hanging pink orangutan

Valentines Day is quite the holiday here, and the stores in my neighborhood are going all out with the stuffed toys, flowers, chocolates and red and pink gift items. There’s even fancy and naughty lingerie for sale in some storefronts. These photos are of the Monte Carlo store on the corner opposite my building, where giant stuffed bears and apes greet passersby.

vd boxes on car hood pink bear zamalek

red bear on box monte carlo valentine

heart in islamic cairo

Bab Zuweila

Goat Head

On a walking tour of Islamic Cairo today, we strolled among the alleys filled with homes, madrassas and mosques built from the 11th to the 17th centuries. We began at the Bab Zuweila, an 11th century gate of the old Fatimid city wall (circa 1092 AD). I climbed up in one of the minarets for a spectacular view of the neighborhood (and suffered a momentary bout of acrophobia as I walked on a rickety steel ladder toward the highest point). Then we dodged motorscooters and saturday shoppers along a street that was a lively souk (market) and, with an expert guide from AUC’s Arab Studies department, ducked into doorways leading to hidden places off the normal tourist track.

Pigeons Zuweila

Dog ZuweilaBab Bab

Zuweila Minaret 1

Zuweila Minaret 2 Dome and Mosque near Bab Zuweila

Minarets Lamppost

Medinat Habu

Horus Relief

Habu Relief 2Wanted to share some more images of Medinat Habu, the extraordinary ruins of temples built by Rameses III, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III in the New Kingdom, from the 1400s to the 1100s BCE. It was one of my favorites of the temples we visited. The crowds were smaller and the temple still had so much of the original paint still visible on its walls. We spent the morning here on the day of Christmas eve and took a leisurely stroll among the columns and nooks, occasionally taking one of the locals up on their offer to see inside a room. One man said, “come see paradise!” Well, who could resist? He pulled out the bars on the divider, and he showed us inside a room filled with brightly colored images of Isis and Osiris. A little baksheesh was worth the trip to paradise.

Habu Relief

Habu Feet Papyrus Flower


Habu Columns Habu Blue Ceiling


Abu Simbel Not So Simple

Abu Simbel WS

When Abu Simbel was first seen by the Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burkhardt in 1812, the heads of the pharaoh Rameses II were barely visible above the sand.

Roberts Sketch Abu Simbel

The sand was excavated five years later by Giovanni Belzoni, who was the first European to enter the temple and see the statues and reliefs inside. There are famous sketches by David Roberts of the site, drawn in 1838, that show the ever-encroaching sand.

The monuments now known as Abu Simbel were built around 1250 BCE by Rameses II as a tribute to himself, and in honor of a triad of gods: Amon-Ra, Ra-Harakhty and Ptah.

The temples were hewn into the cliffs, situated and designed so that the rays of the sun would enter deep into the sanctuary twice a year on the equinoxes to light the statues on an altar inside.

Nefertari templeTo the right of the Ramses temple, another extraordinary temple, constructed and dedicated to the goddess Hathor, was created for Rameses’s favorite wife Nefertari.

The temples have been highlights of tourism in Egypt since Victorian times. And they’re featured in the Agatha Christie novel Death on the Nile. Chances are you’ve seen images or footage of these colossal monuments at some point.

When Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser pushed forward plans to create the Aswan High Dam as a symbol of Egypt’s newfound independence in the 1950s, it didn’t take long for engineers and archeologists to become alarmed that many sites – including Abu Simbel – would be inundated by the rising waters of the reservoir.

It’s how the Temple of Dendur made its way to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Rameses CloseupIn 1959, a campaign was begun to raise money to move the temples of Abu Simbel to higher ground. An artificial mound was created above the site and the temples were disassembled, cut into moveable chunks, and hauled uphill. The temples, inside and out, were reassembled just as they were before. Quite an undertaking.

So you can understand why I was looking forward to seeing one of the most impressive monuments in the world.

There wasn’t enough time to see it when my mom, sister and I went to Luxor and Aswan in December. So when my dad came to visit, I decided I would join him on part of his trip to Upper Egypt so we could see the famous ruins. I splurged on plane tickets to avoid long bus rides and police caravans from Aswan.

I was nervous about time. If we flew to Abu Simbel and had to catch a return flight only two and a half hours later (as Egypt Air schedules it), would we be able to see these amazing temples – with their towering images of Rameses II and his beloved Nefertari – at my dad’s walking pace?

Was two hours enough?

Rameses Pair

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