Egypt speaks from amongst its ancient ruins

By Ray Chatelin

Egypt not only capitalizes on its culture and history, it revels in it.

The old and the new live side by side here, a physical and spiritual culture of pharaohs and kings, and a contemporary population whose past is tightly linked to its economic future.

For in this arid country of blowing sand and vast cities, you can’t escape the past. It clings to you at every corner of its ancient temples, stares at you from every doorway of its tombs and monuments.

It speaks to you from obelisks, pyramids, from along the Nile River and from rolling desert hills that conceal their timeless mysteries.

No place reflects this more than the majestic ruins of Karnak on the shores of the Nile in the modern city of Luxor, once known as Thebes.

It’s here, more than any other place in Egypt that I sense the past and where the ghosts that provide the modern world with the material of movies, novels and television documentaries are most apparent.

It’s here that Ramses II, Tutankhamen, Queen Hatshepsut and the countless men and women of power and influence walked the same stones on which my own feet now step.

To the ancient Egyptians, Karnak was known as The Temple of Amun. It is the largest religious structure in the world, measuring 1.5 kilometres by 800 metres, taking more than 1,300 years to complete.

Only Angkor Wat in Cambodia comes close to matching its size and grandeur.

High above me, at noted intervals along my walk are the still brightly painted symbols and figures on the underside of many arches.

I try to imagine the artists who painted them.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, along the main entranceway, covers an area large enough to accommodate the whole of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.

The structure has 134 columns, the largest 12 are 21 metres high, the other 122 columns measuring 12 metres in height.

It’s no wonder I feel insignificant and contemplate what architects could design these massive pillars that make Roman and Greek architecture seem diminutive by comparison.

Thebes was once capitol of ancient Egypt and home to some of the greatest archeological sites of the ancient world — built to honour the living, the dead and the divine.

I’m certain that Pharaohs once stood and sat where I would linger at a nearby restaurant along the Nile, sipping Egyptian beer and watching traditional wooden sail boats, called felucca, slip by.

The tomb of Ramses II lies across that river; and Queen Hatshepsut — one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt — must have sailed past the shores, which my hotel room overlooks.

Walking along pathways of Karnak and nearby Luxor Temple, I try to imagine great Pharaohs who constructed these enormous structures that celebrated their own mortal existences in the hope they could escape death.

I stood before great pyramids that lay on the edge of Cairo and climbed down deep into several of the 62 tombs, including that of Tutankhamen, which line the Valley of the Kings not far from Karnak.

I realized my time affords merely a casual glimpse into a complex land that has seen many ruling dynasties.

Yet, those transitional empires are only blips in the Egyptian saga — just as the current Egyptian rulers will be a mere blink in the eye of Egyptian history.

The most convenient way to experience these great sites is through licensed tour groups out of Cairo or Alexandria.

They can easily be pre-booked while in Canada and can include a side trip, like a cruise down the Nile River.

Yet, the great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the great temples of Luxor and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings are more than tourist destinations or names found in a travel brochure.

They echo centuries of art, literature, great architecture and popular culture of the time.

Egypt is a destination that will remain forever locked into the mind of anyone who visits.

Its ancient icons will forever influence how this part of the world is seen — forever embroiled in political and social change — much as it was in early Thebes.

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