thecompassedge.net is a web project maintained by Brian Jones to log his and others' experiences while traveling to and working in regions off the standard travel map.
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Posted by Brian Jones
13 January 2003 – I have just returned from a holiday in Egypt. The place is extraordinary in its diversity, it's energy (particulary Cairo!) and the incredible abundance of Pharaonic monuments.
Cairo has always been a favourite place and somewhere that I lived for a while in 1997 whilst teaching English. There is no middle ground as far as Cairo is concerned; you either love it or you hate it. It is dirty, overcrowded, polluted and a constant challenge but above all it is alive in a way that I have not found with other cities. You are never quite sure what will happen when you step outside your door but you can be sure that it will be interesting.
Hanan and I stayed for the first week in downtown Cairo and spent time wondering the streets and taking in the atmosphere. It is a definite pleasure to wonder through the older areas of 'Islamic Cairo' and stumble upon little ruined mosques and markets or old and beautiful houses.
The second week was spent lower Egypt in the areas of Luxor and Aswan, which have always been a kind of Eldorado for official "Egyptologists" and tourist "monument/mummy hunters" alike. Luxor is the site of Karnak temple, which is on a scale that is almost to much to take in. Despite the countless photos you've seen it is impossible to be unaffected by the place. Luxor is also the place for the "New Kingdom" valley of the Kings situated on the West Bank of the river. The valley itself is a mass maze of burials that become overwhelming after a while. However, the tombs are extraordinary and I realised for the first time that they were painted in the most livid colors and when new must have presented the most extraordinary sight, which of course was not destined for the eyes of the living!
It' strange but I had always viewed the monuments of ancient Egypt with a sort of detatchment and seen them as huge edifices of dun colored stone with carvings, which indeed they are today. However, it became apparent that they were very different affairs originally being highly painted, full of statues of wood and metal and surrounded by a totally different environment. Egypt has become noticeably drier in even the last hundred years and some 3,000 years ago would have been much lusher. The monuments themselves would have been surrounded by much more greenery and the general context would have been different.
Aswan is the stopping off point for Abu Simbel and is spectacularly situated on the Nile by the first of the Great Cataracts, which was widely seen as being the frontier of the civilised world.
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