 4th century BCE, the Philae Temple complex is one of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings on this list. The temple sits upon Agilkia island on the Nile. The island is filled with lush greenery and surrounded by the Nile’s rich blue waters. These colors contrast with the yellow and brown stone blocks of the temple itself.
Philae Temple holds detailed monuments, precious statues, and various artifacts that date from its foundation until the 6th century CE. Ptolemaic rulers such as Ptolemy II Philadelphus dedicated the temple to Isis, Osiris, and Horus. The famous story of these three can be found carved onto the walls of the temple. Coptic Christian artifacts and altars can also be found there due to the temple being turned into a Coptic church around the 3rd century CE.