Tour of Western Thebes :
Valley of the Kings, Medinat Habu, Ozymandias

Symbolism was a very important part of Egyptian culture and is dispersed throughout the temples and ruins of ancient Thebes. The Nile River symbolized life and it bifurcated not only the land of the pharaohs, but also the very nature of life itself. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Therefore, the City of the living is found on the east banks of the Nile and it contains all of temples to honor the living gods. The West Bank of Thebes contains the cities of the dead and the tombs and mortuary temples where the pharaohs would rule upon their death. It is the West Bank of Thebes, which I would explore on my second day in Luxor.

I woke up early, grabbed some breakfast, and had a wonderful quiet time down by the Nile River. I spent a lot of time down there, as I will explain in more detail later. I told my guide that I would like to start at 7:30AM and he was reasonably prompt at 7:45 (that's on-time in Egypt). We quickly departed Luxor and headed immediately to the cities of the dead. One of the first things one sees upon crossing the Nile River and nearing the Valley of the Kings is the Colossea of Memnon. These were once incredible works of art, but time, vandalism, and earthquakes have rendered them ruins. From the Colossea, I traveled into the barren, Libyan desert and arrived at the Valley of Kings. We started that portion of the tour around 8:45AM.

Journal excerpt - The Colossea of Memonon:
The only thing that can be appreciated from these statues is the mere size of what once was. There is little beauty left in them, as man has so perverted their appearance. Still, they serve as another exercise in imagery as one tries to imagine what they used to look like many years ago. The title, "Colossea" is not a misnomer in this instance. These statues are massive.

The Giant guardians of the cities of the dead

a small tourist takes a look

Journal excerpt - The Valley of the Kings:
This odd graveyard has me puzzled beyond mere inquisition. Why would anyone think they could attain eternal life out here. There is nothing but death here. No plants, no water, no organization, just a huge collection of rock heaps and desert sands. What a strange exercise! The tombs are richly adorned with beautiful, colored hieroglyphs, paintings, drawings, representations, and an incredible array of spells and puzzles. And all hidden from the public, to be enjoyed by the King in the afterlife. . . huh? This makes no sense. I know what the ancient Egyptians of the day believed, but it's just so silly. Are people really that gullible? I guess you would just have to be here and tour the tombs to understand what I'm experiencing. I saw Tut's tomb and that of Horemheb (one of my favorites from my favorite movie, "the Egyptian.")

I was also amazed here by the beauty and detailed designing of the artful expressions contained inside the tombs. Still very colorful and bold, these paintings, drawings, etchings, etc. tell a unique story that has lasted for millennia. I am greatly intrigued by the hieroglyphs and storylines. As my guide explains some of the features, I see a deeply complex and intelligent society materializing. Unfortunately, the misguided nature of their effort is troublesome.

The Egyptians believed there were many traps in the afterlife. Enemies in the present life may follow one into the afterlife as well. Therefore, the pharaoh had at his disposal spells, incantations, and powers to help hem. The inscriptions on the side of his burial chambers would protect him. Enemies were painted on his walls bound in chains, headless, sometimes upside down, and often without shadows (symbolizing no power in the afterlife). A series of gods would teach the pharaoh spells to get through the different stages of death when the time was appropriate.

I don't have many photos from the Valley of the Kings (they wouldn't allow video cameras), but it did have a profound effect on me. After the Valley of the Kings, I stopped off briefly at Hatshepsut's Temple. I chose not to trek up to the Temple and go inside, since it was 9 million degrees and there was said to be little of interest inside. However, I did take a few photos. From there, I went to the Ramesseum for about an 45 minutes and then ended the tour by spending almost two hours at what became one of my favorite places in Thebes, Medinat Habu.

