By Chet Y., 6-time traveler from Las Vegas, NV
The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile River reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is burned to pollute the air. The Nile puts China’s Yangtze River to shame in showing less river trash and pollution.
As a tourist in Egypt, ancient sites surpass China’s remarkable historical monuments. The Egyptian army seems everywhere in part because of a state-enforced draft but also because of the military’s role in governing a nation fractured by Islamic extremism. Religion’s influence in Egypt is obscured from tourist’s eyes because of the warm reception from residents but the military’s ubiquitous presence implies a different story.
What comes as a surprise from our guide (who is an Egyptologist) is how many times Egypt has been ruled by outsiders. Modern Egypt is founded by Muhammad Ali in 1805. Muhammad Ali Pasha is Albanian; not Egyptian. His dynasty is supported by the Ottoman Empire. It lasts until 1952 when a coup led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser takes control of Egypt. Prior to this coup, exclusive Egyptian leadership is in the distant past. (The ten most famous pharaohs ruled from 2686 BCE to 1213 BCE.) Of course, there were many more Egyptian dynasties (31 to be precise) but only ten marked history with Egypt’s indelible imprint. Cleopatra (principally famous for her role in the Greco/Roman incursion) is the last Pharaoh to have power. Her reign lasts 21 years; to end in 51 BC.
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders. The Romans, Turks, French, and English take turns at controlling Egypt. Fortresses abound along the Mediterranean and Nile built by conquerors and the conquered.
The Rosetta Stone is found in one such fort held by the French and overcome by the English. It is found in the ancient town of Rashid which was a primary port in Egypt’s earlier history. Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets. There are mud brick manufacturing plants, burgeoning boat building businesses, and fish farming pens in Rashid–the town where the Nile enters the Mediterranean. Only a replica of the Rosetta Stone remains at the fort. The actual stone is in the British Museum in London.
The once imagined great city of Alexandria seems a shadow of tourist’ dreams. It is burdened by lack of investment and a tax structure that works against finishing buildings. Billions of potential worth are hidden by poorly maintained buildings along the Mediterranean water front.
Still, there are great sites to see in Alexandria. There is the modern library meant to resurrect the great library of Alexandria that was destroyed twice in Egypt’s history. It is a spectacular monument to Egypt’s potential.
This modernization contrasts with early Christian and Muslim places of worship, the Valley of the Kings (a giant cemetery for royalty), and the restored Winter Palace in Luxor that is now a Sofitel hotel. There is the Temple de Karnak, Grande Cour with its ram’s head entry leading to an inner sanctum temple.
One is reminded of the monumental gap between the rich and poor in visiting island farms that are owned by singular families. They employ hundreds, and feed thousands, while prospering from the rich Nile soil. Farming is primitive by modern standards, but the production from these farms is a sight to behold.
The rituals of mummification and fealty are displayed in faded colors of high and low relief pictographs on ancient walls and columns. The source and provenance of limestone quarries where great blocks of rock are harvested and hauled to temple sites are a side trip on a luxurious Nile barge cruise. There are many forms of domestic travel, but none surpasses four days of a cruise on the Aida.
Every country of the world is complex and no brief trip will explain that complexity but these personal notes and pictures are meant to offer a peek into a mystery to all who do not, or cannot travel.
Immerse yourself in the history and culture of Egypt when you join O.A.T. for Egypt & the Eternal Nile by Private, Classic River-Yacht.