The dramatic cliffs provide the perfect setting

climbing to Hatshepsut's third tier

The Ramasseum is most notable for the huge statue of Ramses II that has fallen in the inner courtyard. Ramses II, who was the probable pharaoh at the time of the exodus and was portrayed by actor Yul Brenner in the Ten Commandments, erected a statue to himself in this arena. It is the largest known statue cut from a single block of stone. The statue weighs over 100 tons and fell victim to an earthquake many years ago. The statue and the gigantic temple was supposed to stand for all eternity as a demonstration of Ramses II 's greatness and his power over life and death. As I examined the history of this temple I was actually comforted as my own sins of pride don't seem so bad compared to that of Ramses II (although I know that isn't true.). The famous poet Shelley riddiculed the pompous Ramses II in a noteworthy poem entitled, "Ozymandius."

'Ozymandias" weighs over 200,000 pounds

I tried to lift the statue, but it wouldn't budge


"I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley - 1818

Journal excerpt - The Ramesseum:
This temple, home to the heaviest statue in the world, is touted as the masterpiece of Ramses II. Unfortunately, it has been badly damaged. The statue, baking in the unrelenting Egyptian sun, is impressive. However, my overall impression of this temple is one of being overrated. However, I did find a number of columns in the back hallway that were truly awesome. Even after almost 5,000 years, they retain their original colors and give a delectable taste of what these palaces used to look like in their day.

statues standing as Osiris

baking for centuries in the hot sun

a ramp to the upper temple

the colors still shine forth

Journal excerpt - Medinat Habu:
A definite highlight of my West Bank excursion, this temple lies nearly forgotten amongst the masses of popular spots in the City of the Dead. I can never remember feeling so stupid in all my life. What do you say? The shear size and preservation of this temple is incredible!!! Why are there great lines at Karnak and Luxor, while this temple lies abandoned? Standing in the doorway is an awe-inspiring endeavor. The huge, perfectly preserved temple is so grand and so pristine and so lonely. A few birds chirping, a few tourist footsteps, and a lonely sand whistle echo through the acoustics; through inner hallways and corridors, while surrounded by strong walls that look as if they could still withstand a mighty and forceful assault. The colors in the inner courts are simply awe-inspiring. Shaded from the hot, Egyptian sun, it looks as if some of the ancient painters put down their brushes yesterday. Bright gold, reds, and blues litter the ceilings and shadows. This place is truly special to me.

I am standing in the doorway at Medinat Habu

archways of the temple

an inner courtyard

mighty walls and columns

a painted column

a hieroglyph name

painted 4,500 years ago? . .or yesterday?

gods and symbols of deity

I spent the evening at the Karnak Laser Light Show. Unfortunately, few of my photos from this event turned out well. Overall, it was a neat program and I felt it was well worth it to attend. Karnak Temple takes on an entirely new dimension when it is lit up at night. However, the overall paganism of the gods of the temple and the narration of the program was quite unnerving. The tour required us to do a "walk through" of the temple and the narration occurred at different areas. The script continually praised Amun, the King of the Gods and proclaimed that there was none greater; there was none more powerful, etc. I honestly found myself singing, "I will glory in my redeemer, my Savior lives, my debt He paid" and other words mainly from that PDI song. I was so into worshipping, that I was even raising my hands as I walked through the dark to the next area of the tour. I began at one point to sing softly out loud. It just seemed that the nature of the moment REQUIRED that the name and attributes of the one, true God be proclaimed by someone. I was grateful to be that someone on this occasion.

Journal excerpt - Thought of the day for 6/2/01:
I have been struck today by the power of fear. Pharaonic Egypt was built on fear, especially fear of the afterlife. In Christ, we do not fear death. Ancient Pharaohs controlled people largely through building massive, intimidating temples, powerful and terrifying legends, and creating an order of society that oppressed heretical beliefs and dissention. God tells us of the power of fear frequently in the Scriptures. Moses told his people in Exodus 20:20, " . . . the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning" and in Psalms 111:10 it says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." Fear is a powerful emotion that I'm not certain I have much understanding of.

You may download my Egypt 2001 screensavers at Webshots

Traveling to Luxor
Luxor and Karnak Temples
West Bank of ancient Thebes
Final day in Luxor
First 2 days in Cairo
The Pyramids, Sphinx, and King Tut
Touring Islamic and Coptic Cairo

On to Israel!!!!!


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